08/29/2013 06:34 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2013

Seeing The World Through The Lens Of Math

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

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Joanna Kelley is a Geneticist working in biological diversity at Stanford University, she is a recipient of a 2012 L'Oreal USA For Women In Science Fellowship.

Do you know that the spiral in a seashell can be described by a mathematical equation? Describing the world through the lens of math has always fascinated me. When I was in high school, I took all of the math classes offered at my high school and realized that I really liked it; I was good at math and found it fun. I was eager to learn more and my high school math teacher suggested that I take classes at a nearby community college. The summer before my junior year in high school, and having recently gotten my drivers' license, I decided to drive myself over to the local community college to take calculus.

I continued to take calculus classes during the school year and learned multivariable calculus in the mornings before heading to the rest of my high school classes. The classes were challenging! It was demanding but exciting to be learning with a bunch of college students. A supportive teacher and a school administration that valued and fostered taking courses outside of the high-school setting allowed me to take math courses at the local community college, and, ultimately, at the university in my town as a senior in high school. Being able to take those math classes and the challenge they provided led me to my current profession, a geneticist. I realized in university that I enjoyed combining mathematics and biology and that being able to explain the natural world with math was the most exciting part of this subject, such as the repeating symmetry in plant leaves.

There are many ways to be challenged and you just need to find out what those opportunities are. For me, it was having the encouragement and support of a high school teacher and mentor who suggested taking classes at a nearby community college. If there's a subject that you're excited about, it's easier now, more than ever, to dive into it. Online learning has opened up an entirely new realm of learning. Online courses, like those offered by Khan Academy and Coursera, allow you to have access to explore any number of fields of interest! There are many opportunities around you that might not be entirely obvious at first, but look around, especially online, and you can find them.

My best friend says, "It's important to say yes to opportunities that present themselves. If you don't see an opportunity, it often takes a little initiative but it's possible to create opportunities for yourself as well." Creating an opportunity may be arranging a trip to the microbiology lab at your local hospital, or visiting a local business that does manufacturing or research of interest to you. Mentors and teachers often respect initiative and will help you. Remember, if you don't ask, the answer is always no.