Third Annual Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day

On June 12, 2014 by Grad Forum
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Graduate student, Eva Infeld, participates in the Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day.

Did you know you can use paints to explain cryptography? Or that you can prove mathematically that there is no such thing as a fair voting system? The third annual Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day at Dartmouth gave 80 girls from local middle and high schools a chance to explore the mathematics behind these and other topics. In addition to giving the participants a taste of math beyond the normal school curriculum, the Math Day attendees learned about what it is like to learn and do mathematics after high school via a panel discussion with graduate and undergraduate students and faculty.

Sonia Kovalevsky Math Days have been organized by colleges and universities around the United States for over 20 years, and were initially funded by national organizations such as the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year, Dartmouth’s Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day was funded by the Department of Mathematics, Dartmouth’s Office of the Provost, and the Dean of Faculty for the Sciences. According to the website for AWM, the goal of a Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day is to provide moral and logistical support to women studying mathematics, and to encourage interaction between women studying mathematics at different grade levels, from middle school through graduate school and beyond.

Dartmouth graduate students worked with faculty members and undergraduate math majors to host this year’s Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day, which included hands-on activities and a plenary lecture, as well as the aforementioned panel discussion. Eva Infeld, a PhD candidate in the math department, was the graduate student coordinator for the cryptography activities. “The cryptography workshop was all about empowerment,” she said. “The girls learned how important encryption is in the networked world, and that if you use it right, it’s like a superpower.” Participants got to use a number of different encryption systems to encode and decode secret messages; this part of the day was a favorite with many girls.

In the workshop on “How to Guard an Art Gallery,” graduate and undergraduate mathematics students showed the Math Day attendees how geometric notions such as convexity come up when trying to determine the optimal placement of guards in an art gallery, and helped them find the relationship between how hard a gallery is to guard and how many walls it has. One participant thought this workshop was “really cool.” She added, “I love geometry and shapes and I had never thought about them like that before.”

Lin Zhao (PhD candidate, mathematics) participated in the panel discussion about mathematics after high school, saying, “I wanted to share with them… the echoing joy of seeing the whole picture and the moment when everything just makes sense…” Judging from their positive feedback, the participants in this year’s Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day took home a large dose of that joy in mathematics.

by Elizabeth Gillaspy

photo by Rosa Orellana

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