Mathematical Discovery

On a recent steamy summer day, a classroom in Bronfman Science Center is filled with students delving deep into the mysteries of numbers. The Williams College Math Camp (WCMC)—a free, 10-day residential camp for mathematically gifted high schoolers—gives students a taste of discovery and the rigor of college-level mathematics. The program, led by math professor Allison Pacelli, focuses on number theory and the art of mathematical thinking while exposing students to life at a liberal arts college.IMG_0239

The highly selective camp includes some of the most mathematically talented high school students in the country. Students learn to write proofs and explore areas of mathematics outside the typical high school curriculum. Pacelli leads the interactive morning classes, and teaching assistants Michael Gold ’14 and Abigail Zimmermann-Niefield ’15 lead the afternoon math labs, a time reserved for collaborative problem solving. Students also encounter other areas of mathematics through guest lectures, such as Professor Mihai Stoiciu’s talk on the Mathematics of the Rubik’s Cube. Campers enjoy activities such as visiting the college’s Milham Planetarium, touring MASS MoCA and hiking local trails.

About 12 percent of Williams students are math majors, which is significantly more than at most other colleges and universities. “This year, we had a panel discussion for the students with math majors from Williams and other institutions,” Pacelli says. “They were able to convey what it is like to be a math major at either a small liberal arts college or a large university, and answer a lot of questions about their experiences.”

WCMC also helps introduce high school students to all Williams has to offer, Pacelli says. The program’s impact is clear: The Class of 2019 includes two math camp alums.

The program is funded by the Dolciani Foundation, through the Mathematical Association of America, the American Mathematical Society and Williams College.