STEMming in Stilettos with Dr. Toshia

Meet Brittany Rhodes: A Math Love Story

June 16, 2020 Dr. Natoshia Anderson Season 5 Episode 16
STEMming in Stilettos with Dr. Toshia
Meet Brittany Rhodes: A Math Love Story
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Show Notes Transcript

Episode Main Points;

1) Math is the foundation to all other STEM subjects

2) Mom knows best

3) The subscription box works because it can be customized for the girl. 

Guest Bio: Brittany Rhodes

Brittany Rhodes is the Founder of Black Girl MATHgic (BGM), a movement dedicated to increasing math confidence, awareness, enthusiasm, identity, fluency and persistence in children, with a focus on girls and black children. BGM’s flagship product is the Black Girl MATHgic Box, which is the first and only subscription box designed to increase math confidence and decrease math anxiety in girls on a 3rd-8th grade math level. Brittany received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Spelman College and her Master of Business Administration in Marketing, Communication and Organizational Behavior from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Brittany is a proud native of Detroit, where she lives with her husband, Oscar.


Instagram: @blackgirlmathgic

Facebook: Black Girl MATHgic

Twitter: blkgirlmathgic

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Our guest today is Brittany Rhoades. She is the founder of black girl magic BGM. It's a movement dedicated to increasing math confidence, awareness, enthusiasm, identity, fluency, and persistence in children with a focus on girls and black children. BGM flagship product is the black girl magic box, which is the first and only subscription box designed to increase math confidence and decrease math anxiety in girls on a third through eighth grade math level. Brittany received her Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Spelman College, and her MBA in marketing communication and organizational behavior from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Brittany is a proud native of Detroit, where she lives with her husband asked her I can't wait to get into this conversation. Let's welcome Brittany to the show. Okay, so welcome to my audience of STEM stimming as the letters I'm really happy and glad to be on today. Our guest today Brittany Rose is going to tell us all about herself and her company and all of the magic that she's doing. Hi, Brittany, how are you? I am doing well. How are you? I'm good today I'm it's a good day. It's a good day in the neighborhood. So as as we do on stimming is stilettos. The first question we always ask or the first thing we ask every guest to do is to tell us your stem story. Absolutely. So my stem story is actually my life story. Because I have loved math since I was a child since as far back as I can remember, anything like having a memory in general, I have loved math. And Funny enough, when I was in high school, I was picked to take two math classes in one year, because I was demonstrating such high aptitude and math so my algebra teacher, my algebra one teacher selected me to take geometry and algebra to the following year where typically you are only just take algebra so or algebra, you would only just take geometry. So I ended up having five math classes and four years. And my mother who is a retired principal and around that time, she suggested to me that I majored in math in college. And I remember like it was yesterday, I remember saying to her, who will do that, like who will go to college and major in like math, that's all they will be doing is math. And so when I got to college, I went to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. I started out as a dual degree engineering major, so I wanted to do computer science. And then I was going so I was going to do computer sciences film. And then I was gonna go to Georgia Tech, and do computer engineering and have two degrees. But when I got into computer science, coding was not sexy like it is now I'm a little older, and I was not at all excited about it. So my sophomore year, I called my mother and I said, Mom, I'm changing my major demand. So for anyone listening, Mom always knows best. You get such a kick out of that. So around that time, I also started tutoring math. In our math lab on campus, I was helping other students who had non math or non engineering majors or non STEM majors, I should say, who just needed you know, to take this one math class for their for their major. And I fell in love with tutoring. It was just something about getting that light bulb to go off for folks and something about them just being so excited about understanding something that they may have previously not understood for a very long time, just helping them get to that level of understanding. So it's been 15 plus years and no matter what I was doing in my full time career, I've worked in nonprofits, I've had my own business, I've consulted etc. I was always tutoring tutoring has always been my side hustle. About four years ago, I started tutoring at a local nonprofit here in Detroit where I'm poor. I was born in a race called the downtown boxing gym. We serve about 150 students. And our students come from all over the city of Detroit as well as the outskirts and they're in all different grades between the ages of eight and 18. And they hired me specifically because they were having trouble finding someone to work with the older kids and when I say older kids like them In high school, too. So one of the things I noticed very quickly when I started working with with the older children specifically was that when they will come to me and say, Oh, Miss Brittany, I need help with my geometry, I need help with my algebra, and we will start doing the work. It really wasn't the geometry or algebra that they were struggling with. It was basic mathematics. Mm hmm. It was the fractions. It was the decimals, it was the negative numbers, all of these things that if not mastered, make everything else feel that much harder. Mm hmm. Yeah, I really was sitting with that. Because I was having, you know, I was effective and what I've been I've been effective on what I do, and I love what I do in terms of my tutoring. But you know, you can't be a tutor for that can't be like your life career. Like, you can't be a full time tutor. I mean, I guess unless you're like tutoring, like somebody famous child, maybe you could write. For me, I'm like, Okay, I know, this is not something I can do full time. But like, how can I maximize the impact I'm having on my students here in Detroit, across the nation. I know, it's not just my kids in Detroit who struggle with math, I've had friends call me for college, you have my niece with this problem. So I noticed not just my students. So I was kind of mulling over that. And a couple years before that, when I met who is now my husband, he had about four subscription boxes that he was subscribed to, he had the food recipe boxes, and he had the clothes boxes, and he had all these different boxes coming to his house. And I was intrigued by the model, I just thought it was really neat that you could get these experiences and these these conveniences, like shipped directly to your doorstep. So about two years ago, so this was these these things have been stirring, you know, within the last five years, five to six years, I was looking at stem subscription boxes, because I was still intrigued by this model. I had tried to do a different subscription box. I'm 510. And I wanted to do one for tall women for close. five, nine here. Do you understand this? Yes, I do. So that one did not pan out. I had that idea that I worked on a few years ago. So if anybody listening would be interested in that idea, I still think it's a good one. So definitely explore that because I don't think anyone's doing that for tall women specifically, but I had all the knowledge that I had gained from exploring what a subscription box could look like. So I was looking at stem subscription boxes, because you know, they're all the rage. And I was like, Okay, we got, we got the coding boxes, and we got the engineering boxes, and no, we got all these science boxes. Mm hmm. Got these engineering boxes. The acronym is stem, where are the math box? And obviously, I'm biased because I have a bachelor's degree in math, but also, because math is the foundation of STEM and you know, this man, you do anything STEM related. I don't care what you want to major in it biology, physics, biochemistry, industrial engineering, you cannot do any of those and succeed without having a strong math foundation. And I'm not talking about differential equations, or cow three, I am talking about basic math. Yes, yes. Math is the foundation of all of that. And I said, if we do not get our students to be more enthusiastic about math, and to know that they have what it takes to do well, in math, we are going to continue to leave money on the table. Mm hmm. We just have no, that's just what it is. Money and opportunity your magic was born. And I also add my mother's side. I also got my MBA, my Master's in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And when I graduated, actually, this year was my 10 year 10 year reunion. When I graduated, my mom said, okay, you have a you have an MBA now where's our business? And I'm like, everybody who goes to business school does not start a business, but she planted the seed. So I literally have taken my two degrees, my degree in math, and my degree in business, and I have started a business helping kids build their math confidence. Wow, that's, that's amazing. And you're absolutely right about math. So I don't know if you read my story, but I taught math. Well, I always loved math, but taught math for three years taught math in high school for three years. So geometry just happens to be my favorite. So I'm an algebra girl myself. Well, I get I mean, algebra makes sense to me too. But I think it's sort of like the shapes and the Yes, I think there's just fun stuff to do in geometry that makes it early for me. It's just like Yes, let's let's let's talk about, right the circumference of a circle. I can, I can go there. So I'm so totally, totally understand it. And the desire to help our students understand that is just it's so fundamental. And I think it's the piece that a lot of people overlook, because I think right now tech is hot. So that's what people are talking about. And science has always been, you know, the thing. Yeah. And so and then for a while, if you were talking about STEM, you were talking about science. Yeah. And, and it was always like, okay, but you know, math is the basis for all of it. And I feel like engineering is sort of the the one that sort of stirs brings it all together, for sure. And so you have to have those those foundational pieces of math, I mean, fractions and decimals and being able to solve simple algebraic equations are all are all necessary. So it's so I hear from what you said that your mom has been a huge influence. So and your husband too, but also, so how did it get to be a subscription box? for black girls? And yeah, yes. So I'm sure we'll dig into this a little bit more, so I won't, I won't get too far off off off of your question. So the box is actually ad designed for all girls. Because there is a lot of value in children who are not black, seeing the experiences and understanding positive and learning about positive experiences about people, especially black folks. But the focus in terms of the imagery, and of course, the title of the business, right, black girl magic, there's a focus on black girls, because I had this overwhelming desire to center black girls and their own mathematical experiences I wanted them to I wanted it to be very clear. I don't want it to be any room for misinterpretation or any room for what is this really, for me, I want a black girl specifically to know that they have what it takes to be masters. Because one of the first things that I do when I had this idea wasn't enough for me to be, you know, to kind of be tooting my own horn, like, Oh, this is a great idea. And I'm in this vacuum, like telling myself this. So I started talking to people, I called up some friends and former classmates who have girls and the age range or gray range that I focus on, which is third to eighth grade math. And I was like, hey, if this thing exists here, or would you be interested in a product like this? What do you struggle with? I talked to their daughters, what do you struggle with when it comes to math? And then I started reading academic journals written by doctors, like you, academic journals, white papers, articles, PDFs, whatever I could get my hands on. And I don't think I knew before this, how prevalent and pervasive math anxiety is, especially in the United States, yes, um, I found a stat from That said, 93% of American adults experienced some level of math anxiety. And I started to dig into that a little bit more. And of course, being a black woman, I started reading about the experiences of girls. And I learned that it wasn't necessarily an ability gap, right, between girls and boys. It's more, it's more a confidence gap than anything, right? The data that I've read from different sources continuously says that boys and girls perform about the same and I'm speaking primarily from from, from the American data array, because that's where I only ship in the United States. But blacking, excuse me, girls, and boys tend to do the same mathematically. But if you ask them, a girl will more likely than that, uh, you know, this rate her her math ability lower than a boy would correct. And when we have confidence, if I'm not confident is something I'm not going to engage with it, I'm much less likely to engage with it. If I feel like I'm not going to do well and like, why am I going to torture myself? You know, that's the mindset that our girls are having. So I was reading about that and understanding more about the confidence gap. And then, of course, I had to I had to read about the racial gap because it exists. And when I saw that, you know that the gap between white children and black and brown children, that was even more glaring, and of course, the magic word, the word that everyone is using that intersectionality when you put those two together, black and brown girls are literally getting the shortest end of the state when it comes to mathematics education in the United States. And as a black woman who has worked with primarily black children and black girls, that's the audience I sought to serve. One of the One of the Hallmark tips when you're starting a subscription box business is to niche down. And then Nisha down again, that wanted to get really specific with who I was serving not, of course, not at the exclusion of others, but so that black girls could feel more included in the conversation about who is good at math and who deserves to access mathematical experiences, high quality, mathematical experiences, I decided on a subscription box model for a couple reasons. Number one, I'm just fascinated with the model. You know, I mean, we've been getting people we've been getting magazine subscriptions, and what was Columbia house they used to send me like CDs? Yes. I think younger listeners are gonna be like, Grandma, I know, what are they talking about. But you know, subscriptions are not a nice thing in and of themselves, things being mailed to your house, or Netflix or whatever the case. But these this, these boxes, putting these experiences in the box are relatively new. So I was fascinated by the model. But also, you know, when we talk about building confidence, and we talk about math, and the trauma that a lot of our children already have when it comes to math and exposure, that can't just be a one time thing. No, you got to have constant exposure, constant affirmation, constant representation. Otherwise, you know, you might get that boost, where one day you're, you have a student who's super excited, but if they don't keep that it's just like working out or eating right, or whatever it is you want to do you got to keep doing it. The consistency is, is that the magic is in the consistency. Yeah. So I was like, they got to have this experience every month, I will I am going to show them every single month because I know you've heard this just as much as me probably more than me, well, when am I going to use this? This win is I don't need math to do XYZ, actually, you do. And I'm going to show you every single month how you're going to use math in the real world. But also i'm going to show you some people who look like you who have math degrees, who are doing amazing things and a variety of careers. And I'm also going to affirm you with math affirmations, I'm going to give you items that you're into, that will help you help bring these things to life to help you really see how these things exist in your real world. So that's really the hallmark of it was really from reading, doing all that research and and being intentional about curating an experience that address the phenomena, many of the phenomena that contribute to low math, confidence, or high math anxiety, especially in black children, and especially in girls. Let me tell you, I can't even my girl is 18 and I want to sign up for this box. I want this box for me. But you have said so much. here that is so onpoint especially when we talk about math anxiety. So I know you don't know this, but my dissertation was about gifted girls experiences in math and science classes. Because I when I taught when I taught math, I taught my last year I taught gifted students and I had this one class where I had, I think I had maybe 17 students in it and out of 17 there were 13 girls, so I have horrible four boys and 13 girls. Wow. And the boys were I mean, well, I'll say this, the girls were blowing this toss off these boys. But they their level of confidence, like the boys would come in at about Oh, I got this, I got this, I get this. And then when I you know, I revealed that the highest test or a highest score on the test, it was the girl and everyone is surprised, right? And I just the boys The girls are like me too. I do. Right? And I'm like girl, you're in a gifted class, you, you know, like, you're just as smart or smarter than this this boy sitting next to us like so I couldn't there was this disconnect. That was that was happening between ability and perception of ability. Oh, there you go. And and so I was like I was just I was so curious as to why that was happening. So that's what my dissertation was around just figuring figuring that out. And what came this that's one of the things that came back was that of course their peer groups were a big part of it. Their parents parental surroundings were another big part of it. Because you know that the thing about girls and you can't you kind of alluded to did it when you were talking earlier, is that what our parents believe? And not just about about us, but what they believe about them. selves. Yeah, there's there's the carryover effect. Where said my mother believes that she's not good in math. What makes me think that I'm going to be that? Yeah, exactly. So and girls adopt that more than boys do so. So I'm always really careful about the things that I say, surrounding my kids abilities or my ability, my abilities, because I don't want them to take on something that's not theirs, you know, at all. So, you know, it's like, I don't know, if parents are, I don't know if parents are aware that that is happening. But it was one of the big factors for these girls. So I heard several woman is not good in math, she can never help me. And it was always a problem. And I just, you know, so it's like, wow, that's, that's amazing that you have taken on this posture of, sort of bring you're here, but you're bringing yourself to an a level that you feel is appropriate for your environment. Yeah. So. So I'm in love with these boxes, I'm in love with the messaging behind them. I think we need more of them. I know there's only you. But at this moment, there is such a there is it's magic, it really, it really is magic, what you're doing, and that you are taking such care with what you what you put into the box, and making math relevant to what is happening to girls in their, you know, in their environments. So like, here's a here's a person who is using math in her daily life, and here's how it's relevant to your life. And then here's some I love, love, love. Thank you. And I, I wanted to address one point you made about the adults because that's huge. And you probably saw this study that I think it came out last year, the year before, where they saw that girls absorbed messages from female adults, whether that was mom or teacher about math, anxiety, they internalize that message and boys, it just kind of rolled off their back. Yeah, it was it was fascinating. And like you said, you're just really trying to understand like, what are the what are the mechanisms, like from a scientific standpoint, like, what are the mechanisms that are happening, that are allowing this and so that's why in each box, I include a caring adult guide. And it's just a it's a postcard, so I'm not trying to have them, you know, reading a book, but I do want to offer some tips and some tricks and some some basically some relief for them so that they don't feel pressured, you know, to create this math experience for their girl. My I think it is my responsibility to help help them navigate through that experience, understanding that so many women especially have brought their own childhood math anxiety into adulthood, as you mentioned. Yes. And that's so see. And that's a real thing that I think has gone unaddressed. And it permeates it at different levels of people's of, of your child's schooling. So it's, it's the reason why why parents don't show up for PTA meetings. It's so it's sort of there's this whole thing that happens. Yeah. If a kid has had, or parent has had a bad experience in any way at school, yeah. So. So, wow. Wow. I feel like we can talk forever. Okay, so let's, let's stay on point. But so So tell me, if, if you don't mind, tell me how being a minority woman in STEM has impacted your life. You know, it's so funny. So I remember when I was in college, anytime, almost anytime. I'm sure there was some outliers, but most of the time when you tell people that you're a science or math major, it it makes it either makes you more cool to that person or it makes you intimidating. No, in between. Oh, is he realized? Oh, like, Oh, you know, so you get these different reactions from folks. I'm the biggest so that that was one thing I noticed just a lot over the over the course of the four years that I was working on my degree and even after I graduated, oh, you majored in math, you must be smart. And, you know, it's flattering, but at the same time for those of us who are disturbed by how math is viewed in this country, it's like Dang, why does it have to be bad? Like, what if I was an English major? Would you think I wasn't smart? You know, like, it's interesting dynamics around, again, especially around math. Math anxiety is very unique. I've googled reading anxiety. Geography anxiety, social studies anxiety, those things don't exist. Korean anxiety is an actual, you know, global phenomena. So it's been very interesting being a black woman who has a math degree and that the reactions I get from people, I think that for me in terms of the biggest impact on my life is honestly my tutoring work. And my husband calls me a bonus teacher in a coach and I have actually started calling myself a math coach within the last few years, because it's so much more than tutoring. It really, you know, it's so much more than homework help, I am having pep talks with these kids. I'm talking them off the ledge. We're having mindset talks, we one time one of my students burst into tears in the middle of the session, because she had some adults telling her that she was slow at math, and that she would never get into a high school that she wanted to attend. It's something very special that I don't take lightly at all, that I can be a role model for my students. Like I said, most of my students are black, and they don't always have black women teaching them mathematics or teaching them the sciences. And again, like we mentioned, we talked about earlier that representation, you can't be what you can't see. So in a lot of cases, I am that representation for my students, I am showing them that you can be a black woman, you can be a young ish, you can be kind of hip, you know and you can enjoy math. I can you can get and you can help other people enjoy math as well. So that has that has been and tutoring is so is so personally fulfilling for me it feels is very much my purpose. Like I said, My mother is a retired principal. So teaching is kind of in my DNA already interested in classroom teaching that a lot of my friends, whether you're going to be a teacher, like your mom, I love one on one, I love being able to really understand a student's unique likes, dislikes, unique issues with math, and I love to help them turn on that proverbial light bulb. And to be able to do that and be a black woman. I think that that is just kind of like the icing on the cake. I have to agree with you there's there is something really special about sitting before someone one on one and having you know, it becomes it's so special. So one last question. And I again, I really want to thank you for taking the time to be on with me, this has been a fabulous conversation. Sure. I like I said, I feel like there's going to be a part two. So just just so if you could revisit your younger self, what advice would you give her and why? I'm gonna try you know, we like math and science enthusiasts. We like things in threes. So I'm gonna try to do we're gonna try to do this in three. Um, the first one would definitely be the first thing I will tell her is to be more outspoken. I am an only child and my mother's only child. And I grew up very much a people pleaser. I wanted to fit in I wanted people to like me, I don't want to stir the pot. And a lot of that was to my own detriment. Because I was stifling, you know, what I wanted to say or how I felt at the, at the expense of myself, you know, to make others happy. And that, you know, that didn't turn out well for me on many occasions. And it was only until I got to be in my 20s like when I went to grad school where I really started to intentionally work on that. And so that's definitely something I would tell my younger self is to be more outspoken, be marshmellow be more straightforward. And don't be afraid, you know, just don't be afraid. Be fearless. The second thing, which is kind of a segue from the first thing is to be more confident. My mother if she was if she was listening to this conversation right now I can actually see her nodding in my head. She worked tirelessly on my self esteem as a kid but as I mentioned, I'm 510 I have my growth spurt in sixth grade I went from 411 to five seven almost overnight it felt like and you notice that's not the cutest thing when you're taller than all the boys and I was extremely thing and you know I didn't have any type of shape back then like it was a lot happening and then I was super smart. So I would get teased you know for doing well in school. So there was a lot of I had a lot of confidence issues and I think that is also another reason why I position black girl math because math confidence facts because when you start building confidence in one area, it has a beautiful grip. effect, you start feeling confident in math, you might start feeling confident in something totally different, you know where you're at. So that's another thing that I would tell myself. And then the third thing and I talk about my mom a lot, because we are extremely close, and she helps me so much with my business being a retired educator, is she gave me the book, The Four Agreements. So when I was 20 years old, it took me five years to actually read it, you know, she gave it to me and I've always loved reading, always in for any children listening, you can love reading and math, you do not have to pay. I love books. In fact, I flew books in my boxes some months. But she gave me the Four Agreements when I was 20. And for whatever reason, I don't even know what I was doing. You know, I didn't read it until I was 25. And it really changed my life. So I would recommend that book for I don't really, I don't really think I don't think you're too young or too young to read that book. Honestly. Have you read it? I have. Yeah, it's an amazing book. So that would be the other thing I would tell myself my younger self is to read the Four Agreements, when when your mom gave it to you read it when you needed it. That's true. So I think about that so I'm like okay, this is obviously the divine timing in which I was supposed to read it but I also wonder if What if I read and when she gave me you know, you but you read it when you need it to read it in me and it had the impact it was supposed to have so absolutely. Yeah. Okay, so that is great advice. It's a lot so because girls need to believe in themselves have the confidence sort of be fearless in their pursuit of whatever their interests are. And and then there there's this there's this concept that some people talk about I'm seeing it more and more lately the you know the whole fake it till you make it thing as a way to sort of gain confidence and I I'm more subscribe to do it anyway, like I might be afraid of this on my take. I don't know how this is going to turn out might be a little you know, might not have the confidence but I'm going to do it anyway. Yeah. So in own that piece, because you just never know what what may come out of it. And then read the read the book, read the book. So I love this advice. Is there So can you tell us where to find you? Absolutely. So I am on Facebook and Instagram. Black Girl math. J Can I spell math check out I'm sure it'll be written as well. Ma th gic. I'm also on Twitter. But I couldn't fit all of those letters and so my Twitter handle so it is blk girl math chick and I also all of my links are there. So I'm actually in the process of going back to your point about just getting started. My website was not ready when I launched although I sale on I sell my boxes on basically like an Etsy for subscription boxes like a marketplace. But I have all of my links on all three of those social media platforms. So if you go on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you'll be able to access all of my links. Okay, and I will have all of your the links to all of your social media in the description for the episode. So I hope that you get a whole bunch of folks that would subscribe to your boxes, whether they're adults or children or adults or children. And people do ask me Do they have to have a subscription and the answer's no, you can order a one time box I have a lot of people you know grandma buys one for her granddaughter or buys one for her niece is somebody's birthday. You can buy a one time box as well this subscription is not required, although of course I recommend it you know for exposure and building that confidence is not a requirement. It's a great gift for for girl. I mean it just it just is whether they are a minority girl or not. It's a great gift right? And we do have drivers who do not identify as black and they enjoy these experiences just as much as children who do and I also add because I hear the boy mounts the boy moms have been asking me a boy back We'll be coming very soon I'm working on the farm I know boys struggle as well. But the girls we had to get them first because they were struggling just a little bit more but the boy bikes is coming. Gotcha. So we will we will be waiting for that for so for my boy moms out there who are listeners. We didn't she didn't forget about you know my head. Awesome. So again, I'm glad that you agreed to come on with me today. We've had a wonderful conversation and to my audience. I will see you next week.

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