One of the hottest topics in education circles today is women and STEM — that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There is an urgent need for STEM education across the United States, where, according to The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2.4 million jobs in these fields may be unfilled by 2018 because there simply are not enough qualified employees available to fill the need.
Women have been historically underrepresented in many STEM fields, a trend that continues today. The National Science Board reports that women account for less than 33 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce — and that’s in spite of the fact that the overall number of women in these jobs has actually increased.
Shally Venugopal of Washington, D.C. has bucked the trends. Shally — who earned her bachelor of science degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Economics, Finance and Mathematics — is a founder of MYOLO, a mobile app in development that will allow homebuyers to fill out a single mortgage application to get bids from multiple lenders. Shally plans to target the app towards a female audience to help them make educated, empowered decisions when taking the major step of buying a home.
We recently talked with Shally about how math is used in her app and about her life and career. Here's a little bit of what she had to say.
Hi, Shally! It’s great to talk to you. We wanted to start by learning more about the MYOLO app.
Shally Venugopal: Sure! Right now, about 77 percent of borrowers apply to just one lender, and nearly half of borrowers don’t even shop around for their mortgage.
We have a very socially driven mission because we are trying to reach borrowers who are usually not shopped to, such as women and minorities, particularly in urban areas.
MYOLO sort of negates all the misleadingly low ‘teaser rates’ frequently advertised by national lenders. By using this common application, you get real quotes and bids from lenders, and that way you’re really doing apples to apples comparisons. You just finalize your application once rather than multiple times, taking a lot of the inconvenience out of checking competing rates
Tell us a little about your education. How has this background in math affected your career?
SV: When I was in college I majored in finance and minored in math. A lot of programming and coding is about math, and pretty basic math, too. It’s very cool to be working on a project, trying to make some function of a website work, and you need to use math to get it to go.
Before I started MYOLO, I used to work at an environmental organization. We would look at how different policies and regulations would impact companies and various industries, then chart out what would happen to companies and their value. We could figure out for a specific industry what would be the impact of regulation. That all takes math.
And math, of course, is a big part of running a start-up and being an entrepreneur.
SV: To run a business, you need math at a very basic level, just to keep your accounts going! But beyond that, you have to do a lot of budgeting and projections, understanding how your finances will go in the future and what you need to budget for and keep aside to keep it going.
Keeping track of marketing statistics and understanding how people are using your website is super-important in today’s world. A lot of people think that marketing is more of a soft science, but it’s not — it is absolutely a hard science. There is a lot of math and statistical analysis that goes into the marketing piece.
A lot of math is a type of exercise for your brain and a type of thinking that can be applied to anything, so even if you’re reading or doing some type of social science, math can help you think through whether the argument is being made correctly or not, it sharpens your thinking.
Why do you think it’s important for girls and women to pursue careers in STEM?
SV: Women can bring an interesting perspective to the tech space. I don’t think all women should go into math. If it’s something you’re interested in doing, then you shouldn’t be afraid of going into it.
A hurdle for women going into tech might be thinking, “Because I am a woman, people aren’t going to take me seriously as a coder.” I think it’s actually very much the opposite. In reality, people are very impressed if you’re a woman and you have the technical skills, because the path wasn’t necessarily in place to get you there.
For anyone trying to do social impact work, math is really important. It’s an area where there aren’t enough people with math skills. There are a lot of people with good intentions and passion, but it’s very difficult to implement to different programs and monitor them, to figure out what is and is not working if you don’t have those math skills.
Thanks, Shally! We appreciate the great answers.
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