Posted by: Amelia | July 30, 2007

Today’s Heroine: Danica McKellar

From the AP:

NEW YORK (AP) — Danica McKellar has a message for girls: Cute and smart is better than cute and dumb.

McKellar, who played Winnie on the 1990s television show “The Wonder Years,” is coming out with a book, “Math Doesn’t Suck,” to encourage girls to get into math.

“When girls see the antics of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, they think that being fun and glamorous also means being dumb and irresponsible,” the 32-year-old McKellar told Newsweek for editions to hit newsstands Monday.

“But I want to show them that being smart is cool,” she said. “Being good at math is cool. And not only that, it can help them get what they want out of life.”

McKellar should know. The actress once struggled with the subject around the seventh grade, but a teacher helped her through. McKellar eventually majored in math in college.

She wasn’t just any old math major, though. She co-authored a paper, entitled “Percolation and Gibbs States Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller Models in Z2,” which proves a mathematical theorem that now can be called the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem. She also graduated summa cum laude from UCLA in 1998 and was at the top of her class in the math department.

To say I was a math and science person high school is inaccurate only because I liked all the other subjects as well. But I did excel in math and science, and by senior year had run out of math classes to take. I even applied to college as a chemistry major. Then, sometime before I actually matriculated, I got the political bug and haven’t wavered from the government/public policy track since. I’m quite happy with that decision, and probably wouldn’t be writing this blog if I had decided differently. But I do feel a twinge of dismay when I realize I have contributed to the exodus of girls from the sciences.

So I applaud Danica McKellar not only for being a visible example of a brainy, multi-talented woman, but also for going above and beyond to promote women in the sciences – and for never downplaying her smarts. I loved reading this interview of her from U.S. News & World Report:

Who was your role model when you were in college?
Jodie Foster-a successful scholar who also was a great actress/director and someone who started acting from a young age.

What was the biggest obstacle you overcame in college?
Getting people to transition from referring to me as “Winnie Cooper” and to start referring to me as “that girl who helped me pass calculus.” (I was a calculus tutor for two years in the department). Sure enough, it happened! And in fact, when I was at Sundance in 2003, I got to a party that had a HUGE line, filled with all sorts of celebrities. It didn’t seem to matter-no one was getting in. Then the bouncer spotted me and pulled me over. He said, “Hey, you’re the reason I passed Math 32B-get your friend and come on in!” That was pretty darn cool.


What did you like most and least about your school?
The most: The love of knowledge that permeates the math department. People just stop in the hallways to discuss interesting math problems … lots of professors in a cloud of imagination and thought, wandering around with glassy looks in their eyes, always ready to have their brains expanded with a new way of looking at things. Academia seems unhampered, in many ways, by the politics of corporate America. It was blissful.

The least: UCLA is so big that some of the classes (not the math ones) seemed impersonal.

Tell us one way in which college changed you.
It gave me a chance to reinvent myself, and to value myself for something other than being on television.



  1. I read a short story about this today.. was it in the Express, maybe? Good for her.

  2. I actually saw awhile back that she was planning this… maybe on one of those “where are they now” shows. I had a huge crush on her as young teen… I guess I still do. HA!

  3. So did Kevin Arnold ever tap that or was it left ambiguous on purpose? I might be one of about 7 people who watched the series finale.

  4. I think I saw your blog post quoted about this in the Express last week. Did anyone else catch that? In their Blog section?

  5. Yep, it was in the blog log! I have four copies. 🙂

  6. i think it’s really cool what Danica is doing to help out young girls!!!!!! WAY TO GO DANICA!!!!!!!! (i love “The Wonder Years”

  7. […] to scanning this Washington Express blog log from a few weeks ago.  It featured a snippet from a post by yours […]

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