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Saturday, December 20, 2014

UNM camp integrates mathematical concepts

UNM is hosting a camp devoid of sleeping bags, tents or smores. This camp is comprised of calculators, mathematical equations and computer programming.

Monika Nitsche, a professor of applied mathematics, said high school and college students from across the Southwest attended a four-week math camp in July.

“The idea is to give students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in math and also exposure in application, showing them how things they may have learned in the classroom and different classes are all required to solve a particular application,” Nitsche said.

Transformations and modeling were the themes of four mini courses, she said. The course topics included Modeling Infectious Diseases, Algebraic Structures, Geometry in K-12 and Coalescents in Genetics and Evolutionary Biology.

“It opens the view to different things you can do with mathematics,” Nitsche said. “It increases your appreciation and enthusiasm for mathematics and I think already that is important. If we can transmit enthusiasm for math to our younger peers that would already be an incredible difference.”

Helen Wearing, associate professor of math, statistics and biology, has co-taught the Modeling Infectious Diseases mini course for two years.

“I think the fact that they actually had to do something creative themselves … (and) go and explore some of the ideas and realize they can do the research themselves — I think that’s what sort of drove their interest in the week. They were incredibly engaged,” Wearing said.

The mini course was structured to require as much active participation as possible. The class encouraged students to interact with others who had different backgrounds of expertise, such as programming, math or biology, as well as different levels of education, she said.

“This type of camp basically offers intensive instruction and workshop environment for students,” Wearing said. “It’s really good for students who are at different levels because they can all find something to take home from it.”

Tuya Erdenejargal, a junior math major at University of Colorado Boulder, is solely focused on pure math — or the mathematics of abstract concepts. This summer she decided to step outside her comfort zone to attend the UNM Math Camp, she said.

“I was just so unfamiliar with how applied math goes,” Erdenejargal said. “I loved it. I was participating in all the activities; it was unlike any other pure math classes I’ve been too.”

She said her favorite course was the Modeling Infectious Diseases, which was a mix of programming and equations. The Ebola outbreak was the topic her group chose to track and their findings were inconclusive.

“It was the kind of math I liked — it was in balance. It wasn’t all computer or all paper. My take-away message was the Ebola outbreak should slow down in two months,” Erdenejargal said.

Nitsche said the UNM Math Camp will be offered again in Summer 2015 and is funded by the National Science Foundation through the grant Mentoring through Critical Transition Points.

Previous knowledge of Differential and Integral Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra and Ordinary Differential Equations are required to participate in the program,she said.

Lauren Marvin is a freelance writer for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @LaurenMarvin.