WASHINGTON, PA (May 2, 2018)—While the world of STEM careers may have originally been a boys club, more and more women are pursuing their passions and making an impact in these fields, with many getting their education right here at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J)! In honor of the strong, intelligent women who are defying gender stereotypes in the workplace, we’re highlighting a few of our own in a new series on W&J Women in STEM.
Jenny Kline, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and is also affiliated with the Gender & Women’s Studies Program. Dr. Kline’s interests include all areas of math, particularly summability theory and analysis.
We asked Dr. Kline about her work in mathematics and her path to W&J. Check out what she had to say!
How did you become interested/involved in your field of study?
I honestly feel a little sheepish about this. When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in, and there were so many things in the college I had never heard of. So one of the courses I signed up for was calculus, figuring, “Oh, it’s math. I know what that class will be about.” I started to discover that math was so much more than what I thought it was, and that I had some talent for it. One professor in particular, Dr. Ray Spring, made sure to stop me one day after class during my first term in college and encourage me, which was pivotal. I hadn’t thought of math as a career pursuit until he planted that seed.
Who are some of your role models or inspirations in the field?
Dr. Spring, for sure! I try to emulate him in encouraging talented students. I also had my parents, who were both chemists. I have to thank my mother especially. She had a master’s degree in chemistry that she earned in the early 1950s, so I knew all my life that women were perfectly capable of studying math and science. There are a lot of other people who supported me along the way, like my family, my Ph.D. advisor Dr. Jeff Connor, and my favorite math teacher of all time, Dr. Dave Keck, whose teaching still inspires my own.
What challenges do women face in your field? What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I can only speak from my own experience. There have been issues of unwanted advances or unthinking comments from time to time, but I’ve considered them to be more of a workplace issue than of anything particular to math. My mom, however, had a very different experience when she was studying chemistry, math, and physics. She would have to register for classes under just her first initial and last name—when the registrar saw someone named “Mary” registering for science classes, they would assume it was a mistake. Even then, my mom had professors assume she was in the wrong place when they entered a lab and saw her. The quality of her work turned them into believers very quickly. I never had anything like that, and I’m grateful to her and women of her generation who really paved the way for mine.
What made you want to teach others about your field?
My dad was a college professor so I knew what that life was like, and then as an undergraduate I had too many teachers who weren’t able to communicate mathematics in a way I thought was effective. I learned how to teach myself, and I remember thinking about my (all male) teachers, “Guys, this isn’t that hard. Can’t you see there’s a better way to explain this?” So I knew teaching math at a college level was something where I could make an impact.
What advice do you have for young women interested in STEM studies?
Some of it is advice I’d give to any student: learning math is hard! It’s a bit like climbing Mt. Everest—not that I’ve done that, mind you! But with math, the more you study, the more you realize that mathematics is a strange, complicated, and beautiful subject to work on. So, you can’t be too upset when you don’t get an idea the first time you encounter it. The material challenges you because it’s inherently challenging, but that’s why the successes feel that much sweeter. Specific to women, I’d say, be cognizant of that generation following you, and make the culture better for them than it has been for you. That means being assertive if you feel something is unfair or inappropriate, and not apologizing about that. Good, clear communication is the key towards bettering the environment of STEM studies for all students.
This article is part of a larger series on W&J Women in STEM. Get to know some of our other professors: Dr. Alice Lee, Dr. Jennifer Bayline, Dr. Deborah Polvani, Dr. Kelly Weixel, Dr. Faun Doherty, and Dr. Amanda Holland-Minkley.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.