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NMSU makes math count for area high school girls

A recent U.S. Commerce Department report revealed that women are an untapped resource when it comes to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The report shows women make up almost half the U.S. work force yet hold less than a quarter of STEM jobs. New Mexico State University is making an effort to influence those statistics by sponsoring a math day for young women at local area high schools.

The Department of Mathematics will be holding Sonia Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. The organizers are pictured left to right: Patricia Baggett, Susana Salamanca-Riba, Louiza Fouli, Tiziana Giorgi, Maribeth Olberding and Mary Ballyk (Courtesy photo).

"There is an endemic underrepresentation of minority students at the highest levels of professions that are mathematics-intensive. Females, and minorities in general, seem to quickly stray away from mathematics starting in middle school," said Tiziana Giorgi, an associate professor at NMSU's mathematical sciences department.

More than 50 students from two area high schools will attend the Sonia Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, Oct. 28, in Room 107 of the Science Hall building. The day is named for a woman born in 1850 who was not only a mathematician but a writer and women's rights advocate whose groundbreaking work in mathematics forced her male counterparts to reconsider notions of women's inferiority to men in science and mathematics. Her struggle to obtain an education helped to open doors at universities to women.

"We believe that by providing an informal setting where these students can interact with female mathematicians, activities where the fun and beauty of mathematics can be seen, and follow up contacts with female professors in our department, we might influence their future choices of classes and career paths," Giorgi said.

The day will begin with array of hands-on games and workshops with titles like "Spirals, Knots and Tessellations," "Energy Minimizers and the Beauty of Soap Bubbles" and " Engaging Geometry & Art Projects."

"Events like Sonia Kovalevsky Day are not just geared towards the more advanced students, they are also geared towards the more interested ones," Giorgi said. "It helps in keeping them motivated and focused."

The high school girls, from grades nine through 12, will have lunch with their math mentors and end the day interacting with a career panel.

According to the Commerce Department report, women in STEM fields earn 33 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts, and employment in these fields has grown much faster than employment in other occupations - the trend is expected to continue. The career panel will provide guidance to these students in pursuing educational options and career opportunities in the various mathematics fields.

The day is sponsored by the Association for Women in Mathematics, the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences, the NMSU ADVANCE Foundation and the NMSU Department of Mathematics.

For more information contact Tiziana Giorgi at 575-646-2717 or tgiorgi@math.nmsu.edu.