Math event reaches out to local girls
By Marissa Lilly
Published on Monday, October 22, 2012
Approximately 80 mathematically gifted girls in sixth through 12th grade attended the second-annual Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day at the College as part of a nationwide initiative to encourage young women to take an interest in higher-level mathematics. The event is named in honor of Sonia Kovalevsky, a notable Russian mathematician during the late 1800s.
The day’s events stressed the importance of sustained involvement in mathematical fields. Participants attended two workshops focused on applying mathematical concepts, including Fibonacci numbers and the Mobius strip, and a lecture about the mathematics of cancer by math professor Dorothy Wallace. To conclude the day, a panel of seven Dartmouth women ranging from undergraduates to professors spoke about the benefits of studying math and encouraged participants to speak up and ask questions.
Fifth-year mathematics PhD candidate Katherine Kinnaird said that the event’s organizers crafted the agenda to emphasize the importance of a strong female presence in the world of mathematics.
“All of the organizers and all of the workshoppers are women,” Kinnaird said. “It was an opportunity to bring women into math and help build a community for them where there might not be a visible one.”
In addition to students, middle school and high school teachers from throughout New Hampshire attended the event.
Leah Whedon, a mathematics teacher at Mascoma High School in Canaan, N.H., attended the event to learn more about expanding opportunities for her female students.
“It’s important for the girls to see how many women are in math,” Whedon said. She also cited the program’s emphasis on applying mathematical knowledge as particularly conducive to enlivening the concepts set forth.
The event’s organizers also expressed optimism about the program’s future.
Math department system administrator Tracy Moloney said that the event will be continued annually because of its success this year. Mathematics research instructor Zajj Daugherty said that the mathematics department is dedicated to emphasizing the importance of math beyond the Dartmouth campus.
“We’re really well poised to be successful doing math at all levels,” Daugherty said. “In general, Dartmouth has a commitment to engaging with a community.”
Students in attendance expressed enthusiasm about the event and its goals.
“Math is really big for me,” a female seventh grader, who asked that her name not be used, said. “You find it everywhere, so without math, you basically can’t function in life. I think they’re encouraging us to step out of our comfort zone, and that’s great.”
An 11th grade student who also asked that her name not be used said that she was impressed with the turnout and audience enthusiasm.
“It’s fun to see all these middle schoolers interested in math,” she said. “At one point, a seventh grader fell out of her seat because she was bouncing up and down with excitement about Fibonacci numbers.”
Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day is one of several mathematics department efforts to encourage young people to take an interest in math. Each year the department holds two week-long summer workshops for students in high school to teach math concepts not found on the typical high school syllabus.
The event was co-sponsored by the mathematics department, the Office of the Provost and the Association for Women in Mathematics.