Canada/USA Mathcamp is a five-week-long summer program for (mostly high school) students gifted and interested in mathematics or science. Rather than training students for contests or providing courses for credit, Mathcamp, as it is usually known, aims to introduce them to the various branches of advanced mathematics ("cool math") they are otherwise unlikely to discover until well into their college years, if ever. Mathcamp attracts many talented students each year, including several MOPpers.
Mathcamp was founded in 1993 by Dr. George Thomas, who recognized that students interested in mathematics frequently lacked the resources and camaraderie to pursue their interest. Mira Bernstein of Wellesley College became the director when Thomas left in 2002 to found MathPath, a program for younger students.
Mathcamp is held each year on a different college campus in the United States or Canada. Past locations have included the University of Toronto, the University of Washington, Colorado College, Reed College, University of Puget Sound, Colby College, the University of British Columbia and Mount Holyoke College. Mathcamp admits about 110 students yearly through an application process that includes solving problems from an online quiz and two letters of recommendation, but no grade reports. The process helps ensure that the students who are most passionate about math come to camp, not necessarily all-around perfect students.
Admissions are somewhat selective: In 2010, just over 300 people applied for 65 spots.
Classes at Mathcamp come in four levels of difficulty. The easier classes often include basic proof techniques, number theory, graph theory, and combinatorial game theory, while the more difficult classes cover advanced topics in abstract algebra, topology, theoretical computer science, category theory, and mathematical analysis. There are generally four or five class periods each day and three or four classes offered during each period. Therefore everyone can find classes that match their interests and ability. Graduate student mentors teach most of the classes, while undergraduate junior counselors, who are required to be Mathcamp alumni, do most of the administrative work. Also, each year there are a number of renowned visitors, who have included John Conway, who comes almost every year, Avi Wigderson, and the late Serge Lang.
Since Mathcamp is as much designed to let students interested in mathematics meet each other as for them to meet math, staff and campers organize a number of non-mathematical events such as field trips, hikes, a puzzle hunt, and game tournaments. The campers also enjoy a great deal of freedom and are expected to act responsibly. In this way, Mathcamp often eases the transition to the full freedom and responsibility of college.
Mathcamp culture is best described as quirky and fun-loving. In 2004, some campers created Foodtongue, a constructed language in which every word is a word that means a food in the English language. One of the cardinal rules of the language is an agreed ban of direct translation. Foodtongue remains popular among campers, and there now exists an active wiki, updated and referenced by speakers of the language, many of them campers from later years.
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- Iwasaki, John (August 3, 1999). "Mathcamp students in blissful ivory tower". Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter. Retrieved 12-11-08.
- Roberts, Siobhan (August 16, 2003). "Strength in Numbers". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 12-11-08.