North Central College Math Circle engages undergrads with gifted youngsters

Feb 10, 2014

A new program at North Central College is challenging young minds by giving youngsters their first exposure to advanced mathematical concepts.

The program is called the Expository Engagement (E2) Math Circle, and it’s modeled after similar successful programs held across the country. The American Mathematical Association provided a $6,000 grant to fund the program.

The Math Circle sessions are designed to improve the problem-solving skills of the participants and give them a head start on their college educations and future careers. Several North Central College mathematics majors serve as volunteer mentors to the younger students and gain skills of their own.

“I’ve known I wanted to be a math teacher since I was in high school,” says Megin Holt ’14, who is majoring in mathematics and minoring in secondary education. “This group has provided great experience.”

While most of the 20 participants are of high school age, some are younger. Several are home-schooled. The largest cohort of participants consists of students from Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville.

North Central College is hosting 16 sessions throughout the 2013-2014 academic year. The sessions take place about every other week and begin with a discussion of an advanced concept by a mathematics professor.

The program is coordinated by Neil Nicholson, assistant professor of mathematics. He schedules guest lecturers, including professors from North Central and other colleges and universities, who present a different lesson at each session. Recent topics have included knot theory and the mathematics of square dancing.

“I think both groups of participants help each other,” Nicholson says. “The North Central student-mentors gain experience teaching advanced theories, and the younger participants are exposed to concepts they may not normally learn about at their age.”

The program reflects North Central College’s commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

“We’re giving back to the community by sharing our expertise in these areas with gifted younger scholars,” Nicholson says. “The College is such an integral part of the Naperville community; it’s our role to give back when we can.”