In only its fifth year, the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Sonia Kovalevsky Day has helped open the world of mathematics to high school girls throughout the region.
Sonia Kovalevsky Day, which UW-Superior hosted November 8, provides mathematical activities and career information for 9th to 12th grade girls increasing exposure to mathematics and its importance in education and future careers. This year’s event included more than 130 students from 15 high schools throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Named after the first woman in modern Europe to gain a doctorate in mathematics, the first to join the editorial board of a scientific journal and the first to be appointed professor of mathematics, the day continues to inspire the next generation of female mathematicians.
“I was excited to come back and learn more about math things,” said Claire Farnham, a senior from Superior High School. “Last year we learned about binary systems, clock math, UPC codes and this year I was excited to get more inspiration.”
Before attending the event, Farnham admits that math wasn’t her favorite school subject.
“I wasn’t very interested in math – it was just part of the stuff you have to learn for school,” she said. “But at this event I was introduced to outside-the-box math concepts and that helped me go on to more math work later in my school year.”
On her second trip to UW-Superior for Sonia Kovalevsky Day, Farnham now sees mathematics differently than a year before.
“Last year I was expecting to talk about math and careers, but it was really interesting,” she said. “It was talking about things in a fun way surrounded by all girls and getting into things I hadn’t really thought about before about math.”
Farnham credits the event for giving her a new perspective on math.
“It was a lot more interesting to learn about things that are unique and that you don’t really think about the fact that math is related to them,” she said.
In this free event, participants rotate through workshops run by mathematics professors. The event also includes a career exploration where students connect with local professionals who use math. Seeing the math perspective from outside the classroom has had a transformational impact on many students like Farnham.
“I was not at all interested before in math as any part of a career, she said. “After learning about the types of things a mathematician actually does, it sounds really cool, and I definitely want to do that.”
UW-Superior’s Sonia Kovalevsky Day has also proved a valuable experience for current teachers.
“I think it’s wonderful for women to get excited about math, said Brooke Rabideau, a math teacher at Superior High School. “I also really like the different career exploration aspects about it. When I was a student in Claire’s position, I liked math, but I had no idea what I wanted to do and I don’t think I really realized all the opportunities available to me, so I think this day really opens doors for girls and helps them learn about these opportunities.”
Keynote speaker was Kelsey Vitense a mathematical statistician at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based in Duluth. Vitense majored in mathematics at Grinnell College, has a master’s degree in quantitative ecology from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D., in natural resources science from the University of Minnesota.
Sponsors for Sonia Kovalevsky Day included the American Association of University Women – Duluth, Mathematical Association of America Tensor Women & Mathematics and UW-Superior’s Link Center and Math and Computer Science Department.
Written by UW-Superior