Linklights ~ Michelle Blouin-Williams

New Orleans (LA) Links chapter member Michelle Blouin-Williams is a mathematics professor at St. Mary’s Academy High School in New Orleans ~ her alma mater. When she started a math contest with a bonus question challenging students to create a new proof for the Pythagorean theorem using trigonometry, Mrs. Blouin-Williams did not expect anyone to complete the task.

“I was just looking for some ingenuity,” she said, per CBS News.

Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson, however, blew Williams’ expectations out of the water in 2023 by creating the new proof for the Pythagorean theorem using trigonometry. The teens were seniors at the time.

Their discovery brought them world-wide recognition. Indeed, they appeared in an episode of CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and talked about their achievement.

While they were motivated initially by the math competition’s $500 prize, an internal drive to finish what they started manifested when they reached the tricky bonus question. For two months, the high school seniors worked tirelessly to finish their proof.

When they finished, teachers at St. Mary’s Academy recognized the importance of their work and submitted their proof to the American Mathematical Society for recognition at a conference in March 2023, where the students presented their work.

According to the “60 Minutes” episode, “there had been more than 300 documented proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem using algebra and geometry, but for 2,000 years a proof using trigonometry was thought to be impossible.”

According to Scientific American, the teens refuted this in their presentation in 2023 and said that “a trigonometric identity called the law of sines didn’t depend on the Pythagorean theorem and that they could use it to prove the theorem.”

Calcea and Ne’Kiya have joined an extremely small group who’ve accomplished the same feat, including mathematician Jason Zimba, who successfully created a new proof in 2009. The two submitted their proof for final peer review this spring and continue to work on creating more proofs.

The chapter congratulates member Michelle Blouin-Williams. Mrs. Williams’ dedication to the teaching of mathematics is exemplary. Her expertise, steady guidance, nurturing persona, and high confidence in the abilities of her students shine brightly every day that she is in the classroom. Her work embodies the mission of The Links, Incorporated ~ impactful service, compassion, and guidance to our future leaders.

Recognition and praise has been so much so that former basketball player, the legend himself, Mr. Charles Barkley, pledged $1,000,000 to St. Mary’s Academy after viewing the CBS segment highlighting the students’ accomplishment.

Barkley told the Birmingham News he was captivated by the story of Johnson’s and Jackson’s achievement.

“These beautiful Black women, man, they’re just the high achievers,” Barkley said. “A lot is demanded of everybody at the school – high excellence. And these two Black women did something in mathematics that was just incredible. It just inspired me.”

Thank you immensely, Mr. Barkley.

Congratulations, Michelle! Job well done.