As one of the few female mathematics students in her college and graduate school classes, Jackie Dewar understood her minority status. “Women math students heard remarks that indicated you weren’t valued, that you weren’t taken seriously and were expected to fail,” she says. “That chips away at your confidence.”
And although female math students and teachers are much more common and accepted today, Dewar is using her retirement years to continue on a career-long quest to address gender equity in mathematics education. Now a professor emerita of mathematics, Dewar retired in 2013 after 40 years at Loyola Marymount University, distinguishing her as Seaver College’s longest serving female faculty member. She served twice as mathematics department chair (1983-1986 and 2005-2006) and directed the Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics Program for eight years.
For her first few years in the Seaver College Math Department she was the only woman with a tenure track position. She says having several supportive male colleagues and the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) really helped.
“There were so few women mathematicians on college campuses in the 1970s,” Dewar says. “The AWM newsletter would arrive and would let you know you weren’t crazy, and there were others out there.”
At LMU she created a course titled Mathematics: Contributions by Women that served the dual purpose of teaching math skills to a broad range of students and highlighting the work of early female mathematicians. The course was based on a 1978 book titled “Math Equals” by Teri Perl.
“I was in grad school before I heard the name of one woman mathematician from history,” Dewar says. “Learning about women’s contributions to mathematics had a huge impact on me and got me involved in certain projects over the course of my career.”
Dewar plans to write an update of Perl’s book. She’s also working on a book on the scholarship of teaching and learning for science, math and engineering faculty and a book that describes the broad range of work that falls under the umbrella of mathematics education.
Training math teachers in grades K through 12 is close to her heart. “Teachers prepare the next generation,” she explains. “They can communicate positive or negative messages about mathematics.” Dewar sometimes visits the classrooms of her former students to hear about their goals, challenges and successes.
Dewar also edits and contributes to the education column in the AWM newsletter, the publication that was so helpful to her many years ago.
“Role models are really important,” she says, citing Seaver College’s first female dean, Tina Choe, Ph.D., as an example. “They say to women: Look, somebody who looks like you has made it to this space. This space is appropriate for you.”