Most people will remember her as Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, but in reality, there’s far more to Danica McKellar than the ‘80s motif of a timid girl next door would lead you to believe.
Born in La Jolla, CA, on January 3, 1975, McKellar got her start in acting while studying at the Diane Hill Hardin Young Actors Space. By age 9, McKellar began her acting career with a number of commercial gigs and roles on two episodes of The Twilight Zone. It was at this point that her career took off with her most memorable role as Winnie on The Wonder Years.
Since attaining Wonder Years fame, McKellar has opted to take a different route in her professional life, including obtaining a degree in mathematics and becoming a New York Times bestselling author; however, this hasn’t kept her from continuing her pursuit of the Hollywood limelight - far from it.
- Photo: The Wonder Years/ABC
She Received A Degree In Mathematics From UCLA
Growing up, however, McKellar also had a penchant for solving math problems, and only a short way into her college career she “felt [her] brain was getting mushy,” so she enrolled in a math class. Having forgotten about the promise she showed for mathematics growing up, she was at first surprised by her success in the math courses. As a result, she decided to switch her major from film to mathematics and dove in headfirst. She then began taking courses focusing on complex and real analysis: “I love continuous functions and proving if functions are continuous or not.”
Prior to this, she had never considered pursuing a degree - or a career - in mathematics growing up, but after having found a renewed passion for the subject, she has made huge efforts to incorporate it into her daily life.
She Helped Prove A New Mathematical Theorem
While attending classes at UCLA and pursuing her degree in mathematics, McKellar received an opportunity rarely offered to students still completing their undergraduate degree. Professor Lincoln Chayes offered McKellar and another student the opportunity to do original research on behalf of the mathematics department. Their challenge was to create a model of magnetism, which “prove[s] a property that would indicate when the magnetic field would line up in a certain direction.”
After working on the problem for months, the pair - under the direction of Chayes - were able to complete the proof for the problem. They then collectively published a paper on their findings, “Percolation and Gibbs States Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller Models on Z2,” and the proof is now known as the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.
In McKellar's own words, the theorem achieves the following:
We took a two-dimensional mathematical model of magnetic material and proved a theorem about it. It's called the Ashkin-Teller Model. And it's a pretend two-dimensional lattice grid representation of this material, and it has properties based on temperature. One of them is called percolation, and another one is called whether it has multiple Gibbs States or not. And each of these two properties, percolation and Gibbs States multiplicity, they each have a crucial temperate above which they do not happen and below which they do happen. And we proved that for this model, for the Ashkin-Teller Model, those two temperatures are the same.
- Photo: Plume
Her Line Of Math Books Inspires Girls To Get Involved With STEM
Growing up, McKellar was a huge STEM fan: “I was a total STEM kid from the time I was born. I can’t ever remember a time that I didn’t want to not only learn but be challenged. I think that’s why I love math; it challenges my brain.”
STEM - which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math - is a program that aims to encourage students to explore various scientific and mathematical fields while completing their primary- and secondary-school curricula.
After graduating from UCLA with a degree in mathematics in 1998, McKellar wanted to find a way to encourage young people, especially young women, to consider pursuing mathematics. As a result, McKellar began work on what is now a full line of math books for all students, from toddlers to adults. Her first book, Math Doesn’t Suck, was written specifically for an audience of middle school girls. She explained in an interview:
I use stories and relatable strategies for young people to realize math is fun and is all around us in everyday, real ways... I also include stories of my own personal struggles with math and ordinary, everyday life, to let girls realize we’re all the same. We all have the same worries, struggles, insecurities, et cetera.
She’s Become A Hallmark Staple
Since reentering the world of acting after graduating from UCLA in 1998, McKellar has been busy. Aside from numerous roles in TV shows and films, she’s also made a name for herself on the Hallmark Channel. Since the premiere of her first Hallmark film, Perfect Match, in 2015, McKellar has taken a leading role in many different films for the network. And apparently, she cannot get enough of them. McKellar explained in an interview why she loves working on these films:
They’re just so good natured and they tell good stories about good people, and yes they provide an escape from our [wild] world, but more than that they remind us that we can be better, and they remind us to connect with each other and they remind us of the importance of family and traditions, and I just love helping to spread that in the world.