‘SK Day’ at UWS teaches high school girls about opportunities in mathematics

SK Day celebrates women in mathematics

Named after a famous mathematician, 'Sonia Kovalevsky Day' is all about encouraging girls to pursue a career in mathematics.

On Wednesday, girls from various high schools in the area visited University of Wisconsin-Superior for ‘SK Day’, named after the famous mathematician Sonia Kovalevsky.

“She, at her time, was the first female to become a professor at a university,” explained event organizer and UWS Assistant Teaching Professor Kristin Riesgraf. “She was also the first actually be an editor on a research journal as well. So she is kind of a trailblazer for women in mathematics, but she was also a women’s activist. And so really, I think our mission here today was to inspire some of the curiosity that Sonia had for mathematics. She loved it. She was intrigued by it, so we hopefully did that with the different math talks we had today.”

SK Day included a keynote speaker from the EPA, two math workshops, and a career fair showcasing various careers in mathematics. Students were able to learn about eight different careers in a round-robin format, spending around five minutes at each table.

“I think part of it is just knowing that I could be helping, you know, a high school girl out there, maybe she wants to go into this industry but is nervous or doesn’t know how to approach it or get into the field,” said Cirrus Data Scientist Kaitlyn Mahlen. “Part of me just really wanted to give advice, kind of share my story and how I got into this field and share that it is rewarding and just knowing that I could help at least one person.”

Superior High School Senior Claire Farnham attended SK Day at UWS last year and is now looking at majoring in math in college. Fairham has cited her SK Day experience as what inspired her to be interested in a career in mathematics.

“I was kind of just expecting career exploration, like career fair, basic stuff, and we ended up learning about really complex math, really outside of the box math applications, like we learned about the math behind clocks, the binary system, things like that,” said Fairham. “And that was really like kind of eye-opening to me because I was like, it’s not just how I can apply it into different careers. It’s just how I can think in a different way about math and learn about all these crazy applications of math.”

Fairham’s teacher, Brooke Rabideau, said that she likes the excitement her students have from SK Day.

“The girls were really excited with all of the activities that we did, and when they came back to school, the excitement was just still there and they shared it with a lot of their peers,” said Rabideau. “I think I’ve had a lot of students who didn’t really realize all of the things that you could do with math.”

The event also creates inspiration for girls to pursue careers in male-dominated fields.

“Everyone’s had that situation where they’re the only girl in a room or like one of like three girls in their math class, and they don’t feel like they have the opportunity to speak up and speak their mind because everyone else in the room has so much confidence,” explained Fairham. “Being in a room with all people who have had that same experience and so are therefore looking to make sure everyone can have a place to speak, which is really powerful and knowing that you’re not going to get judged for what you say. A lot of times if you say something right, people are going to be happy for you and not be jealous or try to knock you down or anything like that.”