Math Festival aims to make math accessible

When Can Ozan Oguz, a graduate student pursuing his Ph. D. in mathematics, was approached by an undergraduate student wondering what he spent his time doing as a mathematician, he was not sure how to respond.

Wanting He | Daily Trojan

“I’m like, well, it is not that easy to explain … because math has its own language and it keeps building upon itself,” Oguz said. “I realized they had no idea what kind of mathematics is being done in our graduate school or in the upper-division classes.”

Oguz, who works on categorification, quantum algebras and representation theory, decided to create Math Festival, an event that takes place in April where students of all majors can learn more about what kind of problems advanced mathematicians think about.

In collaboration with other graduate students, Oguz hosted USC’s fourth annual Math Festival at the Viterbi E-Quad on Wednesday where students could interact with five booths featuing activities demonstrating different branches of mathematics, including algebra, probability, geometry, combinatorics and topology.

Ezgi Kantarci Oguz, a student pursuing a Ph. D. in mathematics and Oguz’s wife, studies shifted combinatorics and specializes in counter-examples. She created different puzzles and games for people to attempt to solve at her combinatorics booth.

“To me, mathematics is that fun, playful thing that sometimes evades you and you have to catch it and try to find the answer,” Kantarci Oguz said. “It’s always entertaining and exciting and I wanted to be able to share that with the students.”

Kantarci Oguz said she enjoys interacting with the different people that come by her table and that a lot of people “hang out” and try to solve her puzzles.

Elizabeth Zhou, a freshman majoring in physics and computer science, said she grew up participating in math competitions and was excited to attend Math Fest.

“Sometimes in class when people talk about math it seems like very abstract concepts,” Zhou said. “To actually see them applied and interact with the physical world is really interesting.”

Oguz said he hopes this festival can help students who may be interested in taking upper-division math classes by exposing them to the kinds of problems each branch of math deals with. He believes it is beneficial for people of all majors to be exposed to math beyond their required courses.

“It is difficult to identify what kind of thinking tools one needs when they encounter a new problem,” Oguz said. “This is usually what mathematicians do; they start thinking about a problem before such a problem occurs in the real world so you are ready when such a problem occurs.”