We're very excited to introduce our newest Role Model, Vanessa Vakharia, the Founder and CEO of The Math Guru.Vanessa is living proof that there is no such thing as "a math person", and inspires students to embrace math, every single day. Vanessa smashes stereotypes, showing her students that a math person can also be a successful musician, through her indie-rock band Goodnight, Sunrise.
INTRODUCE YOURSELF! TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION.
Haiiiii! Okay where do I start? Let’s see…I failed math twice in high school (ya, TWICE) and wanted to be a famous actress and marry Keanu Reeves. I feel like that’s where my formal and informal education REALLY started for me! I ended up at an alternative school where I learned that I could totally be a famous celeb WHILE passing math, and that the two were not mutually exclusive. That was breaking news. I slayed math, passing Grade 12 with a 99%. I ended up at The University of Guelph, getting my Bachelor of Commerce and specializing in Marketing. Then I went to Humber and got my Graphic Design Diploma. THEN I went to teacher’s college and got a degree to teach High School math. THEN I went to UBC and got my Master’s degree in Math Education! Informally though...I started a rock band (Goodnight, Sunrise - follow us on Spotify bbs!), started a business (The Math Guru), wrote a book with Scholastic (Math Hacks), and basically get rejected and applauded in different forms by different people every day. Those experiences have taught me more than any classroom ever could, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow every damn day!
I basically got rejected and applauded in different forms by different people every day. Those experiences have taught me more than any classroom ever could, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow every damn day!
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED INSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Seriously the most important skill I learned in the classroom is the same skill I learn legit in some way or another, every damn day: that failure is the best thing that can ever happen to you, and that what you learn from failure will define you in a way that no amount of success ever can!
WHO WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TEACHER?
My most memorable teacher was Ewa Kasinska. We’re legit best friends now :). After I failed Grade 11 math TWICE, I ended up switching schools and ended up at this magical oasis of a school called SOLA. Ewa was my math teacher and I remember walking into class, telling her that I wasn’t a math person and that she would have a tough time with me. Her response? A hilarious facial expression followed by “there’s no such thing as a math person, sit down please.” Haha! That moment changed my entire life. I got a 99% in math that year.
There’s no such thing as a math person, sit down please.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST STUDENT TRANSFORMATION YOU HAVE SEEN THROUGH YOUR WORK AS THE MATH GURU?
Oh wow, there have been SO many! I think one of my favourites is Jenna’s story. She came in for tutoring because she couldn’t even pass Grade 11 Workplace math. She went to university for a Poli-Sci degree but decided to switch to Psychology so she needed to get her Grade 11 math credit, and she came to us for tutoring. After months of hard work, not only did she get her credit - we ended up hiring her and she’s now been tutoring math for us for 3 years!
IN MY OWN WORK WITH LA PETITE ECOLIERE, I HAVE SEEN COUNTLESS STATISTICS ABOUT HOW GIRLS ARE FALLING BEHIND IN MATH AND SCIENCES, THOUGH THERE IS NO BIOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OR NATURAL APTITUDE THAT MAKES BOYS PURSUE THESE SUBJECTS. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE THE BARRIERS ARE THAT ARE DISSUADING GIRLS AND WOMEN FROM PURSUING MATH AND SCIENCE ACADEMICALLY?
There are so so so many barriers and I think it’s really important to understand that it’s a complex issue with many, many solutions which all need to happen in tandem. My research and experience tells me that one of the biggest barriers is the positioning of STEM stereotypes in mass media. Movies, celebrities, and social media make it very clear that to be a woman who enjoys math and science means being a woman who needs to shed many of her other traits. We as a society are obsessed with categorization! Like, have you ever seen a movie where the super popular cheerleader ALSO likes math?! That character doesn’t even EXIST! What kind of message does that send?!
I LOVE YOUR MISSION WITH XAMSTUDYLOUNGE, TO CHANGE THE CULTURE SURROUNDING EDUCATION AND EXAMS, AND SHOW THAT STUDYING CAN BE FUN. WHAT HAS THE FEEDBACK BEEN FROM STUDENTS? DO YOU SEE YOURSELF OPENING MORE LOCATIONS IN THE FUTURE?
X∆M Study Lounge was one of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on, and was so successful that we reopened again May 1, 2019! It was totally nuts - we had kids lined up on the sidewalk to come in and STUDY! HOW COOL IS THAT!? It ended up being such a rewarding experience and really changed the game for so many students. The most common feedback I got was from students saying that they had never enjoyed studying so much, or done so well on exams. Having this amazing, inspiring space to motivate them to study and to allow them to be themselves WHILE studying really changed the way they felt about education, which was my ultimate goal!
WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU YOU’VE LEARNED THAT YOU’D LIKE YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP TODAY TO KNOW?
I feel like a learn a new lesson everyday! But if I had to like, give my 16 year old self advice, it would probably be to stop counting calories, and to start counting things that matter like kindness, self care, hard work, & gratitude.
Stop counting calories, and to start counting things that matter like kindness, self care, hard work, & gratitude.
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW (OR FAVOURITE BOOK)?
OMG I’m super into pep-talky-self-help books! My faves change all the time but top of my list are You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k by Mark Manson.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY?
I actually get so excited because like, how cool is it that EVERY day we learn something?! HOW COOL IS THAT?! Okay so it’s 1:19 pm and what have I already learned today...I’ve learned that the giant pile of bills and paper and random stuff on my kitchen counter is actually stressing me out more than I like to admit, and I need to find a solution because clearly clutter distracts me emotionally more than I’ve let on. So, maybe I need like a devoted basket or cupboard for the random papers I need to eventually deal with? Okay good talk. I’m going to make it happen. Because as much as I’m like “oh no, if I can SEE it then I’m more likely to deal with it,” it’s more like “if I see it, I remember all the things I haven’t dealt with in my entire life and it makes me feel like I suck. Constantly.” Cool. And it’s only 1:19pm!