An innovative summer mathematics and media camp for girls and nonbinary students that was co-founded by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researcher Francesca Bernardi launched July 11 at WPI with 19 campers who will spend two weeks learning to solve advanced problems while podcasting and blogging about their work.
The day camp, Girls Talk Math, will continue through July 22 and aims to show high school girls and nonbinary students from under-represented communities that mathematics can play a role in any field that the campers find interesting.
“We want our students to develop the skills of working together, leveraging one another’s skills, and learning to ask for help as they work in teams to solve advanced mathematical problems,” said Bernardi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. “We also want the campers to see that people from all backgrounds successfully pursue science, and the campers can do it, too.”
Bernardi, who joined the WPI faculty in 2020, co-founded Girls Talk Math in 2016 while she was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An expert on small-scale fluid mechanics and microfluidics, she recognized the importance of asking for help when she moved from her native Italy to the United States for her PhD studies.
Girls Talk Math camps have continued annually at UNC Chapel Hill since 2016 and at the University of Maryland College Park since 2018, although camps were held virtually over the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The camp is innovative in the way it seeks, challenges, and supports campers. Rather than asking applicants to submit written documents with their class grades and letters of reference, Girls Talk Math asks applicants to submit audio or video recordings stating their reasons for applying. Campers also create blogs and podcasts that will go into an online repository of media created by campers. The camp is free to attend and, for the first time, will pay each camper a $250 stipend.
“The campers who attend Girls Talk Math might otherwise spend the summer working,” Bernardi said. “Choosing to attend camp could mean losing the opportunity to earn some needed funds, so this stipend helps to support the campers’ ability to attend camp.”
The WPI camp is funded with a $6,000 grant from the Mathematical Association of America Tensor Women and Mathematics program and a $21,390 grant from WPI’s Women’s Impact Network, which supports education, leadership, and philanthropy at WPI. The funding covers supplies, wages for WPI undergraduate and graduate students who will be working with campers, and meals and stipends for campers.