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Northeastern program preps Boston teens for calculus

Students take their final exams in the Bridge to Calculus program in Northeastern's Ryder Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

For six weeks this summer, some 120 students from Boston Public Schools made an early morning trek from across the city to Northeastern’s campus, where they engaged in a math enrichment program designed to prepare them for calculus courses in high school.

The high school students—most of whom will be seniors starting this fall—wrapped up their final exams and presentations in the Bridge to Calculus program late last week, and many marveled over what they had learned and accomplished.

The curriculum consisted of instruction, group work, and projects covering pre-calculus topics including applications and interpretations of functions, trigonometry, and intro to calculus. This year, thanks to support from the Massachusetts-based MathWorks, the free program added a component for select students featuring MATLAB—a dynamic computing language the company developed.

Jerry How­land, a Boston Public Schools math teacher, goes over a ques­tion with Rosellen Feliz, 17, from the Jere­miah E. Burke High School, during the Bridge to Cal­culus pro­gram final exams. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

Jerry How­land, a Boston Public Schools math teacher, goes over a ques­tion with Rosellen Feliz, 17, from the Jere­miah E. Burke High School, during the Bridge to Cal­culus pro­gram final exams. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

Rising seniors Jason Daniel and Ronald Francois raved about the program on Thursday, a short time after completing their finals. The program, they said, provided an intellectually stimulating environment in which they were eager to learn, challenged to push themselves academically, and given the opportunity to get hands-on experience with MATLAB.

“This program really allows you to propel yourself forward, especially if you have the will,” said Daniel, who attends the Jeremiah E. Burke High School.

Holly Liao, a rising senior at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, said math is her favorite subject but she struggled with pre-calculus as a junior. She applied to the Bridge to Calculus program to advance her knowledge in preparation for taking an Advanced Placement calculus course this fall. But like Daniel and Francois, she also became intrigued with MATLAB and learning the basics of coding.

“I think it’s really opened doors for me,” Liao said of the program.

The program ran Mondays through Thursdays from 7:30 to 9:15 a.m., with the MATLAB component taught in sessions immediately thereafter and on Fridays. Boston Public School teachers led the in-classroom instruction. Joining the teachers were mentors, most of them Northeastern undergraduate and graduate students, who assisted with tutoring and provided perspective on college life and the application process.

Retired Northeastern math professor Bob Case founded the program with National Science Foundation funding 20 years ago, and the program now runs out of Northeastern’s Department of Mathematics in the College of Science. Rajini Jesudason, a part-time lecturer in the department, is coordinating the program this year, having been involved with the program for six years. Northeastern associate professor of mathematics Donald King is the faculty chair of the program.

At the completion of the program, students are recommended for pre-calculus, calculus, or AP calculus based on the progress they’ve made. Overall, program administrators said, Bridge to Calculus aims to cultivate greater access to a strong math curriculum in students’ schools and provide high school students with math and critical thinking skills that will help them achieve success in their final years of high school, in college, and beyond.

“The goal is to strengthen the public school system,” Jesudason said.

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