Syracuse University festival shows high school girls the accessibility of math and science
Syracuse University festival shows high school girls the accessibility of math and scienceNovember 17, 2004Edward Byrnesedbyrnes@syr.edu
The Syracuse University Department of Mathematics is holding its sixth Sonia Kovalevsky Festival on Nov. 20. The festival invites Central New York high school math and science teachers to each bring as many as five of their female students to the SU campus for a day of activities, workshops and interaction with some of the University’s top female professors of mathematics, physics, chemistry, bioengineering and neuroscience, and architecture.
“Many in our society still don’t encourage girls to enter math-intensive fields. As far back as 20 years ago, great strides were taken and an increasing number of girls entered majors in mathematics, the sciences, and engineering, but today we have to keep up the effort,” says festival coordinator Marjory Baruch, who is an adjunct professor in SU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
SU professors conducting workshops at the festival include Claudia Miller of the mathematics department; Nazanin Mansouri of the electrical engineering department; Sara Kurlandsky of the nutrition and hospitality management department; Julie Hasenwinkel of the biomedical and chemical engineering department; and Laura Webb of the Earth sciences department. The festival will also feature a workshop conducted by Moira McDermott of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Gustavus Adolphus College, located in Saint Peter, Minn.
“We have to make sure that girls know they belong in science, that their parents encourage them in that direction, and that their schools give them the education and guidance to they need. With our festival, we hope to pass on to the girls and their teachers the information they need, coupled with the passion for discovery in the world of science, mathematics and engineering,” says Baruch. “We’re looking forward to a busy, exciting day.”
The participants spend the morning working on problems in various areas of science, engineering and math. In the afternoon there will be a discussion of careers and a math film festival. There is also a math-intensive workshop for the teachers. Says Baruch, “The focus is on doing, not just learning about.”
The Sonia Kovalevsky Festivals began in 1998, made possible in part through small grants from the Association for Women in Mathematics. Although SU no longer receives grant money specifically for the Festival, it has continued for six of the past seven years. It is sponsored by the SU Mathematics Department, the Syracuse Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, and the Technology Alliance of Central New York. For more information about the Festival, visit http://www.ecs.syr.edu/faculty/baruch/skfestival/ or call (315) 443-1472.
The festival is named in honor of Russian-born mathematician Sonia Kovalevsky (1850-91), who became the first woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics when the University of Gottingen awarded the degree to her, summa cum laude, in 1874. Because of the educational restrictions placed on women at that time, Kovalevsky had not been admitted to any university but studied under the revered mathematician Karl Weierstrass, who later claimed that she had “the gift of genius.” The strength of her work was such that she earned her degree in absentia, without examination, and without having actually attended the college. In 1888, she received the prestigious Prix Bordin from the French Academie des Sciences. The following year, Kovalevsky was appointed a full professor of mathematics at the University of Stockholm, an office she held until influenza took her life less than two years later.