Friday, February 8, 2013

Gili Rusak, mathematical community builder

Gili Rusak launches students on investigations of Archimedean solids.

Gili Rusak, a tenth grader at Shaker High School who also takes advanced math classes at Siena College, has been building deep, rich, and inclusive mathematical communities all around the Capital District and even beyond.  For the past two years, she has been helping Doyle Middle School teacher Nancy Smith with coaching Doyle's MATHCOUNTS team in Troy.

Last winter, she participated in the first annual SUMiT, a "fully collaborative, math intensive event" organized by Girls' Angle and the Undergraduate Society for Women in Mathematics at MIT and returned home efferverscent with enthusiasm about the wonderful experiences she had had as a participant in that event.   She came back inspired with a missionary zeal to create a similar math event here in the Capital District, to bring that same mathematical joyful collaboration to students in the Capital District.

After months of thoughtful planning and brainstorming, Gili designed, organized, and led a completely marvelous math treasure hunt inspired by the SUMiT model.  Gili's local event took place at Union College's Kenney Community Center last summer.  Watching Gili and the two AAMC veterans she had recruited to help, Cecilia Holodak and Elizabeth Parizh, orchestrate this event was the single most epic math experience of my entire career as a math outreach volunteer!  (And I have had many awesome ones, so that is saying a lot!)  The photo below shows Gili and Elizabeth with some of their happy treasure  hunters and you can learn much more about that treasure hunt in the writeup and photos on Gili's blog here.

Gili leading a Math Treasure Hunt she designed and organized for younger girls at the Kenney Community Center  at Union College late last summer .

After hearing about Gili's very successful local treasure hunt, Ken Fan at Girls' Angle invited Gili to help him lead a much larger treasure hunt at Microsoft New England Research & Development Center as part of a social event ("Games Night") at the Math Prize for Girls at MIT last fall.  It was a *huge* hit engaging scores of girls from all over the United States and Canada.

Math Prize for Girls @MIT participants enjoy the extremely fun yet challenging math treasure hunt Kan Fan and Gili ran at a "Games Night" social event at Microsoft New England Research and Development (NERD) Center.

Gili's account of that night is here.  Ken describes one fun part of their treasure hunt, Mental Madness, here.  In another event, called "Robo-Ape", Gili and Ken asked the girls to compose algorithms to instruct a robotic ape about how to eat a banana.  Gili then read their algorithms aloud while Ken played the role of the robotic ape, executing their algorithmic instructions quite literally to great amusement.  (You can see a video clip of RoboApe here.)

Ken Fan from Girls' Angle and Gili in the Robo-Ape event

Attendees at the Math Prize social event included Stephen Wolfram and his 15-year-old daughter Catherine, who was intrigued by the treasure hunt idea that Ken and Gili were leading.  Afterwards, Gili and Catherine stayed in touch and worked together to create yet another local treasure hunt back in Schenectady at Union College's Kenney Center in early November, this one with a Halloween theme.  You can see a little bit of their treasure hunt in this video (starting at 3:27).   Gili described some of their activities in her blog here.

Gili is an outstanding role model, a trail blazer who is creating wonderful road maps that other students can follow as well to create their own mathematical community building events!  She is only a tenth grader, but her work thus far exceeds my wildest dreams of what I would have thought possible.  And she started out in a small satellite middle school math circle led by Zagreb Mukerjee at a table in the Clifton Park library back in when she was a fifth grader.

Where it all began years ago:  a younger Gili (center, back to camera) participating in a small satellite middle school math circle led by Zagreb Mukerjee (standing) at the Clifton Park Library.

 Zagreb is now off in college, but Gili is indeed doing her utmost to "pay it forward" and share the magic of creating vibrant local mathematical communities with younger people in new and innovative ways.  And who knows what wondrous activities Gili will--in her turn--inspire the young students with whom SHE is working to do a few years down the road, when it is THEIR turn to pay it forward!