One Time ... At Math Camp

“One time…in Math Camp!” Of course, we couldn’t help steal from American Pie to share our experiences in the Stanford GSB QPEP (Quantitative Pre-Enrollment Program, lovingly called Math Camp). Math Camp was a surprisingly memorable week that took place 4 days before most other first-year GSBers even arrived to campus.

“And what exactly are we going to ever use this for?” With that, entrepreneur Brooks Preston, MBA1, began the theme of Math Camp, learning with purpose. As Math Camp began on Tuesday September 4th, Room 180 was filled with the energy of curiosity and slight fear as 72 Math Campers filed into it. Investment bankers and video game designers, teachers and management consultants, fashion buyers and navy captains alike were all “campers” seeking one goal: to shed the “poet” title and learn with a purpose. And so, those who had just left school, and those who felt like Rodney Dangerfield and were going back to school after more than ten years, sat down and prepared to learn about algebra, linear equations, isoprofit lines, derivatives, probability, decision trees, and bent nickels.

As Finance Professor Paul Pfleiderer opened his mouth, worry and concern dissipated for the math campers and according to Math Camper Vilma Duran, MBA1, he “made what could have been a daunting experience quite pleasurable”. One of our earliest math camp lessons was that all questions are welcome, and most of them will garner a laugh. Regardless of the laughter, there was always at least one other person among the 72 who wanted to know the answer. After brave soul and ex-teacher Eric Wells, MBA1, hit out with “so what exactly is that thing you’ve been drawing on the board?” ex-banker Allison Thoreson, MBA1, stepped out and requested what we all wanted, “Could you explain what a derivative is, in, like words?” Math Campers knew that we were with like minds.

After the first, each Math Camper had a personal moment where he or she realized that they weren’t the only confused one. So questions allowed for more questions, finally leading Professor Pfleiderer to respond to our philosophical underpinnings of math with the practical and inevitable answer to such queries, “I could prove it to you, but just write down the rule because I’m the professor and I said so.” Math Campers welcomed such responses to our questions, as we were still readjusting to the college classroom. Readjusting to sitting in a classroom from 9am-12:30pm listening to a professor talk proved hard for many of us, leading Jennifer Hiltunen, MBA1, to include among her highlights of Math Camp Diane Savage’s daily “coffee break” reminders to Professor Pfleiderer.

So, for four days from 9am-12:30pm, participants in Math Camp listened to and questioned Professor Paul Pfleiderer on a range of topics and questions from, “Which door should you choose if you are on Let’s Make a Deal?” to “Why shouldn’t you play the lottery?” to “How many trucks do you need in a plant to maximize profit?” After nearly four hours of lecture, zombie like Math Campers headed to lunch together, and regrouped an hour later to work on problem sets. The problem sets proved, well, problematic. Still, Math Campers prided themselves in working on teams to solve whatever problems Professor Pfleiderer had sent our way. As ex-teacher and Yale alumna Monisha Perkash, MBA1, expressed, “The study groups were helpful. It was the first time I'd experienced working in a group together academically and actually tackling problems together. I found that I really enjoy learning that way.”

We returned from our problem sets after a few hours in Jackson Library (or outside for those of us who still weren’t ready to let go of our hours under the sun) to meet with a teaching assistant who was very honest with us, turning our Math Camp experience into a Math Boot Camp. “Is there another way to do this problem?” a Math Camper might ask. “There is, but this is the right one!” replied our TA. And our day was complete, having been at Math Camp from 9am-4pm.

As if the long days we experienced at the hands of Math Camp weren’t painful enough, we were occasionally abused, if only verbally, by more quantitatively adept classmates. Math Camper Jonathan Strike, MBA1, invited math genius Amy Skeeters-Behrens, MBA1, to the QPEP picnic. Not realizing he was a camper, she jokingly inquired if they had to act “quantitatively inept” at the picnic. Strike was on the ground laughing, but Amy was horrified of the impression she may have made on her new classmates.

Many of our non-Math Camp classmates may wonder, “So, what did you get for $250?” During our four-day math boot camp, we were barraged with natural and unnatural logs, probabilities, derivatives, limits, and bent nickels. We were reminded (and introduced for others), what these concepts were and how to put them to use here at the GSB. We got to know Professor Pfleiderer, a very good guy and great professor. And, we made 72 great friends--the math camp gang. Seems like a bargain really.

And for those Math Campers who are wondering about the fate of the bent nickel, our lesson in probability, Professor Pfleiderer is proud to announce that he was able to finally use it to purchase a bagel. Now tell us, what are the odds of that?

By Shani Jackson, MBA1, and Carl Palmer, MBA1


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