Math + Rock n' Roll because #YOLO
Photo by Renata Moreira

Toronto, Canada

Vanessa is the founder and director of The Math Guru, a super cool boutique math & science tutoring studio in Toronto. She has her Bachelor of Commerce, Teaching Degree, and Masters of Math Education. She specializes in teenage engagement in mathematics education, with a focus on encouraging young women to pursue STEM related fields and reinventing media representations of females as they intersect with math. She travels globally engaging audiences with her workshop, “Imagining a World Where Kim Kardashian Loves Math,” encouraging teenagers, teachers, and EVERYONE to re-interpret and re-invent traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a “math person.” She is also a founding member of Goodnight, Sunrise, a rock n roll band where she plays the keytar and belts lead vocals. Yes, she totally wants to be a rock star, who wouldn’t? Mindy Kaling is her idol and Vanessa believes that she should be yours too.

Why is it important to close the gender gap in STEM fields?
Ahhhh the age old question! There are so many reasons - but to me it all boils down to fairness, about actually giving women CHOICE. When we're told what we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to excel at - that's not choice. When we convince ourselves that the gender gap simply exists because women 'just aren't as interested' in STEM as men are - that's not choice. When voices like Tim Hunt and Milo Yiannopoulos seem to speak loudest, travel farthest, and get the most media attention - that's not choice. It's important to close the gender gap in STEM because the only reason it exists in the first place is because we have convinced ourselves that it has a RIGHT to exist. And it doesn’t, straight up!

What motivated you or inspired you to go into your field?
After spending so much of my teenage life truly believing that I wasn't 'a math person' only to discover that it was all total BS, I decided that I never wanted THAT whole thing to happen again to anyone else, ever. Like, imagine if I hadn't had an amazing math teacher who proved me wrong? Who made me realize that I was capable of absolutely ANYTHING, including math?! Where would I be now? Probably hitch-hiking in L.A chasing an acting career full of hypothetical fame and fortune, waiting for Keanu Reeves to propose...not a pretty picture, let me tell you.

For real though, I want to do whatever I can to make sure that no one ever has to feel as though they're inherently incapable of something - anything - ever again. That's why I decided to create a super cool space where everyone feels smart, everyone feels like they belong, and everyone feels free to explore the mathematician within! I think that now, with all of the traveling I do to different cities, schools and conferences in order to share my ideas, I want to really really emphasize that by entering the world of STEM, you're not only personally changing the ratio by being one additional woman in the field; you're a part of the OVERALL solution. You're inspiring other women to follow your footsteps. You ARE the change!

Tell us about your job.
What are some of your responsibilities? What is the environment like in your workplace?

Whenever I get asked what my official 'job title' is, I get all weirded out. I don't know why - maybe it's because I feel like, sort of ridiculous even calling what I do a job since it literally feels like I'm hosting a giant math party every day?! I'm the owner/founder/director/head guru/whatever-you-call-it of The Math Guru - an amazingly awesome and unique boutique math & science tutoring studio which I founded 6 years ago. I have an amazing team of tutors who work with hundreds of kids each week to make sure that they're all feeling awesome about math and science, and well, life in general. What do I do? I tutor a few of my own students, but most of my time is spent making tea lattes, giving kickass pep talks, managing last minute test-anxiety related freakouts, and most of all, making sure that the vibes are chill. I'm being serious! That's my life from 3:00-10:00pm every day. The rest of my time is spent presenting at conferences, managing my social media accounts (wow its actually exhausting – the internet is a crazy place!) and writing. I do a lot of writing for various blogs and press in an attempt to spread awareness about the lack of diversity in STEM, and I'm always hustling to get media attention for this issue which I'm super passionate about! So that's pretty much a day in the life - if you're ever in The Six, you should definitely pop by The Math Guru - I will def make you a kickass tea latte!

WHY are we asking why?! To me it just seems obvious - I mean, why NOT? You know, I could totally go on about how math and music and art are so intertwined and like blah blah blah, but to me, that's not WHY. The real reason is that we need to stop positioning the arts in diametric opposition with STEM. All that does is make people feel like they need to choose one or the other, and it's actually really exclusive. We want to be INclusive. We want everyone to know that hey, they can love math AND painting! They don't have to pick just one! I'm in a rock band and I get the whole "wait, you're in a band AND teach math?!" thing all the time and I just think it's so damaging. By refusing to include the "A" in STEM, we perpetuate the stereotype that you can't do both, that 'math people' can't be creative. That sucks - and it's just not true!

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?
I think that I'm most proud of myself for refusing to see my 'failures' as absolutes, but instead, as obstacles. And I put 'failures' in quotation marks because I just don't see them that way - I think that word is so loaded and unnecessary. After failing math twice, yet refusing to give up, I've learned that I really can do anything I put my mind to – and so can everybody else. The road I might have to travel to GET there might not be easy, but that doesn't mean that I won't end up at my target destination. Using failure as a motivator rather than a stop sign is what resulted in me starting a band, finishing my Masters thesis, doing what I do now. Being able to finally laugh in the face of failure - that is my greatest accomplishment.

What message do you have for girls who aspire to be like you but don't believe that it's possible?
Just know that I never thought I could do any of the things that I'm doing - and now I'm doing them. So there :)

Thoughts to live by:
Okay so I know that #YOLO is totally 2015. I get it. But you know what? The vibe of #YOLO is forever. Seriously - you only live ONCE guys! ARE you going to waste your time on this planet being too scared to do something because it's hard? Because you might 'fail'? Because someone has convinced you that you CAN'T? NO F-ING WAY! Starting today, I want you to think about this: How can you change your thought patterns to start viewing obstacles as challenges rather than absolutes? How are YOU going to change the world for yourself, for one person, one society, one world? Set your sights high, make a plan, and take one foot forward - amaze yourself, you ARE THE CHANGE!

Photo by Live in Limbo

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