Meaning, Math and Motion

January 11, 2019
Madeleine Beatty
Madeleine Beatty credits caring Evergreen faculty and students with helping her discover her talent for math.

Odds suggest Madeleine Beatty ’13 shouldn’t be a data scientist. She shouldn’t be managing a team at tech giant Amazon, figuring out complex problems for the largest internet retailer in the world.

Beatty’s middle and high school experience was tough. She was placed in special education classes because of dyslexia; she was told she wouldn’t progress like other students. Reading and writing were difficult. And math, once a love in her home- schooled elementary years, turned into something completely inaccessible.

“The public school system decided the track I would follow. I wasn’t allowed to progress on areas I excelled in like math; everyone was held back based on one another’s weaknesses,” Beatty recalled.

After high school, everything changed. Beatty was ready to pursue a degree and was facing single motherhood. Evergreen was close to home and she had heard that math prerequisites were not an obstacle. So with a baby on the way and the goal of becoming a doctor, she enrolled.

Once at Evergreen, things changed again. Beatty re-discovered math. Despite her reservations, she knew she needed math as a base for any science studies. Her first program was Algebraic Thinking—an offering that would forever influence her life trajectory.

“Math is one of the most creative outlets,” said Beatty. “At traditional schools, the curriculum is so enforced the creative side of math is hidden—arithmetic, solve for X, find a rate—it’s all very linear. Evergreen showed me that math isn’t linear. Each equation was no longer just symbols on a page, but a puzzle to be visualized, a story with a beginning, middle, and end. There were countless ways to approach a single problem. The more creative you could be, the more beautiful the solution.”

By the end of her second year, she had completed a year of calculus and her baby was taking her first steps. She’d also signed on for work-study in the Quantitative & Symbolic Reasoning Center (QuaSR).

“My relationship to mathematics grew into something more real and vital than the inclination I once had to become a doctor,” she said.

Beatty also discovered a community unlike any she could have imagined. Doors opened as she connected with faculty and peers who supported her through Evergreen’s rigorous programs and her financial hardships. She spent her evenings studying, her mornings rowing crew, her days working and attending classes with her daughter often in tow. “It all would have been so impossible if it weren’t for my family and the amazing Evergreen community.”

Moving Toward Math 

As Beatty moved toward pure math, a few faculty members stood out in helping her succeed.

Rachel Hastings and Brian Walter co-taught the yearlong program Math Systems, where Beatty dove into not only pure math, but math history, philosophy, and mathematical fiction. “Brian was wonderful,” said Beatty. “He can get any- body excited about math but still hold you accountable to be your best. Really, all of my faculty were exceptional.”

As part of an Independent Learning Contract, Beatty and Hastings would spend hours together, poring over partial differential equations. “Having access to someone like Rachel—who has two Ivy League degrees—was unreal, something I am certain is unique to Evergreen and the passion for learning it represents,” said Beatty.

Another faculty mentor, Krishna Chowdary, invited Beatty to be a teacher’s assistant in the program Meaning, Math, and Motion.

And in the QuaSR Center, Beatty grew close to QuaSR Director and Faculty Member Vauhn Foster-Grahler, who Beatty describes as “pivotal” in her rediscovery and love of math as well as her continued passion in diversity and inclusion issues.

“Madeleine was an exemplary student and peer tutor and the perfect blend of intelligence and diligence,” said Foster-Grahler. “Madeleine is a credit to the college and it was an honor to witness part of her journey.”

Beatty graduated from Evergreen with her dual B.A./B.S. degree. Many in her shoes would have congratulated themselves on a job well done. But Beatty was far from done—grad school beckoned.

Long-Distance Motherhood

After being accepted into the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Beatty made the difficult choice to leave her then-three- year-old daughter, Mathilde, with family to pursue her grad school dream. The long-distance relationship was sustained through daily phone calls and letters, and a U.S. map with one thumbtack marking Seattle and the other Knoxville.

“My mom and sister were a huge support during this time,” said Beatty. “It was a gut-wrenching decision, but I knew if I wanted a better life for the two of us, I had to go for it.”

After a year at UT, Beatty landed a summer internship at Amazon in Seattle, working on predictive modeling for shipment patterns. That opportunity opened her eyes to her earning potential. She made enough money to bring her daughter back with her to Tennessee while she completed her master’s degree in applied statistics.

Based on her internship performance, Beatty was offered a permanent position as a data scientist at Amazon.

“The job I have now fulfills both my creative side and my analytical side, while at the same time offering Mathilde and me financial security,” said Beatty. “I learn something new every day and am continually challenged, something I thrive on.”

Mindfulness in Management 

Madeleine Beatty in front of Amazons spheres
Madeleine Beatty in front of Amazon's spheres, which are part plant conservatory, part office space, in downtown Seattle.

At Amazon, Beatty said she uses the skills she learned at Evergreen daily. Not only the hard skills, such as preemptive problem-solving and data analysis, but the soft skills that enable people to communicate across significant differences.

“Evergreen seminars set me up perfectly for that,” she said. “In the real world, you have to talk to people and work through problems to find the best solutions. And if there’s conflict, which most of the time there is, you have to bring out healthy productive conversation—this happens frequently in meetings and you need to be able to stick up for yourself and for others. Or you may find you need to be quieter to let others speak. It’s bringing mindfulness to meetings, knowing you don’t have all the answers and that everyone at the table has value to add.”

Part of that mindfulness is around equity and diversity. Beatty is on the board for Diversity in Operations, where she conducts workplace surveys and provides analysis and recommendations for more equitable opportunities.

“We know that diverse teams outperform homogenous ones,” Beatty said. “So how do I, on a corporate level, encourage diversity and awareness? This is a large initiative and it’s something I’m passionate about.”

Summing up, Beatty said, “My goal is to remove complexities and help invent the Amazon fulfillment network for tomorrow. We have to find the problems worth solving. We have to find the smartest people in the room and understand why they disagree with us. We have to find the most creative and beautifully simple solution and let it shine. Evergreen prepared me for that.”