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Outreach Grantee Highlight: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The MAA Programs Team is excited to announce our new Grantee Highlight Stories series! Over the next few months, we will be highlighting some of our amazing grantees and all that they have accomplished with MAA funding.

Have a great idea for your own math enrichment program for students? We are currently accepting applications for the Dolciani Mathematics Enrichment Grants program, Neff Outreach Fund, Tensor Women & Mathematics Grants program, and Tensor SUMMA Grants program for the 2024 award cycle.

Group photo of 2022 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Girls Talk Math campers

Francesca Bernardi and Katrina Morgan started Girls Talk Math (GTM) in 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as graduate students. Since then, the program has grown to include partner camps at the University of Maryland, College Park and at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where Dr. Bernardi is now an Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences. The two-week summer camp is for high school girls and nonbinary students who bring an enthusiasm for learning and aims to transform students’ own mathematical identities by allowing them to be the experts in an often exclusionary field.

Throughout the two weeks of camp, students work on solving STEM problem sets and writing and recording a podcast about a mathematician or scientist from a marginalized group. To date, there are over 50 blog posts and podcasts from all runs of Girls Talk Math available on the camp website, iTunes, and SoundCloud. Dr. Bernardi explains the choice to focus on media “was deliberately designed with the goal of attracting a broader range of students, including those who were curious but did not necessarily think of themselves as “good at math,” while also giving them projects that would empower them to use their voice to share their newly acquired knowledge.”

The problem sets campers work through are written with an inquiry-based learning approach; which is meant to empower students through the learning process and show them how struggling is part of math learning. A staple first-day camp activity is the “Barbie Bungee Jump” where students work in small groups to build a bungee cord for a Barbie made of rubber bands. At WPI, students throw the dolls off of a 20-foot campus bridge and campus mainstay. The winning team is the one whose Barbie gets closest to the ground without crashing. In addition to working on problem sets, students participate in workshops throughout camp aimed at dismantling misconceptions about learning, math excellence, and stereotypes.

Dr. Bernardi and Dr. Morgan regularly meet with GTM organizers to support their planning efforts and are still heavily involved with the execution of camp at UNC, despite both having since left. To continue such a successful program, they involved undergraduate and graduate students at UNC who eventually took over their main roles. This is why it is no surprise that when asked about advice to faculty interested in starting an outreach program, Dr. Bernardi said that “finding the right people to work with is crucial to the success of any program, but in particular for outreach programs which are often personal passion projects. Having the support of someone you trust and with whom you share values makes a huge difference where inevitably difficulties come up."

If you are interested in applying for a Tensor Women grant, applications are now open. Learn more about the Tensor Women program at