As we face together the challenge of a global pandemic, Mathcamp is adapting to the times: we ran a five-week, immersive, virtual program online in the summers of 2020 and 2021. We're not pretending that Virtual Mathcamp will look or feel like our traditional residential program; instead, we are starting with the core values of education, inspiration, and community-building and building a brand-new program from the ground up.
After much discussion among the Board of Directors, and consultation with our staff and alumni, we announced on April 15th, 2020 that we'd be moving all programming online for the era of the pandemic, and immediately started making plans. Our first policy decisions were about fidelity to our community: no layoffs or reductions in salary (and honoring every one of the summer staff's contracts), and continuing to provide scholarships to fully meet the needs of all of our students and their families. In place of travel grants, we're providing technology grants: providing laptops, tablets, and high-speed internet to bridge gaps in access. Then we took a look at the budget with fresh eyes.
In a non-residential setting, we were able to dramatically reduce the tuition—dropping from $4,500 down to $1,500 per student—by simply removing room, board, and travel expenses. At this level, tuition revenue allows us to pay our excellent instructors (who are creatively and thoughtfully adapting to the online format) and counselors (who wear many hats, as always: organizing logistics, creating social activities, and now TAing for our online classes). Some of our program expenses will remain exactly the same: t-shirts and yearbooks are still mainstays! Other categories will shuffle: no buses, but a lot of mailing packages. We're also making a major investment into technology to design and run our virtual program.
Of course, our commitment to financial aid is unwavering. We are honored by grants from the Epsilon Fund and the National Science Foundation, which provide the first $25,000 of student scholarships, and grateful to our generous donors who deliver us to the finish line.
With the help of the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program, we balanced the budget for FY 2019–20 as well as FY 2020–21, and with the continued support of our alumni and friends, we are on track to weather this storm together for the rest of the pandemic as we move into an era with widely-available COVID vaccines and prepare for our return to in-person programs.
Mathcamp is a DIY kind of organization, and we started by building a virtual campus to host our program. It's an interactive world, and designed to be our dream campus – because if you were imagining the best version of a dorm, wouldn't the lounge have stained glass windows with panes arranged in a Sierpinski triangle? The space also interfaces with video conferencing and text chat. We've maintained an ambitious schedule of classes, all of them running synchronously in real-time, along with lots of individual and small-group projects. At the same time, we're designing ways to connect outside the classroom: we come together not only to learn math, but to learn about one another's worlds. The virtual format, and the intimacy of connecting our homes to one another, gives us a new opportunity to deepen these conversations.
We're excited to say that our students, parents, and staff have responded really well to the plan. We had hundreds of amazing students and dozens of amazing staff members at Virtual Mathcamp over these past two summers, coming together from six continents around the world. The students in the Eastern hemisphere are graciously adjusting to a program centered in the US and Canada, and we've designed our daily schedule to work across a wide array of time zones. Students and staff together dreamed up ways to preserve our favorite traditions from the residential program, and to start new ones, too. (Read more about summer 2021 here.)
The creativity that went into our pivot to online Mathcamp also brings new opportunities to make use of our new platform: we hosted our first all-alumni reunion online in 2021, and plan to continue this new tradition in 2022 and beyond.
Your impact is immediate and direct: by giving to Mathcamp, you're helping us support our amazing students through an incredibly difficult year.
Mathcamp has always been a place where students from all walks of life come together to study mathematics with peers who share their creativity and love of learning. As we endeavor to meet this moment, and steward our organization through the era of COVID-19, it's clear to us: we couldn't do this work without you! We feel lucky to be on this journey, and we are grateful to all of our supporters who make it possible.