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Texas A&M Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Summer Mathematics Research Training (SMaRT) Camp Director Peter Kuchment smiles as he surveys this year's assembled group of bright, eager mathematical minds, flanked by fellow Texas A&M mathematician Igor Zelenko at left.

COLLEGE STATION --

It was one of the most popular outreach programs in the Department of Mathematics at Texas A&M University. Students traveled from across the country just to take part in it. It was also free.

But then the grant that provided crucial monetary support expired.

For all Texas A&M mathematics professor Peter Kuchment knew, 2013 would mark the final year of his beloved Summer Mathematics Research Training (SMaRT) Camp, which he had founded four years earlier with National Science Foundation funding support. However, after a two-year hiatus, SMaRT Camp was revived this summer, thanks to primary financial backing from Texas A&M Mathematics as well as a handful of small grants from the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America and the Texas A&M Office for Diversity. And it's still free.

"There are many camps like this around the country, and they are really good camps, but they cost a lot to attend," Kuchment said. "So to have it back and still free, it was happiness, and at the same time, a realization of how much work needed to be done."

The popular two-week summer program, held June 19 through July 2 at Texas A&M, schools advanced high school students in the fine art of approaching complex mathematical concepts at a college level. Students live on campus for the duration of the camp and are trained in a host of helpful techniques applicable to myriad topics, such as number theory, cryptography and computer architecture.

The goal of SMaRT Camp, Kuchment says, is to broaden the students' perception of mathematics and introduce them to research-based learning. For him, it's an opportunity to spark a lifelong appreciation for mathematics in young minds.

"We try to teach them how to do real research, not soundbite math problems," Kuchment said. "We find an area where we can start from scratch and move on to very advanced topics within two weeks."

Each day begins with a lecture by Oksana Shatalov, a fellow Texas A&M mathematics professor and SMaRT Camp co-director. The students then separate into small study groups led by their camp counselors as well as undergraduate and graduate students, who recap each day's material in greater detail and assist campers as they work on their daily homework assignments. Throughout the two weeks, various faculty stop by to guest lecture on a variety of mathematics-related topics.

Saturday is reserved for a special event known as "Saturday Celebration," a comprehensive exam designed to test students on their skills from the previous week's lessons. Shatalov notes that no grades are given. Instead, homework assignments and exams are marked only with comments that help guide students toward the correct answer.

"This has been a completely new experience for me," Shatalov said. "As a university professor, I'm in charge of the class, and it is always for grades. The students are usually overwhelmed with other courses they are taking, so they do not always give their full potential.

"With SMaRT Camp kids, it's different; all they have to focus on is math."

A hallmark of SMaRT Camp for both students and counselors is its flexible, preference-based environment. Students are encouraged to work any way they like -- alone, in pairs or in groups, for instance -- to complete their daily assignments and to socialize during off hours, thereby fostering both learning and new friendships.

Jesse Doan traveled all the way from Hawaii to take part in the camp and meet other young mathematics enthusiasts like himself. Doan, a senior at Seabury Hall College Preparatory School in Maui, was inspired by his older sister, Jasmine, who attended the camp in 2012.

"When I found out they brought SMaRT Camp back, I quickly applied." Doan said. "What I like about SMaRT Camp is that it brings me to a group of people my age who love math, too -- people who share my interests."

Although past participants have gone on to pursue mathematics degrees at myriad major universities, SMaRT Camp counselors also experience residual benefits. Gleb Zhelezov '10 was a counselor for Kuchment's first two SMaRT Camps in 2009 and 2010. Now a graduate student at the University of Arizona, Zhelezov jumped at the opportunity to return and resume the role when he learned Kuchment was relaunching the program.

"It's really fun working with students like this, and it's exciting to help them become better, because you know they're going to be great," Zhelezov said.

Kuchment has been a longtime advocate for the universal benefits of educational outreach. While at Wichita State University, he and his wife, Mila Mogilevsky, also a mathematics professor and longtime undergraduate adviser in Texas A&M Mathematics, launched a mathematics program for rural high school students. Kuchment brought the concept to Texas A&M in 2008 -- this time geared toward higher-level students and armed with the kind of comprehensive instruction Kuchment believes isn't likely to be found in most public education systems.

"High schools, most I would say, don't offer enough knowledge to students," Kuchment said. "Kids can handle much more than what they are given. When bright kids are not held back by limited schooling, all doors are open for them."

Still, the question of future funding remains. While Kuchment certainly is grateful to have had enough funding to cover another summer of SMaRT Camp for 2016, he admits he is anxious for future years and committed to exploring any and all potential options to keep the valuable program going.

"The kids in this camp are extremely bright," Kuchment said. "At no other time do I have this many intelligent people in the same room. They are driven, and you see very quickly that you are making a difference."

For more information on Texas A&M SMaRT Camp, visit http://www.math.tamu.edu/outreach/Camp/.

See additional photographs from the 2016 event.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to scholarship and discovery, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $866.6 million in fiscal year 2015. Texas A&M ranked in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation's Higher Education Research and Development survey (2014), based on expenditures of more than $854 million in fiscal year 2014. Texas A&M's research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.

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Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or cjarvis@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Peter Kuchment, (979) 862-3257 or kuchment@math.tamu.edu

Jarvis Chris

  • SMaRT Campers taking notes during a daily lecture.

  • SMaRT Camp Co-Director Oksana Shatalov distributing lecture materials.

  • SMaRT Campers are encouraged to work any way they like -- alone, in pairs or in groups, as this hard-problem situation warrants -- to complete their daily assigments.

  • SMaRT Camp counselor J. Corbin, armed with the tools of his trade: a blackboard, chalk and a captivated audience.

  • Among other campus attractions, SMaRT Campers got to tour the Institute for Scientific Computation's Immersive Visualization Center, where they got up close and personal with mathematical modeling.

  • Classical mathematics, from whiteboard analysis to t-shirt humor.

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