UI celebrates Sonia Kovalevsky Day for 14 years

The UI Mathematics Department has put on Sonia Kovalevsky Day for 14 years to recruit more women into careers in math.


Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen with the Iowa Homecoming Corn Statue in front on Thursday, October 18, 2018.

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

Fourteen years ago, the UI began to honor Sonia Kovalevsky, a Russian female mathematician who attempted to defy the odds of female representation in STEM-related areas in the 1800s. The event has since then developed into a day dedicated to allowing high school-age girls interested in the area to speak with UI resources in the field.

Kovalevsky made strides in analysis, partial differential equations, and mechanics, reports the UI Mathematics Department website. The website also said she was an advocate for women in her time and used her primarily male-dominated field to try to approach that issue.

Through triumph and tragedy, Kovalevsky provided for more women to engage in mathematics fields, said program director and mathematics Professor Tong Li.

“We lead a team of graduate students,” Li said. “That is the core of our organization. We recruit and plan this event every year.”

Kovalevsky Day took place at the Pappajohn Business Building on the morning of April 6. Speakers included Ph.D. candidate Sara Reed; Professor of management sciences Ann Campbell; industrial engineering Assistant Professor Stephen Baek; Associate Professor of mathematics Oguz Durumeric; and Ph.D. candidate Melanie King.

Reed said it was important for the college to engage in these sorts of opportunities to expose young women to the possibility of pursuing careers in math.

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“I have volunteered at SK Day the past two years as a graduate student and have been able to see how excited these young women get about math,” Reed said. “This excitement motivated me to want to be more involved as one of the co-organizers this year.”

This year’s events were themed “Math Connects” in hopes to demonstrate how interdisciplinary the study of math can be, she said.

I think it’s important to let young women know what’s possible.

— Amrei Oswald, graduate-student organizer

Another graduate student organizer, Amrei Oswald, said she was also very motivated to get involved in the program’s passions behind the yearly events as well.

Oswald said the outreach events interest her, especially in this field.

“I will certainly continue being involved in events like this for my entire career,” Oswald said. “Sonia Kovalevsky Day at the University of Iowa will also continue every year and will be organized by Tong Li and a different set of graduate students next year.”

Oswald said the event is a lot more than just another day to celebrate math.

“I think it’s important to let young women know what’s possible,” Oswald said. “Between the career panel and the talks, the attendees will get to see women who have taken many different career paths. hopefully, these role models will give them ideas about their own future. I didn’t know that being a mathematician was an option until late in my undergraduate program, and I think an event like SK Day could have made a really big difference for me.”