Math and Science Opportunities at SMC


Math and Science Opportunities Abound at Saint Mary's College

Gwen O’Brien
Director of Media Relations
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, Ind.
(574) 284-4579

February 2, 2010 (Notre Dame, Ind.)—Who says there’s no chemistry between girls and math and science? At the all-women’s Saint Mary’s College, math and science has been part of the curriculum for more than a century. But getting girls interested in careers in math and science must happen long before they go to College, according to studies.

“Research shows that right around fifth or sixth grade they decide whether or not they are going to—I don’t want to say ‘pursue the sciences’—but they decide whether or not they’re going to be ‘okay’ with science,” says Professor of Biology and Department Chair Nancy Nekvasil.

Young girls are often under-encouraged in math and science throughout their schooling, even in the home, according to some studies. “Some parents will even said, ‘I wasn’t good at math, so it’s OK for you to not be good at math,” says Professor of Math and Department Chair Joanne Snow.

Opportunities to encourage students in math and science abound at Saint Mary's College, with separate events on Friday, February 19 and Saturday, February 20, plus new Summer Academy camps in July in forensic and environmental sciences.

On February 19 at 7:30 p.m. in O’Laughlin Auditorium, Mad Science Productions presents CSI: LIVE!, an exciting journey through the fascinating world of crime scene investigation, based on the popular television series CSI. This family-friendly, interactive production will engage girls and boys alike (not to mention adults) as they take on the task of solving a baffling crime. Tickets range in price from $5 for kids under 12 to $12 for adults (Click here for box office information).

The next day, February 20, in an unrelated event, 125 seventh and eighth grade girls, chosen by their science teachers at schools throughout the area, will participate in Hypatia Day. The event, unique to Saint Mary’s College, encourages middle-school students to stick with their math and science studies. The day is named for the first known female mathematician, Hypatia of Alexandria. Hypatia was born in 370 A.D., the daughter of the mathematician and philosopher Theon, who trained her in math at a time when girls didn’t receive such education. That event begins at 8:30 a.m. in Madeleva Hall.

“We want to encourage young women to keep taking advanced math and science classes instead of worrying about their GPA and choosing easy classes,” says Professor of Math Ewa Misiolek, co-director of Hypatia Day. “After spending time in our classrooms and labs with our students who have succeeded in math and science, we hope these younger students will feel confident that they can do it too.”

This July, girls entering grades 8-12 will have two fun learning opportunities for math and science through Summer Academy offerings in Forensic Science (July 11-16) and Environmental Science (July 18-23). Forensic science camp will have students learn how to analyze a crime scene with deductive reasoning and scientific skill (using biology, chemistry and mathematics). Environmental science campers will learn about global climate change, renewable energy, land pollution and more. For information on Summer Academy, click here.

According to a study posted by the Women’s College Coalition, girls tend to earn better grades in high school math and science than do boys. However, boys go on to major in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields more often than girls.

An all-female environment may help girls/women excel in their math/science studies. According to the study mentioned above, women who attend women’s colleges are more likely to enter STEM fields of study because of the supportive, single-sex environment: "Some research suggests that women's colleges provide a qualitatively different experience for women compared to coeducational institutions, including higher levels of academic challenge, opportunities for active and collaborative learning, and greater support for women in STEM majors" (Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Kuh & Umbach, 2007; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Saint Mary's College offers many math and science related undergraduate degrees, including a dual degree in Engineering program with the University of Notre Dame.

Media, if you are interested in pursuing a story about encouraging girls in their interest in math and science, contact Gwen O’Brien, director of media relations at or (574) 284-4579. She can arrange interviews with Saint Mary’s professors and/or event coordinators and/or College students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math,

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 nation's top 100 liberal arts colleges in U.S. News & World Report's 2010 annual survey. Founded in 1844, Saint Mary’s is a pioneer in the education of women, and is sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.