Joely To, a Year 12 student at Streatham & Clapham High School, was concerned by the lack of female candidates applying to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) at degree level, as well as the absence of organisations to support younger maths students.
So, during the first lockdown, she set herself the challenge of nurturing girls' passion for maths, setting up the maths support website Pioneer to encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in STEM.
Ms To began by publishing articles and interviews with maths undergraduates and professionals. She also partnered with Girls in Data to organise three data challenge series, as well as a summer school for more than 600 girls across the UK.
Then, she developed a virtual events and seminar programme, approaching global corporations – such as Experian, Zurich Insurance, Tableau and Chartmetric – to include them in real-world maths challenges. With Experian, students applied their skills to the challenges of social distancing, while the Zurich problem aimed to improve customer experience.
The Chartmetric summer school, meanwhile, taught students how to analyse music streaming data. Following completion of the challenge, one 16-year-old was even offered a job at Experian.
Ms To also organised and delivered a maths careers Q&A webinar for students in the UK and Nigeria, as well as giving a presentation to over 200 maths teachers at a Mathematics Education Innovation conference.
In total, she has held more than 10 webinar events, reaching more than 1,000 students, and her website has been viewed almost 21,000 times. As a result, Pioneer was recently featured in The Guardian, and Ms To won the Nottingham Building Society’s Innovative Young People of 2020 Award.
Lead judge Alistair McConville said: “The judges were hugely impressed by the way Joely acted with such initiative and drive to get her laudable project off the ground and by the impact it has already had. We were particularly impressed by the way she has connected with ‘real-world’ partners.”