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Department: Mathematics

Baroody Mathematics

Karen Gale Baroody ’86

Managing Director, Education Resource Strategies

Math, a practical choice

I’m not sure that I chose math as my major at Princeton—it’s more like math chose me. Math had always been my “thing.” I enjoyed it, I was good at it. Majoring in math was a logical choice. I didn’t think much about what it would mean for my career and my life. I suppose I figured I would get my Ph.D. and be a math professor somewhere. Then I started taking upper-level courses, and reality set in—math at Princeton was hard, really hard. When I graduated in the mid-1980s, the big consulting companies and investment banks were recruiting heavily on campus. Since by that time I had decided that I wasn’t going to pursue math and was interested in business, I interviewed with all of them.

Discovering another talent

I took a position with the strategic consulting firm Bain & Co. and soon learned that business was also my “thing.” After three years at Bain, I spent 11 years at Fidelity Investments, working my way up from a project/consulting position to senior vice president. I loved it. My time at Fidelity taught me how to run a business and also gave me the financial freedom to transition from the corporate to the nonprofit world.

Although I truly enjoyed my time at Bain and Fidelity, I wanted to focus my energies on making more of a difference. Two years ago, I became managing director of Education Resource Strategies (ERS), a small nonprofit that works with large urban school systems across the United States to help them align their budget allocations with student-driven goals. ERS has given me the opportunity to use my skills and experience to help improve urban education.

In retrospect, my decision to major in math was a great beginning for me. Being in a small department was a luxury; a full professor taught every one of my classes, my biggest class had 10 students, and we worked with some of the best mathematicians in the world. (Yes, I overlapped with John Nash, and a friend’s thesis adviser later proved Fermat’s Last Theorem.) Sure, I never use complex analysis or number theory in my work, but I do use the problem-solving skills and tenacity that I learned studying math at Princeton. The fact that the work was so difficult gave me the confidence to pursue a career in business and helped me when I ran into tough problems or situations in my work. I’ve never tried to plan my life or my career path. Instead, I’ve pursued the areas that I am passionate about, and the rest has fallen into place.

“Sure, I never use complex analysis or number theory in my work, but I do use the problem-solving skills and tenacity that I learned studying math at Princeton. The fact that the work was so difficult gave me the confidence to pursue a career in business and helped me when I ran into tough problems...”