Calculus: The Major Gatekeeper into STEM

Studies have shown that when students complete the necessary mathematics classes from algebra to calculus, they have higher chances of finishing college. This further highlights how mathematics plays a role in reducing disparities in education.

However, in the Greater Boston Area, disparities remain in mathematics performance for African American, Latino, and low-income students in comparison to their higher-income classmates. The Calculus Project and Leadership Academy (CPLA) was created by Dr. Adrian Mims to help students who are underperforming, succeed in mathematics and prepare them for career opportunities in STEM.

“We started with Black and African American children because they had the worst performance data and there were funding constraints,” says Dr. Mims. “By the second year, we included Latino kids.”

The Calculus Project began as a summer program in the Brookline Public Schools in 2009 with approximately nineteen middle school students entering the eighth grade. Today, there are more than 200 African American, Hispanic/Latino, and/or low-income students in the Calculus Project. Now, it operates as a high school program with a summer intervention focused on rising eighth graders.

Today, students in The Calculus Project and Leadership Academy are recruited by teachers, administrators, and counselors from their respective schools. However, initially, Dr. Mims recruited students into the program in Brookline by sending letters to their parents explaining the goal of the Calculus Project and inviting them to a parent information session. According to Dr. Mims, once parents attended the information sessions, they usually enrolled their students in the program. Even when there was no response from parents or students, Dr. Mims remained optimistic.

“If I invite students between seventh and eighth grade and they don’t come, I continue to invite them to learn about the program,” he says. “If the problem was easy to solve, I wouldn’t be trying to solve it right now.”

What sets the Calculus Project apart from other programs is that it’s not just about mathematics. Dr. Mims keeps students motivated by taking them on field trips and inviting people of color who are working in STEM fields to come and speak to students about their career experiences. He likes to make sure that he’s building a family and a sense of community for the students.

Dr. Mims’ greatest sense of reward is when he sees students starting to believe in themselves and their abilities.

“Calculus is the major gatekeeper into four-year STEM disciplines,” says Dr. Mims.

Dr. Mims foresees significant expansion for the Calculus Project. He is currently working on bringing the program to schools in Brooklyn, New York as well as areas of North Carolina.