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A proof that math opens doors

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That's why she's fond of recounting the warning of MIT math professor Daniel Strook: "I believe that math is in grave danger of joining Latin and Greek on the heap of subjects which were once deemed essential but are now, at least in America, regarded as relics of an obsolete, intellectual tradition," she said during a recent speech at Yale.

Granville hopes her story will show children that math "opens doors." Her parents always made it known that they expected her to attend college, because education was key to escaping poverty and gaining respect. She had role models, too. Inspired by her third-grade teacher, she always knew she wanted to become a math teacher.

Instead of succumbing to the stereotype that minority women didn't "do" math, adults in Granville's life supported and nurtured her love of logic. Quickly, it began driving her to higher achievement, first as a valedictorian at Washington's Dunbar High School in 1941. When she didn't think she could afford college, her mom gave her $500 - and an aunt matched that. She graduated summa cum laude in 1945 from Smith College, where mathematics scholarships paid her way.

Rocketing off to Yale, she earned her doctorate with a thesis on the esoteric "Laguerre series in the complex domain." Impractical? Not so. She says it prepared her well "for everything."

After completing her PhD, Granville taught from 1950 to 1952 at a black college - then leaped into government service. In the era of Sputnik, the space race and cold war were in full sway. First at the National Bureau of Standards, later at the US Army, she used numerical analysis to aid the design of missile fuses. She later provided trajectory and orbit analysis for space projects Vanguard, Mercury, and Apollo for NASA.

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