a group of girls at math camp, wearing pink t-shirts
Participants of GEM's 2022 Math Attack Summer Camp for Girls. Courtesy Lauren DeDieu

April 8, 2024

Giving Day set to help girls excel in math

Program creates pathways for girls to pursue STEM careers — and UCalgary’s annual fundraising blitz is the perfect time to donate in support

If there had been any doubt about the potential of Dr. Lauren DeDieu’s outreach initiative, it was swiftly extinguished.

For the first Math Attack Summer Camp for Girls — a week-long course including overnight stays at the University of Calgary dorms and the Banff Centre hotel — DeDieu created spots for 21 girls from grades 6 to 10. She ended up receiving 150 applications from across the province, all keen to explore the world of mathematics in a girls-only setting.

The sharp interest led DeDieu, PhD, associate professor (teaching) in Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UCalgary’s Faculty of Science, to expand her Girls Excel in Math (GEM) program, of which the summer camp is a part, to include day camps and Saturday morning drop-ins during the school year.

portrait of a woman

Lauren DeDieu, associate professor (teaching), Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science.

Courtesy Lauren DeDieu

The 2022 and 2023 gatherings received rave reviews, with students posting shout-outs and selfies in their GEM T-shirts on social media. Parents have reached out to camp director DeDieu to say their children are still talking about the experience, which provided math sessions, recreational activities and guest speakers who told inspiring stories of their journeys in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Everything at the summer camp — registration, accommodation, meals, even lunches for day campers — is free. DeDieu wants it to stay that way.

“One challenge is raising the funds to keep it accessible,” she says. “Everyone that applies to the GEM program we try to accept, but it depends how much we can support.

“We’d like to keep it as cheap as possible, but, at the moment, that’s dependent on funding.”

UCalgary Giving Day is the perfect time to raise those funds.

Gifts made during Giving Day can have double the impact

Today marks the start of the university’s annual fundraising blitz. Running through April 18, Giving Day also gives donors the opportunity to have their gifts go twice as far, with all eligible gifts matched dollar for dollar up to $2,500, while matching funds last.

Since debuting in 2017, Giving Day has raised more than $10 million for initiatives across the university, funding research, student awards, experiential learning and community programs like GEM. 

And that community outreach is making a difference across the province.

“It exceeded my expectations,” says Bella Jiao, 17, an Edmontonian who attended 2022’s Math Attack camp.

“Being all girls is really important. You’re able to connect with people you feel like you can relate to more. Overall, I think it was great.”

Girls' math camp participants in pink t-shirts, standing outside

Math Attack Summer Camp for Girls participants on campus.

Courtesy Lauren DeDieu

Adds Calgary’s Lillian Zhang, a 15-year-old who took part in 2023: “Being girls-only, it was easier for us to bond when we were living in the dorms. And it was a lot more comfortable for us to go to each other’s rooms and share what we learned and get a lot closer.”

Engaging groups outside of the university, like junior high and high school students, is part of UCalgary’s commitment to community. 

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. There’s a big impact,” says DeDieu. “I felt that a safe space was needed for girls to engage in mathematics. Helping students see that, ‘Oh, I am a scientist,’ or, ‘I am a mathematician, and this isn’t weird for me,’ is one of the goals of the program. If they like math, maybe this encourages them — or they see that there’s more to math than just the boring stuff they see in school.

“I want students to see how rich math is.”

Camp expands kids’ horizons

Beyond seminars on actuarial science, probability paradoxes and graph theories, lighthearted activities are always scheduled at the camps — such as touring the Banff International Research Station, competing in the Amazing (Math) Race, hiking up Tunnel Mountain, singing karaoke, playing board games and swimming.

Fair to say, lifelong relationships are forged.

A group of girls in hiking clothes with a mountain valley behind them

Math Attack Summer Camp for Girls participants in Banff.

Courtesy Lauren DeDieu

“The best part for me, personally, was being able to interact with other campers,” says Jiao. “It was really fun to try to solve puzzles with them or to do math together or to just hang out in between lessons. I met a lot of new people and we were able to get along quite well.”

For the campers, discovering the practicality of their favourite subject resonated.

“You could see how math could be applied to everyday life,” says Zhang. “I would definitely recommend the camp to girls who want to know what it looks like to pursue a career in math or maybe study math in university. 

“This camp really opens up a new world.”

UCalgary Giving Day is April 18. Whether you support research, student awards or another one of UCalgary’s innovative funds, your gift will help change lives and shape the future. Eligible gifts made from April 4-18 will be matched, up to $2,500 per gift, per fund — but only while matching funds last, so be sure to give early! Make your gift today at ucalgary.ca/givingday.

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