University of Chicago Department of Mathematics

VIGRE at the University of Chicago

In the summer of 2008, our VIGRE program began its ninth year. An introductory overview, written in 1999, gives some background. The vertical integration of education and research has been an explicitly articulated feature of our approach to mathematics education since the early 1970's. The first eight years of our VIGRE program have seen a substantial expansion of activities based on this philosophy.

By far the largest new activity is the summer REU, which has been in operation since 2000. Originally projected to have 18 University of Chicago undergraduate participants, it has expanded steadily, due to increasing demand, and had 98 participants in 2009. These students not only learn and do mathematics, they also teach as counsellors in our Outreach Programs. In that role, they teach high school students in YSP and grade school teachers in SESAME. Many of the undergraduate participants, and others, serve as counsellors in YSP during its Saturday morning academic year sessions.

Senior faculty and postdocs teach in the REU, and some of the postdocs are themselves supported on VIGRE. Many graduate students serve as mentors to the undergraduate participants, and some of these graduate students are also supported on VIGRE. The mentoring by graduate students is voluntary. This is an activity they relish. On their own initiative, they established the Directed Reading Program in 2002. This is an academic year program of one on one mentoring of undergraduate students by graduate students, and all aspects of the program are run by graduate students. It has expanded to a steady state of around 15 to 20 pairings in each of the three academic year quarters.

In 2000, some of the advanced graduate students also initiated the Warm-Up Program for entering first year graduate students. Initially conceived as a one week series of talks to help prepare a few students from varying backgrounds for our intense sequence of first year graduate courses, it quickly evolved into a two-week program of talks and social activities that is attended by nearly all entering graduate students. This program too is entirely run by graduate students.

Seeing a need for improvement in our mainstream (middle track) freshman calculus course, in which undergraduates serve as graders and readers, the graduate students who teach it spearheaded the creation of the VIGRE Course Assistants Program in 2002. This increases the role of the undergraduates both as mentors of those taking the class and as mentees of those teaching it.

Some idea of the scope of our VIGRE program and its impact can be seen from statistics on the undergraduate and graduate programs. The most striking feature is that Mathematics is now in a statistical dead heat with English as the fourth most popular major at the University of Chicago. Nearly 8 per cent of Chicago BA's are given in mathematics, and an increasing percentage of these graduating seniors are going on to graduate study in mathematics.