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MILLS MATH PROFESSOR STANKOVA’S BERKELEY MATH CIRCLE INSPIRES A LOVE OF MATHEMATICS 

Oakland, CA - If one Mills professor has her way, doing mathematics will be as popular among middle and high school students as being on a football team. Zvezdelina Stankova, associate professor of mathematics at Mills College, was featured in Science News Online in an article entitled “Math Circles Inspire Students” by Julie J. Rehmeyer. Published the week of March 31, 2007, the article highlights Stankova’s Berkeley Math Circle, a weekly gathering designed to expose talented students to what she calls “world-class mathematics.”

During the Tuesday night meetings voluntarily attended by students for pure enjoyment, teachers discuss topics such as geometry, number theory, topology, probability, and game theory. The Circle provides a non-competitive, research-based environment for studying mathematics well beyond the K-12 curriculum.

According to Rehmeyer, many mathematicians nationwide became frustrated with the state of math education and started ambitious extracurricular math programs. Groups vary in their approaches, but they all introduce students to deep ideas not usually offered in classrooms, and they encourage students to tackle tough mathematical questions for themselves.

Math circles began in Eastern Europe in an effort to train students for math competitions in which they have a few hours to tackle a small number of very hard problems. The competitions culminate in the selection of six students from each country to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad.

Stankova participated in math circles as a high school student in Bulgaria and went to the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1987 and 1988. After immigrating to the U.S., she was shocked to find that most American students don't encounter a single proof during their math education. In 1998, she started the Berkeley Math Circle.

Berkeley Math Circle students have won six of the grand prizes during the nine years of the Bay Area Math Olympiad. Grand prizes are awarded to the top individual perfect score from among the 250 participating middle and high school students from the larger Bay Area. Other Berkeley Math Circle students have won math contests; several have competed in the International Math Olympiad, for which only six U.S. students are chosen each year from about half a million contestants. Two Berkeley Math Circle participants have won gold medals in the competition.

Stankova says the competitions provide a focus for students, but “the real goal is to expose them to beautiful mathematics, train them to think mathematically, and encourage them to pursue math-related careers.” The Circle was originally created primarily for high school students, but in the past several years a considerable number of curious and determined middle schoolers have participated in the program.

For more information or to apply to the Berkeley Math Circle, go to http://mathcircle.berkeley.edu.

Mills College is a nationally renowned, independent liberal arts college offering innovative degree programs for undergraduate women, and graduate degree and certificate programs for women and men. Consistently recognized as one of the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, Mills currently ranks among the top 20 most diverse liberal arts colleges. The New York Times recently selected Mills as one of three leading California colleges for students to consider.

In 2006, the Washington Monthly College Rankings named Mills a leading liberal arts college based on community service, research spending, quality of preparation for graduate education, and social mobility. In addition, The Princeton Review’s annual guide, the Best 361 Colleges (2007) included Mills for the second year in a row among top U.S. institutions offering students an outstanding undergraduate education.

Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, California on 135 lush acres, Mills provides a dynamic liberal arts education fostering women’s leadership, social responsibility, and creativity.

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Last Updated: 4/3/07