Running a Math Lover’s Dream School, with Sam Vandervelde
March 13, 2019
This episode’s guest is Sam Vandervelde, Head of School and Dean of Mathematical Sciences at Proof School: a private day school for kids who love math. Sam is also a former United States IMO team member, one of the co-founders – along with Richard Rusczyk and Sandor Lehoczky – of the Mandelbrot Competition, and a question writer for the USAMO. Sam discusses his experiences as a math contest superstar, earning his PhD at the University of Chicago, and what it’s like running a school that serves passionate math students.
You’ll hear about Sam’s earliest experiences at MATHCOUNTS, where he learned about what was required to become a successful math competitor. He reveals some of the insights he gained, and he and Richard discuss where mathematical creativity comes from and why it’s important to have unstructured free time to think about math.
Sam discusses the career path that eventually brought him to Proof School. He taught Middle and High School math, where he learned about what makes a good school culture, before earning his PhD from the University of Chicago. Sam taught at a number of math circles and enrichment programs, including Math Path, and became a professor and math department chair at St. Lawrence University. He talks about the unusual decision to leave a prestigious tenured professorship, in favor of taking a chance on a brand new school for kids who love math.
You’ll also hear Sam reveal what it’s like running Proof School, and what it was like building an entirely new program from the ground up. He talks with Richard about some of the challenges he’s encountered, as well as the success he’s had in expanding his students’ love of math, and of learning in general. Sam also discusses the mathematical research he’s been working on, which included getting a paper on Worpitzky numbers published in the prestigious journal, The American Mathematical Monthly.