Young Scholars Program lets high school students explore math, STEM topics

This summer, faculty from the department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science organized and ran the Young Scholars Program at UIC, a series of four, one-week summer camps teaching Chicago-area high school students new topics in mathematics and introducing them to future careers in science, engineering, and technology.

The mission statement of the program is:  “to introduce a diverse group of high schoolers from all over Chicago to exciting topics in mathematics and to show them what it would be like to major in math or other STEM-related fields in college. Through excellent instruction, creative hands-on activities, and guest lectures we aim to inspire students and give them the confidence and skills to pursue mathematics in their future endeavors.”

Fifth high school students from 30 Chicago-area high schools participated in the program this year, in-person in the Academic and Residential Center. Many of the students participated in more than one week of the program, with a large number participating in all four weeks. The students enjoyed being at UIC, meeting students and faculty, and working on areas of math they hadn’t seen in their high school curriculum.

The topics of the program included: Probability, Games, and Statistics in Week 1; Number Theory and Cryptography in Week 2; Graph Theory in Week 3; and Algorithms and Networks in Week 4.  Activities and topics were designed to be accessible and fun for students of a wide range of mathematical experience, from high school freshman to graduating seniors.

Students in the program listened to lectures, worked on exercises, experimented with hands-on activities, and built creative projects during each week.  They also heard guest lecturers from many different fields including mathematics, astronomy, cryptography, and technology explaining different educational and career paths available to students with a love of math.

Student feedback included the following:

“I liked the hands-on activities and thought the guest lectures gave some unique insight.”
“My favorite part of YSP was solving problems with others.”
“I most enjoyed the probability of rain forests. It was interesting to see the real world applications.”
“My favorite parts of the YSP this week were how we used card games incorporated into the lessons to help explain the topics/lab skills above.”

The program was run by James Freitag and Will Perkins, two faculty members in the MSCS department, with instruction provided by postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. The program was free to participate in, thanks to the grant funding of IMSI through the MSCS department head Brooke Shipley, and the NSF CAREER grants of Freitag and Perkins. The organizers plan to run the program every year, with the goal of introducing a diverse group of Chicago high school students to advanced topics in mathematics and preparing them to major in STEM subjects in college.

For more information about the program (and to join the mailing list for next year’s program), please visit .

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