The University Record, November 12, 1997

Math department hosts first Sonya Kovalevsky Day

Mathematics professor Carolyn Dean talks with participants at Sonya Kovalevsky Day. Photo by James Matthew Wilson


By James Matthew Wilson
News and Information Services

Nearly 50 high school-age women from southeastern Michigan assembled in East Hall earlier this fall to learn about career opportunities for women in mathematics.

The day-long event was held in honor of Sonya Kovalevsky, a 19th-century Russian mathematician and women's rights pioneer. Its purpose, says Carolyn Dean, professor of mathematics and the program's coordinator, is to boost the number of women who enter the mathematics field by encouraging those who have shown ability or interest in math to continue to study at the college level. At the U-M, 48 percent of undergraduate math concentrators and 25 percent of math graduate students are women, Dean says.

Activities included small-group discussions led by mathematics faculty, and individual meetings with graduate and undergraduate students to begin an extended mentoring relationship. The high school students also heard from several women mathematicians, who elaborated on career options and told of their own experiences and challenges in the field.

Angela Grant, a graduate student in mathematics and volunteer in the mentorship program, said that the event fills a need. Some young women "don't know women are even studying math. It's mostly just males who are visible in the field. This will encourage a balance in the technical work force."

Lucie Morell, a junior at Greenhills School, said the event made a difference. "It introduced us to new things. We heard about becoming an actuary. It taught me about all the fields you can go into with a math degree."

Speakers included Berit Stetsones, professor of mathematics; Karen Smith, associate professor; Ruth Lawrence, assistant professor; Caryn Werner, assistant professor; and Julie Kerr, a doctoral candidate.

The event was co-sponsored by the National Security Agency and a one-time grant awarded by the Association for Women in Mathematics. It is part of the U-M Math Scholars, an outreach program from the mathematics department to high school teachers and students throughout Michigan.