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COLLEGE STATION --

What do you get when you take the foresight of one Texas A&M University professor, add a handful of highly intelligent high school students and then multiply by two weeks of advanced mathematics lessons and experiences?

The correct answer is the Summer Mathematics Research Training (SMaRT) Camp, a two-week National Science Foundation-funded program currently under way on the Texas A&M campus through June 25. Founded and directed by Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Dr. Peter Kuchment, the camp seeks to inspire students with a knack for mathematics and the desire to spend part of their summer involved in intensive training sessions in college-level topics.

Sponsored and hosted by the Texas A&M Department of Mathematics every summer since 2009, SMaRT Camp provides a free overview of useful mathematical techniques as well as training in how to approach mathematical problems, prove mathematical statements and explain related results. Students live on campus and, in a relatively short span, are immersed and skill-tested in subjects ranging from number theory to logic, with applications to various areas of mathematics and computer science -- all under the watchful eye of Kuchment, Associate Professor of Mathematics Dr. Zoran Sunik and their small team of Texas A&M student counselors who, in some cases, are former campers.

"It's amazing the amount of material we cover in two weeks," Kuchment says. "We start from scratch, and by the next week, we are into things that even some of our undergraduates haven't heard of -- and they do it on their own."

A typical day at SMaRT Camp begins with a short lecture by Kuchment on the subject of the day, followed by small-group discussion led by camp counselors. In addition to going over the material in further detail, the counselors also are available to assist campers as they work on their daily assignments, usually 15-to-20 problems, either alone or as a group.

The students, their counselors and Kuchment later meet back up for lunch, an opportune time to mingle and get to know one another, after which they can continue with their assignments or take a break in their dorms. 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. No grades are given, only detailed comments from the counselors showing students how to correct the problems they missed.

Any given day also may feature a special guest lecture presented by departmental faculty or external experts on any number of mathematics-related topics. This year Dr. Alexey Root, 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and senior lecturer for the chess program at the University of Texas at Dallas, will speak to the students about several mathematical techniques that are incorporated into the game.

"The results so far have been great," Kuchment notes. "I am very happy with the kids we get and the results they achieve. It's hard work physically, but morally, it lifts your spirit a lot, because I want all of them to get something from the program."

Kuchment credits two well-established mathematics camps -- the famous Arnold Ross Camp at Ohio State University and Texas State University's camp headed by Professor Max Warshauer -- with teaching him some of the trademark techniques he has applied to his own successful program. While his original concept was intended to serve a small, local group of advanced students by facilitating their interest in mathematics, the program now is attracting students from not only across the state, but also nationwide and even Puerto Rico in just its third year. Due to staffing restrictions, Kuchment says he limits enrollment to around 20 campers, even though he estimates he could easily triple that figure. For the past two years, he also has invited eight previous attendees to return in order to expand on what they were taught last summer through separate lessons outside of the main camp.

Like his department, which also hosts an annual high school mathematics contest and a summer program for middle school students, Kuchment boasts a long tradition of educational outreach and inspirational service. Prior to joining the Texas A&M faculty in 2001, he and his wife, Dr. Mila Mogilevsky, a senior lecturer of mathematics and longtime undergraduate adviser for the department, spent seven years running a successful mathematics program at Wichita State University for students who essentially lived "in the middle of nowhere," as he says. To help these students discover their mathematical potential, the two wrote booklets and study guides and created assignments to help their young charges hone their skills. Given the logistical and technological constraints of the times, they had to rely on traditional mail service for all related correspondence, from sending to receiving materials and assignments.

For Kuchment, it's a complex labor of love involving mathematics, students and what he sees as both the opportunity and obligation to spark a lifelong understanding and appreciation of the subject through essential exposure that may or may not be happening elsewhere for a variety of reasons.

"There are wonderful schools here and there, but I think in general, statistics show our kids are far behind in math, and our kids don't deserve this," he explains. "And it's not just math; it's other subjects, too. We just try to do whatever we can to help this."

During its brief but effective existence, SMaRT Camp has had a profound influence on many students -- several of whom have gone on to major universities to pursue mathematics degrees, and a few with whom Kuchment still keeps in touch. Some of the original campers have even returned to serve as counselors, coming full circle to mentor young students just as they once were mentored.

Calvin Smith, a sophomore applied mathematics major at Texas A&M and current camp counselor, is one such example. He attended the camp's previous two sessions and says he enjoyed the experience so much, he decided to return to help make sure the new students had as memorable a time as he did.

"I decided to return mostly because of the fun I had," Smith adds. "The people here are great, and there's a really cool experience to working with a bunch of intelligent motivated people.

"It's always surprising, working with a group of kids you don't know. You get to watch them learn and make friends, and they often have insights that can clarify your own understanding of the topic."

Although SMaRT Camp has been well-received by both students and parents, based on feedback gleaned from anonymous end-of-session surveys conducted each year, the program faces an uncertain future. Funding from the initial NSF grant, which has been shared with other mathematics educational outreach programs, has been nearly depleted, putting Kuchment's program in dire financial straits. From the beginning, the program has been a free commodity offered with no participation fees -- an important feature that Kuchment does not want to have to change.

"We are looking into other funding options," he says. "I don't want to charge the students. It limits the accessibility of the camp."

Despite what the future may hold for SMaRT Camp, it will be a haven for at least one more summer for young mathematics aficionados willing to sacrifice a slice of their summer in exchange for a customized intellectual escape that encourages lifelong bonds in addition to learning.

"It's amazing to see how they all click," Kuchment adds. "They come to Texas A&M and discover there are many others just like them. It's sad to see them leave."

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

To learn more about other educational outreach opportunities through Texas A&M Mathematics, visit http://www.math.tamu.edu/outreach/.

-aTm-

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

  • This One Time, At SMaRT Camp

    Another day dawns for students in SMaRT Camp, a two-week National Science Foundation-funded summer program at Texas A&M University intended to broaden and encourage advanced high school students' interest in mathematics.

  • Chalk Talk

    Dr. Peter Kuchment, SMaRT Camp director, delivers the day's lecture on modular arithmetic.

  • All in a Day's Work

    A sample daily assignment, which typically features 15-to-20 problems.

  • Full Circle

    Calvin Smith, a sophomore applied mathematics major at Texas A&M, enjoyed SMaRT Camp so much in 2009 and 2010 that he returned as a camp counselor for 2011.

  • Those Who Camp Teach

    Smith leads a small-group session on binomial theorems.

  • Dr. Peter Kuchment

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