Sunday, March 12, 2000

Miami helps girls tackle math

Enquirer Contributor

        OXFORD — Kaneshia Howell slowly dropped pennies onto a plastic dish to see how much weight the tetrahedrals supporting it could hold. Kaneshia had just made the triangular forms using toothpicks and mini-marshmallows.

        Testing the strength of triangles was just one activity the Hughes Center senior undertook recently as part of Sonia Kovalevsky Mathematical Sciences Day at Miami University.

        She and other girls moved around the manufacturing engineering lab, studying how gears work, comparing the mechanical advantages of various pulley configurations and operating small robots.

        In other labs, Kovalevsky participants learned how to make paper and experimented with computers and lasers. They also heard from women who work in math- and science-related fields.

        For nine years, Miami has held the event for female high-school students.

        “We're not trying to convert them all to become mathematicians,” said Miami math professor Emily Murphree, who organizes the event. “We're just trying to get them to take enough math to expand their career options.”

        Ms. Murphree learned about Sonia Kovalevsky Day when she was asked to speak at such an event at Cleveland State University in 1989.

        Since initiating the program at Miami, she has enlisted the participation of guest speakers whose work in diverse fields involves a solid foundation in math.

        This year's all-female lineup included a chemical engineer who is vice president of Kimberly-Clark Corp., a recent aeronautical engineering graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a statistician.

        Another featured guest was Jennifer Whitestone, a biomedical engineer who recently formed her own company that uses lasers to scan and map the injuries of burn victims.

        “We try to invite speak ers who can articulate their excitement about math, but who also have a life outside their careers,” Ms. Murphree said.

        “There's lots of good information here,” said Amber Chloe Easterling, a junior at Colerain High School attending for the third year. “I used to want to be a microbiologist, but now I'm thinking about being an artist or architect.”

        Rachel Cobb agreed. “I'm thinking more about liberal arts,” said the junior at Henry County High School in Kentucky.

        “But it's a good idea to have a background in math and science because you're going to have to take those courses.“

        The day is named after the first woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics.

        A 19th century trailblazer, Sonia Kovalevsky, achieved her goals despite many restrictions on women at the time.


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