Math Camp Adds up to Success


This summer twenty-seven incoming MPA and Executive MPA students got together for camp—but instead of bringing out canoes and tents, they reached for calculators and graph paper.

“The official title of the class is Essential Mathematics for Public and Nonprofit Management, but we call it Math Camp because it sounds more fun,” says Eva Witesman, Math Camp’s founder and MPA professor.

The Romney Institute has offered the class for six years to prepare students for the heavily quantitative MPA and EMPA programs. In the week before orientation, the course covers topics ranging from basic algebra to introductory calculus. Students choose whether or not to take the class, but those who do say it gives them the ability to go into the MPA program with confidence.

Despite the challenge of dusting off memories of square roots and equations, Witesman says she helps students have fun getting to know each other in a low-stress environment.

“It was a good refresher,” says Nick Estrada, a first-year MPA student. “Now I have the resources and know how to solve these problems.”

Estrada, who worked for five years as a translator after finishing his undergraduate degree, says the format of the class helped him feel comfortable with math concepts he hadn’t used for several years. Students start each day with topical discussions and practice problems and then work to solve problems with classmates to test out new skills.

“Many of our students come to us because of their passion for helping people—not their passion for math,” Witesman says. “We want all of our students to be prepared to get the most out of our program, so we use Math Camp to level the playing field.”

Witesman was inspired by a similar class at Indiana University when she created BYU’s class in 2009. She adjusts the curriculum every year according to feedback from professors, ensuring that students receive the right prep for each class. For many students it is their first class at BYU, and they say it’s fun to see the unique way BYU approaches education.

“Not only are we getting the math skills, but we’re also getting the spiritual side of things,” says MPA student Kelly Peterson, who received her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Most of all, students say the class helped them feel comfortable going into a new program with confidence. Lauren Arnold, a first-year MPA student, says she had been worried that she wouldn’t be skilled enough when compared to her classmates.

“Meeting my peers and realizing I wasn’t alone was really valuable,” she says. “Seeing all of our different backgrounds and what we want to achieve got me ready for the semester.”