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2018 Top-Rated Nonprofit

The Art Of Problem Solving Initiative, Inc.

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Education, Mathematics, Secondary & High Schools, Technology

Mission: The Art of Problem Solving Initiative, Inc. advances mathematics education by promoting opportunities for advanced study. Our flagship program, Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM), works to create pathways for underserved students to become scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists. Ask what it takes to become a professional musician, and no one will say it's about being good at scales in band class. Ask what it takes to become a professional athlete, and no one will say it's about being good at dodgeball in gym class. But ask what it takes to become a professional scientist, and some people will say it's about passing high school algebra — a misleading message given especially to underserved students. The secret that's kept from these kids is that high school algebra — indeed, most high school classes — are just not enough preparation for a STEM major. Professional scientists, engineers, and programmers all studied advanced material at enrichment programs growing up. For them, it wasn't a slog: they fell in love with it. They weren't just excited about the vastness of space — they found joy in learning how to find the distance to Alpha Centauri. They didn't just memorize the Pythagorean theorem — they found beauty in the way geometry, logic, and algebra combine to prove it. Yet underserved students never get access to this same learning. They aren't even told they should have it. BEAM is a program that brings advanced enrichment learning to low-income students. We inspire joy in kids who hunger for this opportunity and are ready to excel — if only someone gives them the chance.

Geographic areas served: New York City and Los Angeles with BEAM programs, as well as some outreach nation-wide via USAMTS

Programs: The Art of Problem Solving Initiative, Inc. runs several programs to promote mathematical problem-solving for middle and high school students. Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM) asks the question, "what does it really take for students to succeed in science, mathematics, engineering, or programming?" and then, "how can we help underserved students access those resources?" Students begin the summer after 6th grade by attending a free summer day program in either New York City or Los Angeles, and then go on to a residential summer program after 7th grade held at one of our three sites, Bard College, Union College, and a soon-to-be-announced location in Southern California. Following the summer, students receive Saturday enrichment classes academic advising to help them and their families find the best educational opportunities, and also gain access to a wealth of enrichment activities to support their learning. BEAM brings together top instructors from across the country to teach advanced mathematics and build abstract thinking skills. Students choose from courses on topics such as graph theory, number theory, and combinatorics, as well as applied courses such as programming and astrophysics. A key element of the program is student choice, and students are invited to take the courses that most interest them. The program (originally called the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving) first ran in 2011 at Bard College with 17 students, and now serves 460 students every summer at programs in New York and California. Students have gone on from the program to attend selective high schools such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Bard High School Early College. They have also attended summer programs such as the Center for Talented Youth, MathPath, and the Mathworks Honors Summer Math Camp at Texas State University. The oldest BEAM students are now in college, where they are majoring in biology, physics, computer science, mathematics, engineering, and many other STEM fields. Find out more about BEAM: https://www.beammath.org/ USA Mathematical Talent Search (USA MTS) The USA Mathematical Talent Search (USAMTS) is a free mathematics competition open to all United States middle and high school students. The competition consists of 3 rounds of 5 problems. Students have approximately one month to work on each round and must provide carefully written justifications of their answers. The contest promotes mathematical writing and deep thinking about difficult problems. The goal of the USAMTS is to help all students develop their problem solving skills, improve their technical writing abilities, and mature mathematically while having fun. Find out more about USAMTS: http://www.usamts.org/

Community Stories

12 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I worked for beam for one summer and it was a great job. This program really helps low income students, who the majority are of color, excel in math. It helps them introduce them to concepts that at the age of 12-14 are hard to grasp if you are not in high school or even college.

Beam's staff structure introduces to students people who look like them who are at different phases of life. I interacted with a lot of students on a personal level because I felt like it was my duty to share my story and how I ended up at Lafayette College studying engineering.

My coworkers were great people to work with and were also very STEM oriented which made my job very fun.

If I had the opportunity to be a BEAM Counselor again ,I would do it.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've been working for BEAM for about two and a half years. BEAM is high-impact, with extremely dedicated and talented staff, and students who take a lot out of the program. Every year it's been growing to better serve its students and developing programs to make sure their needs are met.

Review from Guidestar

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I was introduced to BEAM by one of its board members in 2013 and worked as a counselor for BEAM in 2014, 2015, and 2017. Working as a counselor for BEAM was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my lifetime.
Since my first year as a summer employee, BEAM has grown and expanded as a STEM pathway for disadvantaged students. BEAM’s greatest strength is its undying commitment to student growth inside and outside the classroom. The staff is always well-rounded with many coming from fields including: mathematics, education, engineering, and social science. Each member of the staff provides a unique perspective in mathematics and every class is an organic exploration. Students are encouraged to engage topics both as instructors to their peers and as members of a larger mathematical community. Outside the classroom, BEAM students are supported in a variety of ways, including but not limited to: academic assistance, college admissions, reunions, and tutoring. BEAM's pathway is transformative.

japheth

Advisor

Rating: 5

I've been very pleased to see BEAM grow, from its early planning stages when it was just an idea, to what it is now. BEAM started with a 3-week summer program at Bard College, serving a small number of students from a handful of partner middle schools around NYC.

BEAM's growth has been managed carefully by a dedicated staff, and the alumni base is growing in size and success. Perhaps more significant is how BEAM has positioned itself for future service to math and STEM education that targets students at underserved schools, especially by developing a scalable and reproducible model to nurture middle schooler's passion for math into real career readiness.

Donor

Rating: 5

BEAM is one of my favorite organizations. Its success in preparing young people for the rigors of demanding high schools and colleges is important for all of us. Young people are able to grow, stretch, and develop to insure a more successful and satisfying life. Their schools have the advantage of better-prepared students. And our society has a diverse, well-prepared cadre of young people to address the needs and challenges of our future.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I started working with BEAM as a counselor while I was in college, and I've stayed involved with the organization for the last 3.5 years. As a summer employee, I was struck by their commitment to fairness and staff transparency, which was something new for me, having worked as temporary staff in numerous other education non-profits.

I have watched BEAM significantly grow their programming to expand beyond their original residential summer program, and that has not always been a seamless process, either in expanding their reach earlier or intensifying and building out their outreach to students currently enrolled in their programs. However, I've continued to be struck by the same commitment to fairness and staff transparency that I saw in their summer program, even when troubleshooting growing pains and stewarding organizational resources.

BEAM stands out as one of the few organizations where iterative feedback is seriously considered and acted upon. I've watched how diligently they take and respond to feedback from staff, students, families, donors, and other stakeholders during program postmortems and in program advisory committees. Their commitments to treating staff fairly and respectfully and running great programs that continue to improve each year are why I continue to stay involved with BEAM. In return, I know that BEAM values my feedback and my continued involvement, and I've been able to see directly the transformative impact BEAM has had on students and families across the city.

Donor

Rating: 5

I was a contract graphic designer for BEAM, and I have continued supporting the organization after the completion of my projects because I was so impressed by their mission, their student testimonials, and their commitment to supporting their students over an educational trajectory that will have a lasting impact on their entire lives. BEAM's commitment to elevating disadvantaged students and opening doors to STEM educational paths and eventual careers is valuable not only to all the individuals involved, but our society at large as well. I can't say enough wonderful things about BEAM!

Donor

Rating: 5

I was introduced to BEAM by one of its executive staff members and have attended a few BEAM events. From what I can tell, from having spoken to staff members and students, this is a truly excellent non-profit. They deserve the highest praise for their commitment to finding and cultivating talent that would otherwise (solely because of these kids’ circumstances) go ignored. BEAM also works hard to keep these kids engaged throughout the school year, with college prep and advising programs. By recognizing and cultivating the tremendous abilities of children who otherwise would be passed over—virtually entirely because they are poor, and often of color—BEAM helps chip away at the inequitable circumstances that still plague our country.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have worked as a faculty member for BEAM since 2014, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My teaching grew, my administrative skills grew, my appreciation for mathematics grew, and all of it happened while I was making a worthwhile contribution to the mathematical community: introducing precocious youngsters to the awesome, infinite world of mathematics.

When I first started at BEAM, I was a graduate student at The University of Texas. Needless to say, while my teaching was ok, I definitely needed guidance in the classroom. My first summer at BEAM provided just what I needed, along with the challenge of adjusting for middle-schoolers! Veteran BEAM instructors helped me grow and visited my class often. I was given notes and hours of one-on-one time to discuss how I was doing. When I came back to UT Austin after a great first summer, my teaching had demonstrably improved, and I credit that directly to BEAM. I also must say that working at BEAM and gaining the experience helped me tremendously on the job market: employers like to see a diverse teaching background.

While I could go on and on about the personal benefits I have gained while working for BEAM, I must say that the mission, to create pathways for underserved students to enter into science, mathematics, engineering and mathematics, is what I love the most. We have a clear and demonstrable impact on these young minds, and I am honored to be a part of our journey to make STEM fields more diverse and inclusive.

Oh, and more more thing. I LOVE the nerd-sniping questions and conjectures our students ask and make. This summer (2018), a student noticed that the number of divisors of 24 is actually equal to twice the difference of the two largest proper divisors of 24. She conjectured this was true in greater generality, and her observation was so interesting that it caught the interest of the faculty for days! Even after the program a few of us were working to find out when exactly her observation is true and when it is false (the answer is pretty cool).





Volunteer

Rating: 5

I’ve taught seventh graders at BEAM for five summers, and I have seen some amazing things there. Last July, I saw a BEAM student discover a novel depiction of the Fano plane that demonstrated some deep, non-trivial property of the plane. This is a topic in finite geometry generally not seen by mathematics students until late in their undergraduate careers (if even by then), but I have seen dozens of BEAM students make really inspiring progress into this rather arcane area of mathematics.

That kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME at BEAM. These luminous middle schoolers dive into the broader world of abstract mathematics with zeal – they’re making conjectures, finding counterexamples, and writing proofs by the first few days of the program, and they just go deeper from there. It has been one of the great honors of my professional career to have the privilege to work with so many BEAM students.

And BEAM adults. None of the remarkable progress I’ve described would be possible without the dedication, careful consideration, and flat-out devotion of the year-round BEAM folks. They work hard to find BEAM students, and the program is so carefully designed to maximize student growth at every step of the way, from sixth-grade day camp through college advising. BEAM assembles summer staffs of middle and high school teachers, PhD candidates, social workers, university faculty, amazing undergraduate math majors; the diversity of backgrounds and careers BEAM staff bring to the program really create a unique learning environment in which the BEAM students can thrive.

I care about mathematics and access. Therefore, I care about BEAM.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I worked for BEAM as a residential counselor in 2014, and I worked as a sub for BEAM LA during their first summer. The thing that impressed me the most about this organization was how passionate everyone involved was. The staff went above and beyond their duties, working tirelessly to make the program educational but also enjoyable, ensuring that students felt that they were part of the larger BEAM community. Every instructor found a unique way to share their love of math with the students, and exposed them to advanced topics in math that I didn't encounter until my undergraduate/graduate school years.

But the most amazing thing about BEAM, the thing that has kept me involved in some way over the past 4 years, is the students and their passion for learning. The students at BEAM are not only engaged in the classroom, but their excitement for math spills over into their free periods. Students can often be seen working on challenge problems, learning how to solve a Rubik's cube, or playing a game of Set during their free time.

If you want to be involved in training the next generation of mathematicians and scientists, I highly suggest you donate and/or get involved with BEAM.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've worked for The Art of Problem Solving for a few years (as a faculty member with the BEAM summer program). BEAM students are smart, talented, creative, and brimming with talent! It is a pleasure to teach them year after year. The year-round BEAM staff do an incredible job mentoring the students, helping them apply for high school, future summer programs, college, and more! They are an incredible team of professionals driven to ensure that our students realize and exceed their boundless potential.