Competition co-founder Alicia Still graduated in May 2013. She is now working as a general education instructor and applying to graduate school.

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Student Turned Passion for Math into Community Success

Katie SweeneySep 29, 2013

Since the fourth grade, Alicia Still '13 has had a passion for math-and a desire to share that passion with as many people as possible. 

So when she arrived at Pacific in 2009 as a Math major, she immediately volunteered as an officer in Pacific's newly formed Math Club. Within weeks, she and fellow Powell Scholar Mike Abram '11 were busy brainstorming a new way to encourage young people to pursue and develop their love of math: the Pacific High School Math Competition. 

The inaugural competition was held during Alicia's freshman year-and it's been going strong ever since. Just one month before she graduated in May 2013, the competition received a $160,000 donation from the Avinash Raina Foundation. 

"It was extremely humbling to me that the Raina family supported our competition," Alicia says. "It secured my hope that this event will foster young mathematicians in Stockton for years to come, long after my graduation." 

Diving In

A Modesto native, Alicia's first experience with a math competition came during her junior year in high school. She and several classmates entered a tournament in Stanislaus County-and Alicia finished first in the pre-calculus event. 

When she came to Pacific, though, she was surprised to learn that there was no similar contest for Stockton high school students. So Alicia and Mike joined with Math Club members to create one. 

With the help of Pacific's Math professors, they wrote the competition tests, including both standard questions and more challenging, non-traditional problems. They also recruited high schools to participate, did all the planning and secured sponsorships from local businesses. 

"We just dove in," she recalls. "It was a lot of work! We had no idea if it would be successful, or if we could really maintain it." 

A Major Boost

The first competition drew 60 students from six schools, and since then, participation has been steady and slowly growing. The 2013 event, held in April, attracted more than 70 students from nine schools. 

"This is a completely student-led effort to reach out to the community and give local high school students something fun to strive for in mathematics," says Christopher Goff, Ph.D., associate professor of Mathematics in the College of the Pacific and the Math Club advisor the first two years of the competition. "It's also given the university a chance to bring these students to campus and introduce them to Pacific." 

The Math Club continues to organize the competition. Now that Alicia has graduated, the event this spring will be led by current Math Club President Liliana Magana '14, along with Shelley Buford '16

The Avinash Raina Foundation gift has given the event a major boost, providing key logistic and marketing support. The gift was made in memory of Avinash Raina, a Stockton student with exceptional math skills who died at age 19 after battling cancer. 

"We are extremely grateful for this gift," says John Mayberry, Ph.D., assistant professor of Mathematics in The College and the current Math Club advisor. "Thanks to this generous support, we hope that the competition can continue to thrive and reach out to other areas of the San Joaquin region." 

'You Will Succeed'

The competition was one of many student-centered learning experiences Alicia enjoyed at Pacific. Among other activities, she worked as a supplemental instructor in the Math department and helped organize a successful community "mathemagician" event at the university. 

Today, Mike is pursuing his Ph.D. in math at the University of Southern California. Meanwhile, Alicia is applying to graduate school programs in math and currently is working as a general education instructor at San Joaquin Valley College. 

"I feel like my Pacific education has come full circle," explains Alicia, who took many classes in the Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. "I find myself smiling when I realize I am teaching one of the techniques my Math professors taught me, or applying ideas I learned in my Education classes. 

"If I could describe Pacific in one word, it's supportive," she adds. "The faculty here are really invested in you and helping you grow and learn. If you're passionate about something, they'll support you, and you will succeed."

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