STEM Students and Faculty Put on Hypatia Day for Middle School Girls

Photo courtesy of the South Bend Tribune
Photo courtesy of the South Bend Tribune
Gwen O’Brien
Director of Media Relations
Saint Mary's College
(574) 284-4579

February 22, 2012 (Notre Dame, Ind.)—Career opportunities in math and science are boundless, and studies show that America needs more students to pursue these paths if the U.S. is to continue to be a world leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This Saturday, February 25, more than 90 female middle school students from more than 30 Michiana schools will get a first hand look at these careers by attending Hypatia Day (pronounced hi-pay-sha). The various STEM departments at the College will host the girls, who were nominated by their math and science teachers to attend. The day was started by a Saint Mary’s math professor in 1991 to get young female middle school students interested in math and science and show them how it can be fun.

The middle school students are encouraged to view each other as future physicians and nurses, research scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. The students will get a taste of what it is like to be a math, science, or nursing major by spending the day with Saint Mary’s College students and faculty, immersed in labs and various other activities. The day also offers a separate program designed for parents to prepare and continue to support their daughter’s career path, academically and financially.

Hypatia Day is unique to Saint Mary’s College. Sister Miriam Cooney, CSC, professor emerita of mathematics and a strong supporter of women in math and science, started the day. Saint Mary’s mathematics professors have faithfully upheld her legacy, as this year’s event will be the 21st Hypatia Day. The event is named after the daughter of ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher Theon. Hypatia, born in 370 A.D, is known as the first female mathematician. Theon trained her in mathematics even though women did not receive such extensive education at the time.

Kristin Jehring, PhD, assistant professor of mathematics and the director of Hypatia Day, believes that young girls today need more personal attention while developing their interest in math and science. “There are two main goals of the event. The first is to encourage the mathematical and scientific interests of middle school aged girls and to provide them with an opportunity to meet and interact with role models. The other main goal of the event is to celebrate and share enthusiasm for science and mathematics with college women preparing for careers in math and science related fields,” she said.

Studies show that getting girls interested in careers in math and science must happen long before they go to college and that young girls are often under-encouraged, at school and at home, to enter these fields. “We want to provide encouragement for continuing their strong mathematics and science interest,” Jehring said.

Media: Hypatia Day will begin at 9 a.m. in Carroll Auditorium, Madeleva Hall, with keynote speaker WSBT-TV meteorologist and Sunny 101.5 radio personality Abby Weppler. Labs and activities will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in various locations on campus. Click for the itinerary. An exciting addition to this year’s agenda is a collaborative Math+Art exhibit in the Moreau Art Gallery. This exhibition features mathematical works by artists and artistic works by mathematicians. Click for a campus map.

About Saint Mary’s College: Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., is a four-year, Catholic, women’s institution offering five bachelor’s degrees and more than 30 major areas of study. Saint Mary’s College has six nationally accredited academic programs: social work, art, music, teacher education, chemistry and nursing. Saint Mary's College ranks among the top 100 “Best National Liberal Arts Colleges” for 2012 published by U.S.News and World Report. Founded in 1844, Saint Mary’s is a pioneer in the education of women, and is sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.