JoAnne Growney recently learned Wikipedia editing in one of our professional development courses, where she created and expanded Wikipedia biographies about women mathematicians. Here she shares why she pushed to overcome the challenges facing new Wikipedia editors.
From my beginning, I have been a fan of encyclopedias. I grew up on a farm and when I was in first grade a door-to-door salesman for Compton Encyclopedias sold my parents a set. It was so much fun to be able to look up answers to my millions of questions. In later years I became a user of various other encyclopedias and also of the Oxford English Dictionary and Rodale’s Synonym Finder. I thus am a perfectly-suited user for Wikipedia although it is only recently that I have known how large a resource Wikipedia is – grown in less than 20 years. My awakening came at a family gathering at which several of us were talking about causes that we support and one of my sons-in-law mentioned his law-firm’s generous support of Wikipedia, commenting that to him, a patent attorney, it is a very valuable resource.
Although as a young girl I wanted to be a writer (like Louisa Alcott’s Jo), I was good in mathematics and was able to obtain scholarships in mathematics to finance a college education. Math in those days was not popular with girls; in fact, it has been a very rare thing in my life to have female friends who are also in math. After college I experimented with graduate school and was lucky to do well enough to get funding, first for an MA and then for a PhD – and became both a parent and a professor. When my children were grown I had some extra time for writing and began to mix some poetry with my mathematics. That mix has continued into retirement – in addition to writing poetry, I write a blog that offers many facets of the linkages I see between mathematics and poetry. (“Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics” – online since 2010 with more than a thousand postings at http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com).
One of my current strong passions is to advocate for women in math and science, particularly with my granddaughters in mind. When I talk with them I am encouraged to find that several of them are interested in STEM fields – and ideas such as “girls don’t do math” and “math is too hard” seem not part of their experiences or beliefs.
Late last summer (2018) I became a Wikipedia Fellow through The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Wiki Education. The course focused on editing articles on “Women in Science” and began meeting early in October and ended in December. The online video discussion sessions in which we shared questions and learned strategies with each other and the Wiki Education staff occurred each Wednesday. There was plenty of material to review: how to find Wikipedia pages that needed work, then how to edit them, and how to interact with other volunteer editors with a stake in the topic. What I did accomplish needed the frequent help of our course’s Wikipedia Expert, Elysia Webb, who could fix the weirdness in one of my bibliographic entries or restore from oblivion the paragraph I had accidentally deleted . . . and so on. Because of Elysia’s rescue services, I can continue to work at Wikipedia editing. And, as I write this, I am wondering whether Wikipedia might be able to recruit other seniors to the same status – people who will work on Wikipedia collaboratively with each other rather than independently.
With my rural conservative background, I found it hard in early years to be an outspoken advocate for women. But, in the affirmative action struggles of my employer (Bloomsburg University), I found it possible to speak out for my students. Now my poetry also often is a voice for change (https://scholarship.claremont.edu/jhm/vol7/iss2/14/). And I LOVE the fact that I am now able to contribute to Wikipedia – the largest and most-read encyclopedia ever – I am more than pleased to help create an equitable math-science community for my granddaughters.