Students wear Minnie Mouse ears, tie-dye T-shirts and costumes. They put together puzzles in teams with names such as Math Pi-rates and Mischievous Mathematicians. There are theme days. One morning, somehow, they became a dragon.
Making math fun for high school girls sometimes takes gimmicks.
But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes they already think it’s fun. Sometimes they are naturally curious. And sometimes, even as sophomores and juniors, they are already so convinced of the power of mathematics – including to unlock career opportunities – that they are eager to jump in and dive deep.
Six-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week deep.
In two classrooms at Cal State Fullerton, the four dozen girls from 28 high schools who participated in this summer’s Project MISS (Mathematics Intensive Summer Session) got a leg up on their math skills with an eye toward pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
Math professor David Pagni founded the program in 1990 and still directs it, taking satisfaction from seeing former participants enroll at Cal State Fullerton, return to serve as tutors or guest speakers for the program, or teach math at local high schools.
“While they’re in high school, we send them a birthday card every year with a little math problem on it,” Pagni said. “That helps us keep track of them in case they move. We try to find out where they went to college. … That’s how we can say that 98 percent go to college.”
The four-week program isn’t remedial, but it does fill in any holes in a student’s grasp of mathematical concepts, said Pagni, who was honored at the White House in 2005 with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.
About 20 percent of the program’s graduates over the years have gone into STEM careers. Many want to become doctors or other professionals; many become teachers. About one-third go on to attend Cal State Fullerton. Many are the first in their family to attend college.
Students don’t receive academic credit for the program, which is free to them, with meals, books, materials and supplies provided at no…