Making math fun

With her outgoing personality, quick smile and an eagerness to get involved in the community, Dr. Jackie Rice is not your typical computer scientist. Add to that the fact she is a wife and mother of three, it becomes evident that she is the antithesis of your stereotypical "computer geek".

As an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria, Rice first realized the hurdles she would have to jump as a woman in a field traditionally dominated by men.

Jackie Rice
Dr. Jackie Rice excels at making math both accessible and fun for kids.

"When the boys in the class saw me in the class room, they would double check the room number. They didn't think they were in the right class room."

She remembers, how even once the boys accepted she was in the class, none of them would sit by her.

"I wasn't part of the Engineering Club, so the boys didn't feel like I belonged in the classes with them. Now I teach the next generation of those boys."

The stereotype that "women just don't do computers" is an obstacle Rice has most certainly overcome. With the help of wonderful mentors, she has been able to successfully pursue her dreams in the high tech world of computer science.

As a professor in the University of Lethbridge's Department of Math and Computer Science, Rice's insatiable curiosity and love of computers keeps her fascinated with her research subject – day in, day out – spreading her passion and enthusiasm along to her students.

While Rice is clearly passionate about her work at the University, she also understands the importance of developing the budding minds of tomorrow's computer science geniuses. When she is not busy working on her research, teaching classes, and managing her family life, Rice spends time getting involved in the community with LUMACS (Life, U, Mathematics and Computer Science). Aimed at promoting more awareness and interest in math and computer science at a young age, the program is Rice's brainchild. She and her colleagues work with children to break down the barriers that prevent kids from becoming interested in these fields. Rice believes that young people need to have a more exciting and fun introduction to mathematics.

"Most kids say that math is either boring or scary. We want to change these attitudes and get them involved as early in their education as we can," she says.

Rice's work does not stop once school is out for the summer. She also helps to organize summer camps through the University and LUMACS, which allow kids to experiment with interactive computers. They even get to build and play with Lego robots.

"It's always a blast and the kids have a great time!"

Rice's current research looks at ways to build computer chips that are faster, smaller and, in particular, more energy efficient. Many of the technologies we rely on in our day-to-day lives could be radically affected and upgraded by this type of investigation – including something as simple as how often we have to recharge our cell phones.

Rice's work doesn't stop at her research. She's also passionate about teaching and working with both graduate and undergraduate students. She encourages her students to try to figure things out for themselves, believing that if students learn how to solve problems on their own, they are more equipped to face real-world challenges. Rice inspires her students to live a well-balanced life – not focusing solely on academics alone. "At the University of Lethbridge I do not have to sacrifice my family for my career. When professionals have to choose between the two, we (as a community) lose out."

Rice does not claim that it's easy to balance both, but hopes her example will inspire other talented young people to contribute to both the world and their own families.