UC Links Statewide Office On the Road - UC Irvine (Math CEO and Girls Inc.)

February 7, 2019

On Feb. 6, Mara and I visited two UC Links sites run by Sandi Simpkins and Jenel Lao -- together with their graduate student, Kayla Puente -- and their partners in Irvine and Santa Ana, CA: the Math CEO program, which takes place on the UCI campus, and the Girls Inc. site at Killybrooke Elementary School. The Math CEO program was in full swing, but the children in the Girls, Inc. program were away at a science camp for the day, so we saw a smaller sampling of their activities. We talked with Stephanie Mendoza from Girls, Inc., about the program and observed an activity focused on identifying, comparing, and writing about fossils (we’ll write about this site another time).

Math CEO

Math CEO takes place on the UC Irvine Campus in two large classrooms, where about 150 middle school students and 50 undergraduate and graduate students engage in a variety of math activities as they work collaboratively in small groups at tables with 4-5 middle school students and 2-3 university students. Started and developed by Math faculty members Alessandra Pantano and Li-Sheng Tseng, the program takes place on two days/week, at approximately 2-4 PM. The program also happens at a local elementary school one day/week during the school day. Partners include: UCI Department of Mathematics and School of Education, 4 Santa Ana middle schools and one private school in San Juan Capistrano

Focused Observations

Last Wednesday, as every Wednesday, the Math CEO program brought 120 Latinx middle school students from four under-performing middle schools in Santa Ana (a 45-minute bus ride) to the UCI campus for a lively set of project-oriented math activities. A group of the students' parents accompany the students to UCI and provide additional support. Math CEO supports students from two other schools on other days of the week. The students divided up into two classrooms (60 students each), where they engaged in the same activities involving similar numbers of middle school students interacting with both graduate and undergraduate students. 

The classroom we observed had nine or more tables that each included ensembles of 5-6 middle school students and 2-3 UCI students. The day started with an update on current standings in a competitive (team vs. team) ongoing stock market game that all the teams of students (one team per table) were engaged in together. The teams then transitioned into the first of two informal math-based problem-solving activities related to the stock market game. With obvious excitement and enthusiasm, the UCI and middle school students engaged in playfully yet persistently working through the problems together.


  • Math CEO grew out of the UCI Department of Mathematics. IN the last two years, the UCI Department of Mathematics and the School of Education have collaborated on the important program. Students from both departments serve as mentors, and many take a course in the Mathematics Department to learn the math behind the weekly activities. One of the ongoing challenges is to facilitate a way for students who come from different courses to share the same background knowledge and preparation for supporting underserved Latinx students. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the UCI math students are more comfortable with the math material while the UCI education students are more comfortable working in small groups with diverse students. The team is exploring ways to have the materials be both accessible and engaging for all participating university mentors, so that the middle school students receive the same kinds of support, no matter what kind of mentor they have.
  • Over the 5 years since Math CEO was initiated, the number of participating schools has grown as has the support from participating school districts. Currently half of the cost of bussing students to campus is covered by participating schools. UCI support is also evidenced by the active partnership between the Math Department and the School of Education.
  • Kudos to the collaboration among the UCI Math Dept., the School of Education, the  schools they work with, and the dedicated parents who provide the program with their additional support, for developing and continuing this amazing program for underserved Latinx young people in Santa Ana. 


Charles and Mara