- Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 -- 10am
- Location: East Lansing, MI
- Kitchen: Our House
- Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
- Recipe Rating: A-
8 recipes down, 1098 to go!
I spent the morning today hanging out with some undergraduates at a Math REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program. These were undergraduate students from around the country who have gathered for the summer to work on math research. There are about 18 of them, divided into 4 groups, each of which is supervised by a faculty member. I listened to the students give presentations about the results of their math summer research projects so far, and then I gave an undergraduate-friendly talk for them about Algebraic Topology. It brought back memories. The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college I participated in an REU program myself. I lived in Boston and spent the summer thinking about math and hanging out with the other REU students. And I got paid to do it! It was great! It was also tremendously encouraging. By that point in college I was pretty sure I wanted to major in math and go to math graduate school, but the REU program really gave me confidence that I could do it. Looking around the room this morning, I hoped that the students were finding the same confidence and enthusiasm from their summer that I did long ago. They seemed very excited about mathematics, which was a wonderful thing to see, and they were impressively articulate and poised presenting their research.
I thought a lot this morning about why my REU experience was so affirming. Partly I think it was the realization that I enjoy doing math research. I had never had the opportunity to do math research before that, so I wasn't positive that I would like it. But beyond that, I left the program with increased confidence largely because my REU supervisor had so much confidence in me. He really believed that I was cut out for math graduate school. And while I believed that too (I think...) having someone else say that was very powerful for me. A couple of my professors at my home institution were also encouraging me to go to graduate school, and their collective encouragement gave me a lot of confidence. As an educator, I think about that a lot -- the difference that one teacher's opinion can make to a student. So I try to make sure that I actually say to strong students the things that seems obvious, e.g. "You did a great job in my course and you are clearly very talented in mathematics. You should consider becoming a math major!" I am certainly very thankful for all the people that encouraged me.