mathcounts outreach at uga
Third-year Fellow Phillip Mote has combined his desire to help others with his love for problem-solving in an impressive way, establishing a MATHCOUNTS team at Georgia to provide extracurricular math instruction and mentoring to middle school students throughout the Athens area. MATHCOUNTS is a national program for middle school students that fosters a heightened interest in mathematics in sessions that generally take place before or after the regular school day. Competitions – that are both rigorous and fun – are held on the local, state, and national level to recognize the achievements of the participating “mathletes.”
When Mote enrolled at Georgia, he had hopes of developing a MATHCOUNTS movement, and his initial efforts were effective but modest. After consulting with faculty members, Mote decided to make his MATHCOUNTS dream a reality and began working with students at nearby Clarke Middle School. Georgia is only the second university in the country to have a MATHCOUNTS outreach program (Yale was the first).
“When I came to UGA, creating a MATHCOUNTS program was my initial idea, although I didn’t know what form it would take,” says Mote, who in that first year worked with Foundation Fellow Jenny Taylor to support the MATHCOUNTS program at Clarke Middle School.
Within a year, Mote and Taylor, who also worked as the on-campus recruiting coordinator for MATHCOUNTS, had convinced a handful of friends to participate, and by the time another year had passed, Mote’s vision had expanded to nearly 100 Georgia students providing math enrichment opportunities at eight area middle schools. The organization was recently awarded UGA’s SOAR Award, recognized as the best new student organization on campus.
“I would say spring 2009 was a crucial time to really get things off the ground,” says Mote, who teamed with Foundation Fellow Betsy Allen to find local schools interested in participating. “That’s when Betsy and I worked on reaching out to different schools, principals, and math teachers. It didn’t take much to convince them.”
“Now we have 95 volunteers in eight different schools,” adds Allen. “Going from where we were with six or seven people at one school to where we are today is more than Phillip and I expected. Now we’re working to pull in more schools for next year because with so many volunteers, we don’t have places for all of them. It’s definitely exceeded any expectation we had going into it.”
“By sharing their enthusiasm for math and mentoring students, the UGA coaches are fostering a lifelong interest in learning and preparing these students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math,” says Brian Edwards, National MATHCOUNTS Project Coordinator.
It goes without saying that Foundation Fellows and other UGA students participating in MATHCOUNTS have derived as much, if not more, than they’ve given.
“When I came to UGA I wasn’t sure I wanted to major in math, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life,” says sophomore Tori Akin. “It was always in the back of my mind to teach, so I thought I’d give MATHCOUNTS a try. And I realized I loved teaching. I’ve learned strategies to help students and get people interested. MATHCOUNTS has pushed me to get creative and has helped me realize what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
“When you see kids get excited about something and you had something to do with it,” Allen comments, “that gets you even more excited. It kind of jump starts the cycle of connection and energy and passion. This is why I’m here, for this passion and this spark.”
Although MATHCOUNTS on the UGA campus is still in its infancy, Mote is determined that the outreach will continue after he’s earned his degree and moved on.
“This spring, the executive board drafted a constitution to allocate responsibility and to put steps in order as far as recruiting volunteers and getting to new schools. We want it all on paper so people could walk into these positions and could take this on and do the same thing we’ve done, especially since we already have the contacts at schools. Beyond that, faculty will be here after we’re gone. We’ve gotten support from Honors and from the math department and math education department, which is also crucial. Getting the support of the administration is definitely a must.”
UGA mathematics professor Denise Mewborn, who serves as a resource for the organization, has witnessed its development: “Phillip took his passion for and positive experiences with MATHCOUNTS as a middle school student and parlayed them into an outreach project that has had a positive impact on many area middle school students, teachers, and UGA students. I have been impressed with Philip’s vision, leadership, and task commitment. He took this project on himself initially, did a lot of groundwork to get it organized, and ultimately built a team to make it work.”
Preparing for MATHCOUNTS competitions and investigating the properties of math is serious business, but UGA students have found that it’s not necessarily an all-work-no-play proposition. Second-year Fellow Joseph Stunzi says the Athens Academy team he and Patrick Fitzmaurice (also a second-year Fellow) work with have enjoyed a few laughs while figuring out formulas.
“When Patrick and I get there early on Friday mornings, we’re still a little asleep,” says Stunzi. “Our program started with a very supportive teacher, which is one of the most instrumental points. She gets up earlier than we do and brings Krispy Kreme donuts, so there’s a little bit of incentive for the kids to get there. We grew from eight to about 25 students quickly. I think it increased when I told them if they memorized the first 20 prime numbers that they could pour water on me and I’d run around the building. The entire eighth grade class watched and a lot of people started showing up.”
“I consistently have between 20 and 30 middle school kids come to school an hour early to do math,” says Clarke Middle School teacher Summer Tuggle. “The UGA volunteers are crucial because they work with the kids in small groups. They are there to provide a guide through tough math problems. I love to hear the ‘math talk’ that occurs on Tuesdays and Thursdays!”
Many other Fellows and Ramseys volunteer regularly as MATHCOUNTS coaches, including Mir Inaamullah, Derek Ponticelli, Megan Unger, Lance White, and Addison Wright.