Rooting More High Schoolers in Math

Every summer, the Mathroots program hosts promising minority high school students on campus for two weeks to explore creative topics in mathematics and hone their problem-solving skills.

“Students of color are underrepresented among math majors and research mathematicians, and Mathroots aims to help close this gap,” says Slava Gerovitch PhD ’99, the program’s academic director and an MIT lecturer in the history of mathematics. “It’s difficult for these students even to contemplate a career in math, because they often live in communities with limited access to advanced math courses in high school and feel out of place at regular math camps. Mathroots brings such students together and creates an environment where they feel comfortable and thrive.”

Each cohort is comprised of 20 high-achieving students from around the US who are well-versed in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus. But Mathroots nudges them beyond the typical high school curriculum by focusing on Math Olympiad-type problems—a fun vehicle to learn new concepts, encourage thinking creatively, and practice writing proofs.

“It was eight hours of math a day…I loved it!” says Deon Richmond, who participated in the first cohort in 2015. “It was so collaborative; it wasn’t all of us competing against each other, it was all of us competing against the problem.” Richmond relished the challenge and sense of community so much he decided to apply to MIT. Before Mathroots, he says, “I thought MIT was completely out of my reach, so it wasn’t even in my scope of colleges to look at.” Now, he’s a member of the class of 2020 majoring in Course 18-C (mathematics and computer science)—one of nine 2015 Mathroots alumni who have matriculated at the Institute.

“The problem of underrepresentation of black and Latino students in mathematics is completely solvable,” says Quinton McArthur, an associate director of MIT Admissions who was instrumental in launching the program. “I believe in the potential of Mathroots to be the first step in building a pipeline for black and Latino students who have ability, but are not being integrated into the current mathematical talent development ecosystem.”

This story was originally published in April 2017.

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