The Ross Program at the Ohio State University is an intensive course in mathematics for pre-college students. This Program is sponsored by the University in partnership with the Clay Mathematics Institute. During the eight weeks of this summer program, students are immersed in a world of mathematical discovery. The first year students (ranging in age from 14 to 18) take the basic course in number theory. For most of the students this is the first time they will be asked to consider entirely new questions, to develop methods that they have not seen before, and to justify every answer.
The central goal of the Ross Program has always been to instruct and encourage bright young students in the art of abstract thinking and to inspire them to discover for themselves that abstract ideas are valuable and important. The Ross Program strives to achieve this goal in an eight week summer residential program for talented high school students. It is a multi-level academic program with an emphasis on mathematics. Spurred by the launch of the Sputnik and the subsequent surge of interest in science education, Dr. Arnold Ross founded his Program at Notre Dame in 1957. The Program moved to Ohio State in 1964 and has run every summer since then.
The value of a mathematics education lies not only in obtaining proficiency in computational tasks, but also in providing a foundation for critical thinking. American high schools typically teach computational skills with little mathematical theory. This emphasis on computation alone too often produces students who have never practiced thinking for themselves, who have never asked why things work the way they do, who are not prepared to lead the way to future scientific innovation. It is precisely this independence of thought and questioning attitude that the Ross Program strives to nurture.
First Year Students
The first year course in the Ross Program is organized around a series of daily problem sets in number theory. These sets invite the students to contemplate a variety of seemingly simple questions about numbers and their relationships. As the summer progresses the students are encouraged to investigate these questions in increasing depth, and to return to them periodically as their skill at abstract reasoning and their collection of available tools become more powerful.
This spiraling of concepts is summarized in the Ross Program's motto:
"Think deeply of simple things."
Beginning with everyday knowledge of familiar numbers students observe some curious properties and then search for satisfactory explanations of them. For example, the students investigate topics involving prime numbers and modular arithmetic. The early questions are numerical in nature and give the students a chance to become familiar with the basic ideas. As soon as they have made some computations, however, they are asked to formulate more general statements that include their numerical examples as special cases. Students then try to explain their new observations, thus returning to the original questions at a different level. After mastering these more complex issues, they encounter versions of those questions in other contexts and begin to appreciate them from a deeper perspective. Some of these investigations eventually lead to significant insights about the structure of number systems, the underpinnings of algebraic formalism and the relationship between numbers and geometry. By considering simply stated questions from several directions and depths, these young students attain an understanding of how professional mathematicians and scientists work: gathering data, looking for patterns and analogies, making conjectures, and finally testing and proving those conjectures.
Advanced Students and Counselors
In order for this intensely problem-based approach to succeed, the students must be given careful and personal feedback on their work. This role is played by the counselors, who live in the dormitories along with the younger participants. The counselors are graduates of the Ross Program who are studying mathematics and science as undergraduates in some of the best colleges and universities of the United States. Each counselor works directly with several first year students, contributing a tremendous amount of time and energy to their students. The counselors contribute to the overall atmosphere of excitement at the Ross Program by working on challenging advanced courses or on other topics they find of interest. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their dedication is inspiring for the younger students. The counselors work to bring the program participants together to form a true community, but ultimately much of this task falls to the students. It is the students themselves who must devote their energy to meet the challenges set for them.
Beginning students who do well are invited back for a second summer, and may return as junior counselors or counselors in subsequent summers. Returning students and counselors also take advanced courses which vary from year to year. Enthusiasm for the Ross Program is evident in comments posted on the Ross Program Alumni Home Page.
Costs and Financial Aid
The $2500 fee pays for eight weeks of room and board in a college dormitory. Some financial aid is available for qualified students.
Ambitious pre-college students with strong interests in mathematics are invited to apply. The first year students range in age from 14 to 18, although exceptions are made in some cases. Admission decisions are based on several criteria, including: the applicant's solutions to some interesting mathematical problems included with the application; teacher recommendations; school transcripts; and a short essay describing the student's interest in mathematics and in the Ross Program.
Requests for Applications
The application form is available on the Ross Program website.
Anyone interested in applying to the Ross Program should print a paper copy of the application form, answer the questions, work on the mathematical problems, and send it all to the address below. Electronic submissions will not be accepted.
Ross Mathematics Program
Department of Mathematics
The Ohio State University
231 W. 18th Ave.
Columbus, OH 43210
Paper copies of the application form are also available by mail. To get a copy, send a letter to the address above or call the Ross Program office at (614) 292-1569. Further information about this summer mathematics program is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.