All In: Celebrating Notable Women in Mathematics

Truman L. Koehler ’24 Professor of Mathematics Linda McGuire helped shepherd a unique playing card project that puts a spotlight on women mathematicians, both past and present.

By: Kristine Yahna Todaro  Monday, December 13, 2021 10:30 AM

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Professor in Mathematics Linda McGuire helped develop the Notable Women in Math Playing Cards. Photo credit: Linda McGuire

In the summer of 2019, with a little extra time on her hands, McGuire signed up to help the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) with an unusual project. She’s passionate about the non-profit organization, which supports and encourages all people with an interest in mathematics to participate in the profession, and wanted to help celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021 in a meaningful way.

Over the next 22 months, and with an exponential amount of time invested, McGuire and hundreds of other volunteers built a winning hand: the Notable Women in Math Playing Cards.

Also called EvenQuads, the cards are not just for playing, according to the game’s website—though five different games can be played, three using one side of the cards and two using the other. One side of each of the 64 cards in the deck also features a profile of a woman mathematician who has made significant contributions to the field

Along the way, McGuire and her fellow project management committee members, Chair sarah-marie belcastro, Sherli Koshy-Chenthittayil, Monica Morales Hernandez, Denise A. Rangel Tracy and Oscar Vega, were named 2022 AWM Service Award recipients for their outsized contributions to the project. They will receive the award at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Seattle in early January.

The project began with an effort to compile a list of outstanding women mathematicians to feature on the cards. Volunteers stepped in to assist, resulting in an enormous list of 1400 candidates.

Over 200 volunteers eventually assisted in the effort—researching the candidates and then winnowing down their number to 64, writing and editing biographies for each featured woman, creating unique artwork for each card, developing the games, collecting data, fact-checking and more. 

“From its inception, AWM has been an inclusive and grassroots organization and this project is as well,” says McGuire. “I really love that it has been an immensely collaborative and entirely volunteer effort.”

McGuire, who started Muhlenberg’s AWM student chapter three years ago, said it was particularly meaningful when Brittany Gelb ‘21, a mathematics major and the former president of the College’s student chapter of AWM, volunteered to help. A writing assistant and tutor when at Muhlenberg and now a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University, Gelb wrote the biographical material for one of the honorees in the deck.

Although McGuire was familiar with some of the women featured on the deck, many were new to her. She says it was fascinating to learn about their lives and achievements. 

“We included women from all walks of life and who have contributed to the field in all kinds of ways,” says McGuire. The committee and volunteers categorized these contributions into five areas: the research and development of new mathematics; contributions to mathematics education; mathematics in business, industry and government; establishing, cultivating and sustaining mathematical communities; and increasing the participation of women and underrepresented groups.

McGuire and the other committee members also oversaw the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to print the decks in October 2020. With an initial goal of $3000, the campaign gained 414 donors who pledged over $17,000 in just six weeks.

The success of the campaign led to the idea of donating decks, says McGuire. Many supporters buy an EvenQuads deck or two, available at the AWM store and Game Crafter, and donate one to under-resourced schools or daycare programs. 

McGuire says one aspect of the project has become increasingly clear: One deck isn’t enough to honor all of the deserving math heroines. The creation of a second deck is underway now with two more planned in the near future. AWM volunteers are already adding to the project—creating new games that will eventually utilize two or even all four of the decks.

Photo credits: AWM Project