College hosts high school Math League

On Wednesday, March 19, Vassar hosted local high school math league teams for the Dutchess/Ulster/Sullivan/Orange Counties (DUSO) Math League Championships. The attending high schools included Arlington, Cornwall, Chapel Field, New Paltz, Beacon, Spackenkill, John Jay, Monroe, Woodbury, Goshen, Washingtonville, Onteora and Roy C. Ketcham. In the championships, teams that have already achieved a degree of success in smaller competitions race to correctly complete a series of math problems ranging from algebra to statistics, all without a calculator. According to DUSO coordinator and New York State Mathematic League Vice President Anchala Sobrin, “Students answer six individual questions and one team (group or relay) [question] per meet, including the championship meet.”

After an hour and a half of competition, the League named the B team from Arlington High School as the DUSO League champion. The highest scoring team was the A team from John Jay High School, and the highest scoring individual was Rajat Chandra, a senior from John Jay. Following the event, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jan Cameron delivered a lecture about mathematical voting theory. This is Vassar’s eight year hosting the competition.

The New York State Mathematics League (NYSML) championship tournament will take place Saturday, April 5, 2014 at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. Last year, DUSO’s best team took third place out of 18 teams in Division B at the tournament. Their strongest teammate was Timothy Sudijono from John Jay High School. DUSO’s best recent score was 9th place out of 12 in Division A in 2011.

Professor of Mathematics Charles Steinhorn organizes the event between Vassar and the community. In an emailed statement, he wrote that he collaborated with a Vassar alum to start the program. “I was giving a presentation at an alumnae/i event in Westchester County when a graduate and math major, Jane Bogart-Schmidt ‘91, a teacher (now department chairperson) at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Central Valley, NY, approached me about the possibility of having Vassar host the competition. I thought it would be terrific for Vassar to do this, and set about seeking funding from the Dean of the Faculty and President’s office to help underwrite the (modest) costs of refreshments (the rooms are provided for free). We have hosted the competition every year since, with continuing support from the Dean and President.”

He hoped the students would benefit from the experience of the event being hosted on campus, saying, “I think it’s a good idea to have these students come to a college campus for the event. It gives them a sense of the importance that we (college and university mathematics educators) attach to a competition like this.”

Another facet of the event is the lecture provided by Vassar. Steinhorn said, “Each year, I arrange for a lecture to be given by a mathematical scientist from Vassar at the conclusion of the competition. This year, the talk was given by [Caneron]. A couple of years ago, I arranged for George Hart, who was then the chief of content for the not-yet opened Museum of Mathematics.”

Cameron’s lecture focused on the mathematics of voting. It was his first time lecturing at the DUSO Math League Championships, but he has lectured several times on the voting topic. He wrote, “My talk introduced some of the fundamental problems in mathematical voting theory, a topic that has really captured my interest over the past couple of years. I think it’s a wonderful topic for students for a few reasons. First is that it’s a source of many interesting mathematical problems that you can think about without needing too much technical background (this, I think, is a primary reason why just about any mathematician would be compelled by a topic!).”

He continued, “Secondly, it’s an opportunity to see how beautiful mathematics relates to important social and political issues we encounter in everyday life. People are often surprised to learn, for example, that mathematical tools can be applied to questions like: ‘What makes certain voting procedures more “fair” than others?’ or ‘Can we ever prevent our elections from being manipulated by insincere voters?’”

According to Sobrin, high school students benefit from hosting the event at Vassar by having access to “wonderful speakers on interesting enrichment topics each year [and] collaboration and contact with a prestigious local college.” She also expressed ideas for the future which could expand on Vassar’s existing VAST programming: “We would like to see more collaboration, maybe college student-high school student mentoring so that high-schoolers can learn more about Vassar and opportunities in Math/Science that may be open to them.” She added, “We, as a league, are grateful to the college for hosting our championship meet.”

Cameron was optimistic about the student response to the event and looked forward to the future of the championship, saying, “The handful of students and teachers I talked to seemed to have enjoyed the lecture. I was pretty impressed by the students’ attentiveness, and their curiosity and eagerness to participate in everything that was going on that day.”

Steinhorn echoed this sentiment. He said, “I believe that it is an important part of Vassar’s mission to reach out to schools in the area in a variety of ways, and to encourage area school districts, teachers, and students know that they are welcome at Vassar.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *