Sonya Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day returns to the Mississippi University for Women campus on Monday, Oct. 3, in Nissan Auditorium in Parkinson Hall.

Sonya Kovalevsky

The event, which was started more than 20 years ago by Jane Wenstrom and supported in part by a grant from the Association of Women in Mathematics, honors Kovalevsky, an outstanding 19th century mathematician and the first woman to receive a doctoral degree in mathematics. It brings together high school girls and their teachers (male or female) to engage in mathematics activities. There will be a competition exam (no calculators allowed) followed by a keynote speaker, small breakout sessions, lunch, small group sessions and a closing session.

Dr. Joshua Hanes, an associate professor of mathematics at The W, has been involved in the event for more than a decade. He said he is eager to welcome students and teachers back to campus after COVID-19 forced the in-person event to be canceled the last two years.

“This is a chance for us to show the high school girls some of the fun and interesting parts of mathematics,” Hanes said. “We hope the scholarship offers will encourage students to join us here at The W.”

Hanes said the all of the mathematics faculty members at The W play pivotal roles in the organization and planning of the event. He said he handles the advertising, communication with schools and collection of registration forms, Dr. Dorothy Kerzel handles the competition exams, Dr. Bonnie Oppenheimer arranges for the scholarships to the exam winners and coordinates door prizes with Texas Instruments.

“Everyone will do a small group session in an area of their interest appropriate for high school students, including games, puzzles and hands-on activities,” Hanes said. “Our keynote speakers spark interest in mathematics by choosing topics that interest high school students. This year, former W mathematics faculty member Clifton Wingard will present The Fibonacci numbers, which are commonly denoted Fₙ. These numbers form a sequence, the Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is the sum of the two preceding ones. The sequence commonly starts from 0 and 1.

Hanes said Sonya Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day plays an important role in educating students and parents about the possible career opportunities in mathematics. He said Oppenheimer, the department chair and professor of mathematics, has a story he believes some parents might relate to.

“My own parents had no clue what I might do with a mathematics degree,” Oppenheimer said. “They snuck out of the house, went to a local college recruiting event and found a mathematics professor to ask about whether girls could get jobs with mathematics degrees. They came home and announced I would be allowed to declare a mathematics major if I wanted to do so. I can only believe many parents also wonder what their daughters might do in mathematics.”

Hanes echoed Oppenheimer’s feelings and said Sonya Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day is less about raising awareness of the opportunities and more about understanding a career in mathematics isn’t just about “doing math.”

“It’s about making the world around you easier to understand,” Hanes said. “By studying mathematics, students develop the mental discipline to focus on abstract concepts, manipulate them in their heads, and use these skills to solve problems quickly and efficiently.

“Having a strong foundation in mathematics also makes it easier to transition into any STEM field. Over the course of study of mathematics, students develop transportable skills that they can use not only in the pursuit of pure mathematics, but also mathematics-adjacent careers and graduate studies such as engineering, physics, computer programming, and chemistry.”

The program begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. Registered participants may check in between 8 and 8:30 a.m. in the lobby of Parkinson Hall at The W. Lunch will be provided for free for the first 100 participants to register.

Prizes will be awarded to individuals with the highest scores on the mathematics competition exam, which in the past have included W scholarships awardable to first-time, full-time freshmen.

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.