This summer, kids throughout Albuquerque with a love for math got to engage in a truly unique camp experience, thanks to the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. The Science and Mathematics Learning Center (SMLC) came alive with 47 campers aged 9-16, and their adults, for the 2023 CAMP for Algorithmic Mathematical Play or Campersand.  

Campersand was founded by a group of faculty members aiming to share their enthusiasm for advanced math with eager students and parents seeking educational opportunities for their math-passionate children. Campersand distinguishes itself from other math camps by prioritizing math exploration over acceleration or competition prep.  

A Campersand student displays his artwork.

UNM statistics professor and director of the UNM-PNM math contest, James Degnan, co-organized this year’s event with Campersand Camp Director, Anita Chou. The collaboration between UNM and Campersand allows for a college-like experience for campers, including university dorm stays and campus classes. 

The camp covers fundamental and applied subjects, including topology and computing, and brings in specialized faculty to teach challenging concepts uncommon for school-age kids. Despite covering college-level material, introductory classes are designed to align with a child's intuition.  

This year, campers got to engage in a variety of course topics including Number Sense, Quantum Computing, Indo-European Linguistics, Elliptic Curves and the Math of Evolution. 

Over the past six years, Campersand has grown alongside its campers, with many returning as scholars to mentor new students. The camp spans from basic discussions to graduate-level ideas. 

The camp emphasizes mentorship by offering a scholar’s program for experienced students. Campersand Scholars, typically juniors and seniors, act as Teaching Assistants and mentors, engaging in both classroom activities and their own classes. This initiative lets scholars create and teach a math lab class and deliver a lecture to fellow campers, parents, and the community, reflecting the camp's dedication to evolving alongside camper requirements. 

Two students highlight information to one of the sessions.

Chou praises the resilience of the community that is bonded by a “mutual love of math, education and the friendships engendered through the camp.” This past July was the camp's first full size venture since the pandemic, with several new families spending the week with them.  

Campersand thrives on community involvement, primarily driven by volunteers and participating families. Acknowledging the desire for both parent involvement and children's independence, there is a balance by having parents volunteer in classrooms.  

This not only fosters engagement but also lets parents share the learning experience, promoting ongoing conversations beyond the one-week camp. It is most beneficial for students when their families are part of the journey.  

Furthermore, the camp values intergenerational collaboration and mentoring, as families pass down knowledge and support successive classes. The impact of Campersand lies in the collective efforts of campers and families who volunteer, mentor, and uplift one another. 

A year-round relationship with UNM is being explored, with the possibility of dual-enrollment classes and a camper commencing their UNM freshman year.  

This year, local student involvement increased thanks to scholarships from the UNM-PNM math contest, and the availability of additional financial aid. Incredibly, Campersand generously donated five full scholarships as part of their mission to further the academic opportunities for future leaders in STEM.  

In addition to academics, Campersand places significant emphasis on social interaction. They facilitate chances for children to bond and engage in recreational activities. Recognizing the value of meeting similar peers, the camp organized events such as board game nights, swimming pool sessions at Johnson Gym, soccer games on Johnson Field, and communal meals at La Posada, fostering connections among attendees. 

Chou summarizes Campersand as, “a camp, operated by volunteers, that continuously works to support an ongoing, tight-knit community of children interested in complex mathematics topics, none of which is possible without the support and collaboration of UNM.” 

Chou is grateful that “students and families feel welcome on the UNM Campus” and says that Campersand is “honored to be partnered with the UNM Math department and we thank them for hosting us, supporting us, and providing a welcoming environment. In particular, we would like to thank Maria Cristina Pereyra, Janet Vassilev, Amy Hathaway, and Judy Bieber for their overwhelming support. Our camp would not have been successful without them.”

An instructor oversees a student's work on a computer.

“It has been absolutely wonderful to see all these young adults excited about math spending their week here, in our Department and on the UNM campus, immersed in math, talking math and working math," said Department of Mathematics & Statistics Chair Monika Nitsche. "I cannot think of a more important endeavor than getting kids enthusiastic and energized about this beautiful subject.” Nitsche also gave thanks to Chou for organizing the camp and making it come to life.  

While students come to the summer camp with an already established love of math, Chou and the Campersand community hope they left “feeling that they have been welcomed into the mathematical community, and with an understanding of what it means to be a part of it.”  

Ultimately, campers, scholars, and parents leave with excitement, new ideas, confidence, resources, a developed perspective on mathematics, and – most importantly – friendships that continue to grow and curiosities that continue to fuel them.