Department of Mathematics hosts second SK Day; supports young women in math

A student laughing at SK DayIn an effort to honor and inspire women in math, the Department of Mathematics at Colorado State University hosted its second Sonia Kovalevsky Day, known as SK Day.

Sonia Kovalevsky was the first woman in the world to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics, the first major Russian female mathematician and the first woman appointed to a full professorship in Northern Europe. SK Day, celebrated globally, consists of workshops and lectures for young women intended to foster a passion for mathematics and demonstrate the viability of math as a foundation for many diverse fields of study.

On March 31, high school students arrived on CSU’s campus from across Colorado, with a few buses commuting from Nebraska as well. The students heard from notable women in math, including Tegan Emerson, a CSU alum, current data analyst at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a CSU professor; and CSU Professor Hortensia Soto, president-elect of the Mathematical Association of America. They also participated in fun math activities, chatted with current female and genderqueer graduate students in math and toured parts of CSU’s campus.

“SK Day provides girls with so much more than a day of basic math workshops,” said Peggy Stoltenberg, the partnership and project development manager for the CSU Northeast Regional Engagement Center.It is more about empowering girls to envision themselves following their dreams into amazing careers that have math as a foundation. By taking part in the additional opportunities that we organized for the day, girls are inspired to envision themselves fitting in at college, being successful in college, and then going on to a career and life that they may have never imagined for themselves. The girls get to meet and talk to women who are doing amazing things in math, and then think to themselves: ‘I could do that! I could be just like her someday.’”

Developed by women, for women

The idea to host SK Day at CSU started back in 2019 with graduate students Kelly Emmrich, Harley Meade and Justin O’Connor. The inaugural event was held in March 2020 right before the pandemic paused regular activities. In 2022, they were joined by fellow student and organizer Amie Bray. All the organizing for this event was led by women.

The organizers of SK day smiling together
From left to right: Paige Kanatous, Amie Brae, Harley Meade, Kelly Emmrich, and Rachel Pries.

“I actually attended a Sonia Kovalevsky Day in seventh and eighth grade at George Mason University, and I attribute that as one of the main reasons I am where I am today,” said Meade. “While I had always loved math, that event was what made me decide to pursue it as a career, so my first year here I jumped at the chance to bring that opportunity to other girls.”

Emmrich also spoke about the impact similar events had on her as a child.

“I was raised in a rural town myself and so outreach to these communities is incredibly personal and special to me,” she said. “I had so many amazing mentors throughout my life, and so my hope is to somehow pay homage to them by being a mentor myself.”

The majority of the organizational and preparational work for the event work occurred in 2020. The graduate students attended and volunteered at events with similar goals, developed a clear vision of what they wanted the CSU event to look like, drafted a budget and proposed it to the math department.

Rachel Pries, a professor, obtained funding for the event in a grant from the National Science Foundation. This, along with additional funding from the department, paid for the t-shirts, tea, and lunch.

Paige Kanatous, the undergraduate coordinator and advisor for the department, created all the marketing materials and coordinated with at least one math teacher at every high school in Northern Colorado, yielding approximately 150 points of contact.

“For the event, I put together gift bags, made name badges, printed and packed all the information for the teachers and students and provide parking passes to all of the busses and vans that came to campus,” Kanatous said. “Showing students across Colorado and neighboring states that we are a welcoming entity and would love to see them continue their love of math here is just the beginning. We give these students a special day where their voices are heard and cherished.”

Stoltenberg worked with the CSU math department and many northeastern Colorado high school counselors and math teachers to get rural high school girls to CSU’s campus to attend the event. She also worked with numerous campus partners to offer additional opportunities for the girls and teachers to do while they were on campus.

This year’s SK day was a cross-departmental collaboration between the math department, the Office of Engagement and Extension, the Office of Admissions, CSU Extended Campus, the Alumni Center, the Department of Design and Merchandising, the University Center for the Arts, the College of Engineering and the CSU State 4-H Office.

“Moving forward we would love to expand the event,” said Emmrich. “Mathematics is truly a beautiful subject and I think everyone deserves to experience this beauty.”