‘Math Open at Andover’ Launches, Inviting Middle Schoolers to Campus

The first ever Math Open at Andover (MOAA) took place on October 6 and attracted 130 middle-school students from both domestic and international schools.

According to its website, MOAA hopes “to promote the involvement of middle school students in the mathematical community with a fulfilling, intellectually stimulating, and fun experience for everybody.”

Lasting from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the event began with an individual round, which was followed by a group round, and ended with the finale round, dubbed the “Gunga Bowl.” In addition, three guests were invited to speak: Michael Ren ’18, a 2018 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) gold medalist and current MIT student; Vivien Mallick, Director of Admissions at Andover; and current Harvard University student Valerie Zhang ’17.

The event was organized by Justin Chang ’19 and Andy Xu ’19 with the help of Andover faculty members, who have been planning MOAA since last spring. They say they are inspired by a desire to create opportunities for others like those available to them in middle school.

“We came up with the idea in May 2018. At the time, there weren’t any middle school competitions that were local or in the fall. Both of us had participated in many math competitions, so we wanted to create an opportunity and allow local middle school students to enjoy an awesome nearby math competition. It branched out from just a math competition to include speakers, opportunities to explore campus, breakfast and lunch in Paresky Commons, and an awesome time in the [Cochran] Chapel for the Gunga Bowl,” wrote Chang in an email to The Phillipian.

Despite being initially uncertain about what would happen to this initiative, Khiem DoBa, Instructor in Mathematics, and faculty advisor to MOAA, says he was ultimately proud of the leadership and hard work of Chang and Xu.

“I think it was a huge success. I was extremely nervous from the beginning to the end… I had to make sure that Justin and Andy [knew] that if they really wanted to do it, that this is a student-run event and they would have to meet a lot of requirements. They must work really well together and basically do a lot of problem-solving because we had never done anything like this before… but in the end, it went really well,” said DoBa. 

According to Chang, the MOAA was a success because they were able to emphasize the significance of math beyond a set of equations or a mere subject in school.

Chang said, “Mathematics is a subject of vast importance that middle school students will use for the rest of their lives. With this in mind, it’s important that students don’t just associate mathematics with problem worksheets and individual assignments; a goal of the MOAA was to demonstrate how math competitions can be just as exhilarating as any sporting event and how math can be collaborative, competitive, and fun.”

DoBa also described MOAA as being in character with Andover’s motto of Non Sibi. He added that he still believes there is room for the MOAA organization to grow, mainly throughout heightened outreach to the wider community and facilitation of more opportunities to have fun with math. After observing the positive atmosphere and attitudes of the participants in MOAA, DoBa says he believes this could work well.

“Welcoming [the parents and children] on campus: it was definitely the highlight of my day. They are really eager to be here and to participate… And for me, I was really excited to be a part of the event and to welcome them on campus. That was one, and… Justin and Andy, and all the proctors… they were so wonderful in representing [Andover]… And for me, I was really proud of them,” said DoBa.

Funded by an Abbot Grant of $5000, of which $2000 was designated for the Office of Physical Plant (OPP), Chang and Xu collaborated with many departments and offices on campus to organize their event. The pair had to communicate with the Office of the Head of School, the Shuman Office of Admissions, Paresky Commons, the Polk-Lillard Center, Kemper Auditorium, Cochran Chapel, and the academic departments in Samuel Phillips Hall.

“The process of reserving buildings and coordinating with so many departments took a lot of work, so spreading it out from June to October really helped. Reach out a month or two in advance and you’ll be surprised at just how accommodating many of the departments on campus can be. And, of course, be prepared for the unexpected,” wrote Chang.

“I think that putting the event like this together was such a unique experience for [Chang and Xu]. They have learned a lot about how to organize such an event on a campus, and coordinating with their peers, coordinating with the faculty, and coordinating with every administrator… in order to make sure that everyone is on board,” said DoBa.

According to Chang, he is already excited for MOAA 2019 following this year’s success.

Chang wrote, “I’m hoping that this will be a lasting institution at the school!”