014. Fresno Math Circle

tldr: my community was conducive for my math nerd-iness

In my freshman year, two math professors from Fresno State came to my school for a presentation. [Note: Fresno State here is the local university– not the local community college that I attended ‘FCC’.] They did math-magic tricks: tricks that solely rely on mathematics- and then they explained to us how they worked. They explained the pigeon-hole principle and how they could multiply by 11 in their head for certain problems. It was a brilliant escape from the world of 9th grade geometry. The professors [Dr. Nogin and Dr. Sabuwala] ended their presentation with handouts for a club they ran: Fresno Math Circle.

To join Fresno Math Circle, all you had to do was attempt 6 math problems on their website. Freshman year me, looked at the problems. Paused. And then figured I wouldn’t be smart enough for the group, so I decided I’d join later. Then Sophomore year rolled around, and I decided that I’d be much too busy with my college classes and all– extracurriculars were out of the question. And then by Junior year I realized, that this was only going to become more true: that I was going to become busier and busier, and soon all I would be doing was school. If I wanted to join a club, now would be the time.

In hindsight, the purpose of the problems isn’t to show how smart you are. The purpose of the problems is for one to critically think about how they would solve them. If the problems were easy, why would you want to join? I had submitted the application late, but my algebra teacher encouraged me to turn it in anyways. I was told that I could show up to a meeting, and from there they would decide whether or not I could stay. They decided I could, and I have been a part of the club ever since.

We covered concepts that I have only ever seen in this group: the pigeonhole principle, Vieta’s formulas, invariants, combinatorics, and modular arithmetic. Sure, they are fairly well known if one is interested in competition mathematics, or mathematical problem solving. But the extent of my “competition math” was in Fresno Math Circle, thus this being the only place I saw such concepts. Plus, the problems we worked on were outside of the scope of ways I had ever seen problems done before. For instance, using mathematical induction to prove a geometric problem. Before this, I had only seen it used to prove algebraic equations. It blew my mind.

Speaking of competition math [great transition Paige], because Fresno Math Circle held the same competitions every year, I got to see myself grow as a maths student. One of the competitions they hold is a “High School Problem Solving Competition”– 6 problems in two hours, with proofs/explanations of your answers. The first time I took this, I totally botched it. The last hour, I just, sat there. But when I took it in 2019, I actually got first place in the competition- writing answers up until the last second. It was an invigorating experience. Having gotten first place, I got to compete with the university students the following week. That one I was completely lost on. But the thought is what counts in my opinion. [FMC also proctors the AMC, and I got to compete in the AIME this year, so that was fun. I did really bad, but I had fun so.]

Solving problems with others is precisely what I love about education. I’m deeply humbled every time someone speaks, both by their understanding of the concept and their ability to communicate it. Collaborating with the other participants on challenging problems provides me with a rush of euphoria thinking that a sliver of this experience is what it will be like at MIT. I wish I had joined earlier so I could have grown more. But in the end, such is life. Sometimes we just have to try, and we need to make time for fun. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else every other Thursday from 530-730.

Thank you Dr. Nogin and Dr. Sabuwala.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

3 thoughts on “014. Fresno Math Circle

  1. i think my high school math teachers were some of the most influential people in making the winds of my life blow in the direction of mit. it startles me to this day how much theyve changed me

    Liked by 1 person

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