Wednesday, Mar 07 2012 03:47 PM

Best way to fight zombies? Math

BY STEFANI DIAS Californian assistant lifestyles editor sdias@bakersfield.com

First the good news: Author Jennifer Ouellette has the answer for surviving a zombie apocalypse.

Bad news: We'll only last three days.

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<b>Jennifer Ouellette</b>

Who: Author of "The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse"

When: 12:15 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Fireside room, John Collins Campus Center, Bakersfield College, 1801 Panorama Drive

Admission: Free

"People on one level love science. The 'gee whiz' aspect of science. (But) when we're given the chance to opt out, we do."

-- Jennifer Ouellette, author of "The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse"

"The best bet is to be a hermit and have no contact with human beings," said Ouellette, who will speak at Bakersfield College on Tuesday.

For those who don't fear human contact -- and are interested in math and science -- the author will set out to debunk some misconceptions at the event, sponsored by a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics collaborative grant between Cal State Bakersfield and Bakersfield College.

Rageshwar Goldberg, STEM program director at BC, said that Ouellette is the latest speaker invited to address the Kern County Science Fair and give a public presentation as well.

Along with the author of "The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse," other speakers have included engineer Deanne Bell from the Discovery Channel's "Smash Lab" and actors/researchers David Berman and Jon Wellner from "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

"We're glad she's coming out to speak to us," Goldberg said of Ouellette. "My goal in inviting these speakers is to demystify math and science, to make it interesting and accessible."

Ouellette said educators face a struggle when it comes to the fields.

"People on one level love science. The 'gee whiz' aspect of science.

"(But) when we're given the chance to opt out, we do."

Ouellette said that school-level decision is often fueled by an all-too-common math phobia, rather than ineptitude.

"It wasn't that I was bad at math and science. Once I got my chance to do what I loved (studying literature and writing), I gave up on math and science."

Ouellette, who described herself as a perfectionist in high school and college, said that returning to the topics as an science writer taught her a valuable lesson.

"The importance of failure. The most important thing I learned was to fail the right way. It didn't lower my self-esteem or make me feel bad."

The writer worries that students today won't be prepared to lead us into the future.

"(Having a math phobia), that snowballs. You become afraid to take risks. We need kids who are wiling to innovate, who aren't afraid to take risks. We have some big problems and we need them in the pipeline (looking for answers).

"If you give up on math and science by age 15, you are limiting yourself as an adult. You want to keep your options open until 20."

Cultivating a general interest in math and science through popular culture has long been her aim, formerly as director of the Los Angeles-based Science and Entertainment Exchange and author of "The Calculus Diaries" and "Physics of the Buffyverse," explaining the science behind TV hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Ouellette praised shows like Fox's "Fringe" and CBS' now-canceled "Numb3rs" for maintaining websites that discussed the math and science behind the story.

"Thank God for the Internet. Hits kids where they live. Augment what they love, use that to explore the underlying math and science to them. That's a really good way to reach out to them."

Along with popular culture, Ouellette said community events like Tuesday's help address concerns.

"The grass-roots stuff is the most important. I'm taking two days out to come to Bakersfield. Places like the Inland Empire and some of the smaller towns, there aren't as many special events. I think those things are very important.

"It's how well you present it and how you engage the students. That factory model does not engage students at a passionate level. The world we live in we need a populace that is engaged."

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