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

The students standing outside of the Little Caesars Arena.

Everyone wants to get ahead, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to review some math for a few weeks in an attempt to skip some math classes and start college in a higher math class? For six incoming first-year students this past summer, this was the goal.  

Thanks to the generosity of a Wayne State University physics alumna, the first-ever WSU Mathematics Placement Exam Boot Camp became a reality. 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 which 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.  

Mathematics Advisor Kimberly Morgan and Physics and Astronomy Advisor Dawn Niedermiller led the recruitment efforts which involved calling, mailing, and emailing students to gauge their interest in participating in the Boot Camp.  

On the first day, the students had words of welcome and encouragement from an all-star line-up which included: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Dean Stephanie Hartwell, CLAS Associate Dean Ratna Naik, Mathematics Department Chair Hengguang Li and Physics Associate Chair Sean Gavin. 

Aside from the mathematics taught, the students visited the WSU Planetarium and had visits from advisors and other program representatives at WSU. As a final activity, the students took the Q-Line to Little Caesars Arena for a tour and had lunch at Hockey Town Café.  

Camp attendees and staff enjoying a tour of the Little Caesars Arena.

Mathematics Senior Lecturer Richard Pineau was recruited as the camp’s instructor. He put together a workbook for students which included space for notes and practice problems.

The students were fortunate to have Wayne State biomedical physics alumna and current graduate student KeVaughna Patrick as a volunteer peer mentor. The camp ran from June 24 to July 17 and met Monday - Wednesday for three hours each day.

The Results 

The student participants took a math placement exam both at the start and end of camp. Half of the students were able to place into a course higher than what they originally placed into. Two of those students made it into Calculus 1. Next year even more students will place higher. 

The Really Important Lessons 

Camp staff and students with their certificates of completion.

Perhaps one of the most important things the students learned while in the Boot Camp was the sense of community one needs to have in order to be successful. The students kept in touch throughout the camp and collaborated on homework assignments. This broke the ice between them easily and a small learning community was formed. There were a number of informal discussions about life at Wayne State, how to talk with professors, how to register for classes, etc. Pineau and Patrick, both WSU alumni, shared everything they knew from their time as students at Wayne State.  

Math advisor Kim Morgan commented that “all the students who attended the Boot Camp were very kind and appreciative. It was a pleasure to work with them. They seemed genuinely happy to get the opportunity.”  

Pineau sees this as an opportunity for students beyond the mathematics. “This early access helped set the students at ease about many aspects of student life,” he said. “Simple things like, where the classes are listed, how to talk to professors outside of class, and many other ‘what if’ questions.” 

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. When asked what they enjoyed most about the camp, one student said, “getting to know people who are in the same boat as I am.”  

Boot Camp is not just about the math, it is about helping students ease the transition into life at a major university.  

Do you 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 Boot Camp can contact Kim Morgan at


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