Math week events add up, equal fun

By Matt Daray

University and high school students added a math competition to their activities this week.

The Little Egypt Math Week was held on campus this week and offered opportunities for high school students as well as Registered Student Organizations. The 56-year-old event, which features events such as a campus-wide scavenger hunt and math test spread across several hours, helps to interest participants in math-oriented professions and serves as a university outreach opportunity for local high schools, said Greg Budzban, Department of Mathematics chair.

Budzban said the week can help reshape people’s math field perceptions.


“The whole week is all about, first of all, showing how many different opportunities there are in mathematics these days and, secondly, just breaking through the stereotype of what mathematics is,” he said.

Budzban said the week has been successful, especially Tuesday’s high school competition that involved a comprehensive, two-hour math test. Don Bless, a Cobden High School science teacher, said the test helps to show students’ mathematical skills and perseverance.

“What makes the test hard is they can step away after one hour and yet the test can go as long as two,” he said. “After two hours, only the ones that really have the fire in their belly are still there.”

Bless said the test allows him to see which students are passionate about math. He said he was proud to see one of his freshman students stay the whole time, even though the test had content the student had not yet covered.

Budzban said this year 1,300 students from around 50 high schools, some as far away as Missouri and Kentucky, participated during the test Tuesday.

Other activities included Wednesday’s Saluki Math Scavenger Hunt, where RSOs solved math equations whose answers were the room number where competitors would find the next clue. Budzban said events such as the scavenger hunt helps students understand a more exciting way to learn math.

“Unfortunately in our culture, math is taught most often in a kind of dry, procedural manner,” he said. “When mathematicians do mathematics, when researchers do mathematics, it’s much more like solving puzzles. It’s that creative aspect of mathematics that makes it fascinating.”


Math Week organizers look to expand in the future and offer different challenges, he

said, such as having high school participants compete to create a YouTube video concerning math and try to make it go viral.

Several university and high school teachers said the week offers students multiple opportunities they normally would not have.

John Mcsorley, associate mathematics professor, said math knowledge can benefit students while job hunting.

“Hopefully, they’ll get an idea that mathematics is something they can study at a university,” he said. “People often think that math is an old subject, and that it’s not really applicable to modern world, but it’s quite applicable.

“I think if you have a math background, you’d be quite attractive for lots of different employers.”

William England, Mt. Vernon High School mathematics teacher, said the week can help raise math interest.

“Hopefully, they get their interest picked up in math, possibility of a few awards, but the idea that they can come and see other people interested in math, too,” he said.

England said he has been involved with Little Egypt Math Week more than 10 times. The event encourages kids to become interested in math-related fields as well as the university. England, a university alumnus, said some of his former teachers still work at the university and have helped influence him as a teacher.

Several RSO members said the week offers great opportunities to change students’ math preconceptions.

Austin Trovillion, Association of Technology Management and Applied Engineering member and senior from Goreville studying computer engineering, said math is not highly viewed as a subject

“I guess as a whole, math is probably an underrated subject,” he said. “Not that many people go into the math fields and not many people push towards math fields.”

Ben Elliott, Apostolic Life member and senior from Murphysboro studying geology, said the week offers students a chance to appreciate math more.

“It’s sort of a chance for more math interested students or math heavy students a chance to shine and show what they can do and be rewarded for it,” he said.

Math is underrated as a subject, especially since it is involved with more subjects than most people think, he said. Elliott said math is important even in fields such as zoology and geology, where employees are required to have a working statistics knowledge.