Math Camp for High Schoolers Seeks to Ready Future College Students for STEM Jobs in Ohio
The $20 billion Intel semiconductor plant being built outside of Columbus, Ohio, the new quantum computer being installed at the Cleveland Clinic, and a new generation of astronauts being trained at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland – these are just three reasons that quickly come to Associate Professor Bathi Kasturiarachi’s mind when he talks about why Kent State University needs to help to spark the creation of future mathematicians.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on,” said Kasturiarachi, Ph.D., professor of mathematics at Kent State University at Stark.
For the past two years, Kasturiarachi has been hosting the Stark County Summer Math Academy for high school students at the Stark Campus, paid for by grants he received from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the world’s largest community of mathematicians dedicated advancing the understanding of mathematics and its impact on the world.
“The whole goal is getting them excited about math, and Ohio has a lot of opportunities that are coming up,” Kasturiarachi said. “NASA is building the next International Space Station and they are going to train the astronauts here in Ohio. So, I think there are a lot of exciting things going on.”
Kasturiarachi is a member of the MAA and is Kent State’s liaison to the organization. Along with Ashley Meinke, a lecturer in math at the Stark Campus, he has applied for and received the organization’s Dolciani Mathematics Enrichment Grant each year for the past two years. Other Kent State instructors who teach at the camp include Professor Gro Hovhannisyan, Ph.D., Associate Professor Michele Heron Ph.D., and lecturer Deepshikha Bhati.
The Dolciani grant pays for mathematics programs targeting first-generation, low-income, minority and female students interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. The weeklong summer mathematics camp for high school students took place in June this year and in 2022.
“The MAA has been very thoughtful about which groups are underrepresented in mathematics. The participants were immersed in a unique enriching experience through discovery. I’m glad that we created this opportunity for high school students in Stark County,” Kasturiarachi said.
The five-day academy includes classes, hands-on activities and even math yoga, and concludes with the students creating posters from one of the projects they took part in during the week. The posters are created and printed in real-time using a 3D printer, after which the students give three-minute presentations on their posters for their family members, teachers and other guests.
“So, they get experience doing that, and they do a phenomenal job with the posters,” Kasturiarachi said.
The high school students who applied and were accepted into the program were able to choose from one of three academies: Advanced Calculus, Data Science or Explorations in Pure Math.
Thirty-three students took part this year, with the pool of students becoming more diverse since 2022, including 10 female students and three non-binary, Kasturiarachi said. This year’s group, which came from seven Stark County high schools, also was more ethnically diverse. In addition, eight of this year’s group took part in the 2022 academy and returned for a second year.
Three participants will be continuing their education at Kent State for the fall semester, and others are planning to study at universities elsewhere in Ohio. This, for Kasturiarachi, is the desired outcome: to help create an Ohio workforce that is ready to step into the many STEM careers the state has to offer.
With so much development between Cleveland and Columbus in the fields of science and technology, Kasturiarachi sees the state as having unlimited opportunities for those who study math, statistics, engineering or computer science.
The workforce development aspect of the summer camp is perhaps its most important function, he said.
While the students attend the camp, Kasturiarachi said he also makes the students aware of the Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program, which was specifically designed to strengthen Ohio’s competitiveness within STEM disciplines and to increase the number of STEM graduates and STEM teachers in the state.
Even if the camp participants don’t plan to attend Kent State, Kasturiarachi said he makes sure they are aware of the scholarships, which are available at most universities in Ohio.
The MAA grants are renewable for a third year after which, Kasturiarachi said, he hopes the university would be able to continue to sponsor the camps.