Mitchells for Maths! A story of cross-class service

Last week, thanks to Midwest, Southeast, LMFM, and KFM, I got my 5 minutes of local Irish radio interview fame talking about the MATHletes Challenge 2014, my current project as Public Policy Advisor with SOSventures and the O’Sullivan Foundation. MATHletes (mathletes.ie) is a pioneering maths tournament that aims to improve Irish students’ abilities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.  In partnership with the Department of Education, we are bringing the free online learning platform Khan Academy to impact policy and practice at the national level,  hoping to raise the overall level of maths, engineering, and technical competencies of Irish graduates. With 44,500 new Information and Communications Technology (ICT) jobs to be created in the next 6 years, and 9 of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies with operations in Ireland, skilled technical graduates are in high demand.

As a George J. Mitchell Scholar I came to Ireland in 2012 for a year of post-graduate study at University College Cork, where I studied government and philanthropic foundations.  I never imagined staying in Ireland beyond that year, but here I am.   With an introduction from the US-Ireland Alliance to Sean O’Sullivan, an Irish-American technology entrepreneur based in Ireland, I now work for his foundation on – among other things – MATHletes.

Realising that my junior high school geometry proofs were a bit rusty, and that I had not taken a math class since my freshman year in college, I decided to turn to the Mitchell network for a bit of help with MATHletes. Turns out, two Mitchell Scholars, Lucas Mason-Brown and Mark Brennan, are both studying mathematics (at Trinity and the University of Limerick, respectively).  Both are math geniuses but are also interested in math education (not a surprise given that one of the criteria for winning a Mitchell is being someone who gives back).  Lucas is doing research on Irish curriculum reform, and Mark regularly tutors disadvantaged Limerick students in maths.

A few cups of tea later, I had the two lads on board to help with the MATHletes Challenge. I am still not sure if they realized what they were getting themselves into. They have jumped into the deep end – working with a small team from Maths Circles Ireland and volunteers on the Challenge Problem Council – coming up with weekly problem sets for competitors and helping design the in-person finals.

With over 2,000 students and 275 teachers from 220 schools from across Ireland signed up, our intergenerational Mitchell project is keeping us busy and hopefully helping Irish teachers and educators better serve their students.

MATHletes is an excellent example of US-Ireland cooperation. The project started with a US nonprofit Khan Academy, was introduced to Ireland by an Irish-American entrepreneur, and is being implemented across the country by a team of Irish educators and US Mitchell Scholars.  Not only will it improve mathematics education in Ireland, it will also contribute to Ireland’s image as an innovator in technology education.

Establishing meaningful connections between entities such as the O’Sullivan Foundation and the Mitchell Scholarship is a key goal of the US-Ireland Alliance.

I am happy and proud to represent the George Mitchell scholarship, and sincerely believe the power of Mitchell alumni and friends is limitless.  If you are interested in learning more about the MATHletes Challenge, please get in touch at kelly.kirkpatrick@sosventures.com.

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