Stars and Scholars: Danica McKellar

Apr 07, 2011

Playing the role of Winnie Cooper on 'The Wonder Years,' Danica McKellar was the television crush of a whole generation of teen viewers. Today Danica is known for far more than her acting career. An accomplished mathematician and best-selling author, she's showing girls that there's nothing uncool about math.

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By Douglas Fehlen

Danica McKellar Winnie Cooper The Wonder Years mathematician celebrity celeb smart genius college students grads graduates UCLA scholar Math Doesn

Making Education a Priority

Many stars who begin in television and film at a young age stay in the entertainment industry well into adulthood, often foregoing college and other more 'ordinary' pursuits. But Danica McKellar, who starred as the enigmatic Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, felt a calling beyond that of acting: Mathematics.

McKellar took a hiatus from television in the mid-1990s to attend UCLA. At the school, she proved herself to be not only a skilled actor, but also an extraordinarily gifted student. McKellar earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from UCLA in 1998, graduating with the highest possible honors.

While graduating summa cum laude is an impressive feat in and of itself, McKellar's academic impact extended far beyond the walls of UCLA classrooms - she also made a significant contribution to the greater world of mathematics. While at university, McKeller was a co-author of a math proof, completing new research on an original math theorem. Such an accomplishment is rare for an undergraduate, and McKellar was invited to present at a Statistical Mechanics conference and even speak before Congress.

Danica McKellar Winnie Cooper The Wonder Years mathematician celebrity celeb smart genius college students grads graduates UCLA scholar Math Doesn

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Dual Passions

Danica McKellar's passion for math is so intense that she has written about it so as to share it with others. Specifically, the television and academic star has penned a series of books on middle school math concepts for girls. Titles in the nonfiction series include Math Doesn't Suck, Kiss My Math and Hot X: Algebra Exposed. The goal of her books? To show girls that math doesn't have to be intimidating - and that they should never feel the need to hide how smart they are.

The reviews are in and everyone seems to love McKellar's books - and the author herself. The New York Times has called her a 'math superstar.' Ira Flatow of NPR's Science Friday has said, 'Danica knows how to speak math to kids in their own language.' And Charles Gibson of ABC's World News has called her 'the thinking girl's role model.'

Despite incredible success as an academic and an author, McKellar has not given up her first love: Acting. She has starred in more than 30 films and plays as well as made guest appearances on TV series like The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. McKellar explains her dual passions for math and acting this way: 'I've always had two sides to my personality - on the one hand I love logic and math and puzzles, and on the other, I just love to entertain people.'

Read about former 'Blossom' star Mayim Bialik, another UCLA grad, who has gone on to become a neuroscientist.

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