November 8, 2019

New Mathematics Placement Exam Boot Camp helps first-year students succeed

A group of first-year Wayne State students took advantage of the Mathematics Placement Exam Boot Camp, held this past summer, with the goal of improving their math placement exam scores.

Mathematics isn’t everyone’s strong suit. To help incoming first-year Wayne State students succeed at a subject they may not be comfortable (or want some extra help) with, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences created the first-ever Mathematics Placement Exam Boot Camp.

Six first-year students took advantage of the boot camp, held this past summer from June 24 through July 27, with the goal of improving their math placement exam scores. The students took the exams at the beginning and end of the boot camp, with half able to place into a course higher than they did originally. And two of those students made it into Calculus 1.

“The Mathematics Placement Exam Boot Camp was made possible thanks to the generosity of a Wayne State physics alumna,” said Richard Pineau, the camp’s instructor and senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics. “The donor wanted to help students improve their math skills because, for her, this was an initial point of struggle during her journey at Wayne State.”

The six students selected for the program had majors in the sciences that included mathematics, environmental science and biomedical physics. In a joint effort between the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, these students were given the chance to refine their mathematics skills.

One of the most important things the students learned during the boot camp was the sense of community one needs to have in order to be successful, Pineau said. The students kept in touch throughout the camp and collaborated on homework assignments. This broke the ice between them easily, helping form a small learning community.

But the boot camp is not just about math, Pineau said, it is about helping students ease the transition into life at a major university. In addition to the mathematics lessons, the students visited the WSU Planetarium and met with advisors and other university program representatives. As a final activity, they took the QLine to Little Caesars Arena for a tour and had lunch at Hockeytown Café.

“There also were a number of informal discussions about life at Wayne State, how to talk with professors, how to register for classes, etc.,” Pineau said. “This early access helped set the students at ease about many aspects of student life — simple things such as where the classes are listed, how to talk to professors outside of class and many other ‘what if’ questions.”

The opening of the boot camp saw students welcomed with words of wisdom and encouragement from CLAS Dean Stephanie Hartwell, Associate Dean Ratna Naik, Department of Mathematics Chair Hengguang Li and Department of Physics Associate Chair Sean Gavin.

Pineau put together a workbook for students, which included space for notes and practice problems. KeVaughna Patrick, a Wayne State biomedical physics alumna and current graduate student, served as a volunteer peer mentor. Mathematics advisor Kim Morgan and physics and astronomy advisor Dawn Niedermiller led the recruitment efforts that involved reaching out to students to gauge their interest in participating.

“All the students who attended the boot camp were very kind and appreciative,” Morgan said. “It was a pleasure to work with them. They seemed genuinely happy to get the opportunity.”

The boot camp meant a great deal to the students as well. “Thank you so much. Please run this again. It was super helpful,” said one student on a post-camp survey. And when asked what they enjoyed most about the camp, one student wrote that “getting to know people who are in the same boat as I am” was a highlight.

Know someone who will be an incoming student in fall 2020? If their major is in a STEM-related field, this boot camp may be a good fit for them. Students interested in next year’s Math Placement Exam Boot Camp can contact Kim Morgan at