Name: Melanie Matchett Wood
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Occupation: Mathematics Professor
So much for the notion that girls aren’t good with numbers. Melanie Matchett Wood is a groundbreaking mathematician, Math Olympian, and the first woman to win the Morgan Prize in mathematics. Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, Melanie thought of being a physicist, cognitive scientist, and even an Educational Testing Service test writer (a writer for the SATs.) But in 7th grade she became involved in a program known as MathCounts (www.mathcounts.org), and suddenly the problem of what to be when she grew up was solved.
“One key thing about MathCounts that really drew me into mathematics were that the problems were so much more interesting than the math I learned in school. A lot of the math in school was just memorizing and repeating certain steps over and over to do computations, but in MathCounts I worked on problems that required me to use math creatively to solve problems that I hadn’t been taught how to solve,” she says. To this day Melanie’s specialty is solving seemingly impossible problems creatively. Working as a research mathematician, she’s assigned problems that no one else has been able to solve, and she approaches them with a willingness to fail and a whole lot of patience. “Ideally you learn from all the approaches you try, whether they work or not,” she says.
MathCounts also introduced Melanie to a community of fellow students who were equally excited about math. Working with other enthusiastic burgeoning mathematicians taught her that her favorite part of math is working on it with other people, a discovery that is easily reflected in her career as an assistant professor at Stanford University.