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SJU’s Sonia Kovalevsky Day Celebration Inspires Future Women Mathematicians

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reviving an effort that encourages young women to pursue math and science careers, St. John’s invited students from eight local high schools to the Queens campus this month for mentoring, workshops, and other activities as part of the University’s Sonia Kovalevsky Day for High School Girls.

The event, held at Marillac Terrace on March 3, was free for the 37 students and nine teachers who participated. They represented the Academy High School, George Washington Carver High School for the Sciences, Mary Louis Academy, Queens Academy, Robert F. Kennedy, Valley Stream South, Xaverian, and the Yeshiva University High School for Girls.

Sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science after a 10-year hiatus, Sonia Kovalevsky Day educates young women about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) professions. Former faculty members Rora Iacobacci and Anne Hughes launched the event in the 1990s, naming it for the 19th-century mathematician who became the first female member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the first to attain a full professorship.

The day kicked off with breakfast and welcoming remarks by Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President. Guest speaker Maggie Jacobsen ‘15C, Associate Broker at Aon Risk Solutions, also addressed the students. Workshops filled the rest of the morning, including “Math the Growth,” “#Mathagram,” “Euler’s Magic Formula,” “How Prime Numbers Keep Hackers at Bay,” and “Bracketology.”

Teachers attended their own workshop, “Flippin’ Out,” which provided tools and ideas for using the “flipped classroom” model. During lunch, students participated in an art contest. The afternoon consisted of a Math Bowl and closing remarks and prizes.

Raeann Kyriakou, Ph.D. ’04C, ‘05G, Assistant Professor of Math and Computer Science, organized the event. Participating SJU faculty included Charles Traina, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Math and Computer Science; David Rosenthal, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Math and Computer Science; Alioune Khoule, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Math and Computer Science; Igor Nikoleav, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Math and Computer Science; Felicia Carvalho, Ph.D., Laboratory Director, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Laura Schramm, Ph.D., Associate Dean and Professor, Biological Sciences; and Jeffrey W. Fagen, Ph.D., Dean, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Professor, Psychology.

“The students were actively engaged in all aspects of the day,” said Dr. Kyriakou. “They were energetic. We had a wonderful initial turnout. Students, teachers, faculty, and staff were excited to be there, and the joy of learning mathematics and the possibilities of mathematics were evident.”

“My students from South High School had a great day,” noted Salvatore Marino, who is also an adjunct math instructor at St. John’s. “It gave them good exposure to what it will be like to be taught by a college professor in all the workshops they attended. It also got them to compete against another high school and realize how much they have been taught.”