BEAM Update: Fall 2019

Welcome to a regular sequence of blog posts where I’ll give some personal updates on BEAM’s progress as an organization and my journey within it. I’m transitioning from sending these via personal emails to a format that everyone can access.

Summer Program at Harvey Mudd and Reflections on Growth

Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting BEAM’s first-ever residential program for Los Angeles students, held at Harvey Mudd College.

If you haven’t ever been to “BEAM Summer Away,” as it’s called, it’s a magical experience. It’s an amazing group of students developing a community together that is based around math and making friends for a lifetime. They’re also learning all kinds of interesting, deep math unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. It’s especially powerful for me because a similar experience was life-changing for me growing up.

In addition to outstanding courses (everything from projective planes to public-key cryptography), the students just had such a vibrant community. They invented a song and then game based on the Spanish word for lettuce, developed all kinds of little clubs (such as a gang based on slide-on sandals), and more. Board games and Rubik’s cubes were in evidence, as were lots of people working on and enjoying math. They even made a big book of their math work at the end and signed it like a yearbook, where each student had a page dedicated to their favorite problem.

To be sure, there were growing pains at having a new site. We were still learning about the space, and of course we had to expand our staff at all levels to grow, from counselors up to site leadership. All of our sites went well, but there were a few signs that we’re pushing it: the percentage of students who said they were more interested in math dropped a little bit across our summer programs (could be normal variation, could be significant) and we had fewer experienced staff because they had to be spread across more sites. It’s also just harder to provide consistent training across six summer sites!

I’ve often had some minor envy for friends who work at rapidly-growing tech startups, but the truth is that the scale of working directly with students is just different. So while BEAM continues to expand in other ways (see below), summer 2020 will have the same sites as summer 2019. This will allow us to focus on building a larger base of returning staff and more generally ensuring we have the systems to promote quality classes and experiences for students.

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