This summer, about 200 teenagers will take part in mathematical summer schools hosted by Oxford Mathematics in the Mathematical Institute. Here is their story.
First to arrive were the 24 students from 15 countries across Europe who are taking part in PROMYS Europe, a six-week mathematical programme run by a partnership of PROMYS, the Mathematical Institute in Oxford, the Clay Mathematics Institute, and Wadham College, University of Oxford. As one student attending for the first time put it, "At PROMYS we do not learn Maths; we discover it. This gives us a much better understanding of the basics on which all other Maths is built".
PROMYS has run in Boston, USA for more than 25 years, and this year sees the second occurrence of the new PROMYS Europe programme. Thanks to generous support from the organising partners and donors, selection for the programme is needs-blind, with partial and full financial support for those participants who would otherwise not be able to attend. The super-keen students are joined this summer by 7 undergraduate 'counsellors', also from across Europe (and including two current Oxford students), with teaching from Glenn Stevens (Boston University), Henry Cohn (Microsoft Research), Vicky Neale (Oxford) and David Conlon (Oxford), and guest lectures by mathematicians from Oxford and beyond. One counsellor, who also attended PROMYS as a student, observed "Three years ago, when I entered the PROMYS family, I learned one of the most important lessons - one should be taught how to think, not what to think - and this is exactly what this program does."
The Andrew Wiles Building is an ideal venue for hosting summer schools such as these, and indeed with careful planning can accommodate not one but three simultaneous events. The university's one-week UNIQ summer schools are for UK students about to enter their final year at school, to give them a taste of what it is like to study at Oxford, with priority being given to applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds and/or from areas with low progression to higher education. Demand for mathematics and statistics is high, and this year Rebecca Cotton-Barratt, the Schools Liaison Officer and Admissions Coordinator in the Mathematical Institute, and Mareli Grady, the Schools Liaison Officer in the Statistics Department, have between them coordinated three UNIQ summer schools, giving over 80 students the inspiring experience of studying Mathematics in Oxford. Reflecting at the end of the week, students commented "I thought I wasn’t good enough to apply but I will be applying now as I have gained more confidence", and "really enjoyable with lots of variety in various fields", and, interestingly, "I don’t want to go home now".
Later in the summer, we are looking forward to welcoming two summer schools organised by the UK Mathematics Trust. The National Mathematics Summer School and Summer School for Girls are each for around 40 students aged 15 and 16, invited to participate on the basis of their outstanding performance in national mathematics competitions. They give students a taste of mathematics beyond the school curriculum, as well as exploring more familiar material in depth, with an emphasis on problem solving and collaborative work. The teams of staff leading these summer schools include alumni, students and staff from Oxford Mathematics, and we are delighted to host these events.
All in all, the schools demonstrate that there is a passion for the subject of mathematics, a passion Oxford and its partners are keen to nurture for the long-term educational, scientific and economic benefits it will bring.
Photo courtesy of Wadham College.