Department outreach fuels passion for math

John Westwig and Reuben Rappaport
Jason Koski/University Photography
John Westwig and Reuben Rappaport discuss Two Dimensional Fourier Series during the Mathematics Department's 2015 Ithaca High School Senior Seminar.
Severin Drix
Jason Koski/University Photography
Ithaca High School math teacher Severin Drix talks with a student at the seminar.


For many teenagers, math is just a necessary component of earning a high school diploma. For others, though, math is a passion, a destination in itself.

Recognizing this, professors in the Department of Mathematics in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences have created the Senior Seminar, a course for Ithaca High School (IHS) students who have completed most or all IHS math classes. The seminar meets at the high school and is taught by three graduate students each year to introduce high school students to mathematics topics they normally would not see until college.  This year’s topics were: introduction of combinatorics, algebraic obstructions in topology and fourier analysis.

After an eight-week seminar on each of the three topics, students engaged in a research project under the mentorship of the graduate students. The course culminated in the high school students’ presenting their research projects on June 13 at Cornell. Students presented to an audience of mathematics graduate students, mathematics professors, parents and guardians, former high school students and Cornell undergraduates.

“By feeding their passion for math, we’re hoping to encourage them to major in math in college,” says Mary Ann Huntley, director of mathematics outreach and K-12 education activities for the math department.

It’s a win-win for the graduate students teaching the mini-course too, Huntley says, as it gives them practice in communicating complicated ideas and concepts in simpler terms.

The Senior Seminar course at IHS is funded by Cornell’s Department of Mathematics and the Center for Applied Mathematics.

Mary Jarvis is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.


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