By: Eric Sandbulte, The Brookings Register 

BROOKINGS – Math has played an important role in the lives of Brookings High School sophomores Serena An and Samyok Nepal, and they hope to show others its appeal and make Brookings more competitive in math competitions.

That’s why they started three years ago a group, now known as the Brookings Math Circle, dedicated to learning how to apply math.

Serena first came up with the idea during a ride back from MathCounts Nationals. She and Samyok felt that there was too long a gap between the end of MathCounts and when it started again, giving too much of an opportunity for Brookings “mathletes” to lose those things they’ve learned.

But there was also a desire to show them what math can offer people, Serena said.

When it began, it was known as the Brookings Math Club, and it focused on math competitions. According to Samyok and Serena, the lessons back then were less structured than they are now.

“That might be just because the first year, it was our grade level that we were teaching and one grade above or below. So, it was generally our age,” Samyok said. “But now, since they’re younger than us, we’ve structured it more.”

Last year, they started having two different sessions going over the same curriculum, but there was an imbalance in attendance between the two.

This year, they still have two four-week long class sessions, but one emphasizes competitive math and the other, noncompetitive math.

The pair have been the leaders for the Circle and have created the curriculum, the handouts and led activities for the group.

In a typical session, held at the Brookings Public Library, they go over some of the problems from the previous week’s handout and go over some other problems.

It’s equally been a learning experience for Serena and Samyok as they lead the classes.

“I learned what teaching is like and discovered how difficult it was but also how rewarding it was,” Serena said, adding that she found it a challenge to handle different skill levels at the same time.

“It’s definitely exciting to see … their faces when they understood what we taught and used it in a problem,” Samyok said.

From the beginning, Brookings Math Circle has mostly attracted middle school participants, which is when most students are first exposed to competitive math through MathCounts, and most newcomers are sixth graders.

Although open to high schoolers, too, there seems to be less enthusiasm for competitive math after middle school, Serena thinks.

“Something we’re seeing in the community right now is a lot of people focusing less on math or not doing any math competitions after middle school. To combat that, we are in the process of starting a math club in the high school,” she said.

And the Brookings Math Circle can help keep enthusiasm high early on and hopefully encourage them to continue to pursue competitive math in high school. That seems to be the case now since Serena and Samyok see more students returning to the group with each year and more of the participants actually working on and completing problems. They attribute that to an improved curriculum and learning how to make it more interesting and engaging.

Either way, they don’t reject people who express a desire to join, regardless of skill level.

“We accept anyone who wants to do it. There have been new-coming sixth-graders and entering eighth-graders who have a very different skill level, but they’re all in the same class. We had an eighth-grader and sixth-grader in the same class, and it worked out well for both,” Samyok said.

Serena added, “Prior math knowledge doesn’t matter as much as how interested you are and how much effort you’re willing to put in to follow your passion.”

For anybody interested in joining the group, they urged people to check out their website at

Contact Eric Sandbulte at


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