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UTA Sonia Kovalevsky Day puts focus on math for girls
Dozens of middle school girls from around North Texas convened at UT Arlington for a day of education and fun at the inaugural Sonia Kovalevsky Day on April 21 in Pickard Hall.

The event was designed to encourage the study of mathematics among young women, especially minorities, and those from economically disadvantaged families. It was organized by math assistant professors Julianne Chung and Theresa Jorgensen, and graduate student Julie Skinner Sutton, and was made possible by a grant from the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Graduate and undergraduate math students served as volunteers and guides for the girls.

"We were overwhelmed by so many applications from 6th-8th grade girls who wanted to spend their Saturday doing mathematics with other girls that we needed to close down our application website early," Jorgensen said. "It was wonderful to see dedicated UT Arlington undergraduate and graduate mathematics students devote a Saturday to inspiring the next generation of mathematicians."

The day began with a breakfast for the students, their parents and teachers, followed by opening remarks by Chung and Jianzhong Su, professor and chair of the math department. Barbara Shipman, associate professor of mathematics, led an interactive activity on Math and Mobius bands, which involved the students creating a Mobius strip and making different cuts in it. The Mobius bands were part of a prize raffle at the end of the day.

The students then split into three groups and rotated among three workshops, each of which was led by UT Arlington faculty members and graduate students.

In the "Game of Poison" workshop, led by graduate teaching assistant Alicia Prieto Langarica and Jennifer Ward, students used lollipops to play a game in which the players had to find a strategy that hinges on the divisibility of a number. In the "Four Color Problem" workshop, led by graduate teaching assistants Angela Brown and Denise Rangel, students looked at how to color a map with only four colors using ideas from graph theory. In the "M&Ms and Probability" workshop, led by graduate teaching assistant Jennifer Anderson and senior lecturer in math Carole Krueger, students learned how to use the colors of M&Ms candy to understand fractions and probability. Each group was guided by 4-6 undergraduate and graduate student volunteers.

Another highlight of the day was the "Math Idol" career panel, held in the Planetarium, in which a group of women mathematicians answered students' questions. The panel included Minerva Cordero, a UT Arlington associate professor of mathematics; Monica Dziuk, information technology asset manager for Dell Services; Alysmarie Hodges, a math instructor at Eastfield College in Mesquite and a UT Arlington graduate student in math; Sally Smith, senior vice president and actuary at CitiAssurance Services; and Padmini Veerapen, a UT Arlington graduate teaching assistant in mathematics.

The Math Idol event let the girls see women with math backgrounds in positions of leadership and allowed the panelists to explain how they started their careers and how they use mathematics in their everyday lives. A slideshow/movie was used to introduce each panelist, and the girls asked many questions of the panelists. The girls related to the diversity of the panelists, Chung said.

"The highlight of the day for me was the Math Idol panel," Jorgensen said. "It made me misty-eyed to see the planetarium full of young girls who were seeing themselves in the women mathematicians on our panel."

The organizers hope to make the event an annual tradition and were encouraged by evaluation responses and feedback from parents and teachers who attended.

Sonia Kovalevsky (1850-91) was the first major Russian female mathematician. She was responsible for important original contributions to
Middle school girls from across North Texas attanded the inaugural Sonia Kovalevsky Day at UT Arlington on April 21.
'Math Idol' panelists, from left, Minerva Cordero, Monica Dzuik, and Alysmarie Hodges, answer students' questions.
Alicia Prieto Langarica helps two students during a math workshop game involving strategy based on the divisibility of numbers.

analysis, differential equations and mechanics. She was the first woman appointed to a full professorship in Northern Europe and was also one of the first females to work as an editor of a scientific journal. She was also an author and an advocate for women's rights.

In addition to grants from the AWM and NSF, the event was supported by the UT Arlington College of Science Dean's office and the Department of Mathematics.

For more information on the event, click here.

Posted May 24, 2012
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