As an undergraduate, I benefited from participating in Rutgers’ Directed Reading Program. This program (DRP for short) matches up interested undergrads and volunteer graduate students to read a textbook or a series of papers. This allows students to pursue interests outside the standard curriculum. It is also a mentorship opportunity. I got to ask my assigned graduate students all of my burning questions about getting into grad school, taking qualifying exams, doing research, etc. My graduate school had an active AWM chapter, but no mentorship or reading program like the DRP. So I got involved and started it. It was easier than I thought it would be. In the four years that I oversaw the program, we had over 100 undergraduate participants and it cost a tiny fraction of our annual budget to run.
Our vision was to connect one graduate student with a small group of undergraduates (1-4) who were interested in the grad student’s general research area. Each group would read a textbook or carry out some project in order to learn more about that area. Once a week the groups would meet to discuss their readings, do practice problems, etc. Then at the end of the semester, every group would make a short presentation to share what they had learned. We provided pizza and sodas at the presentations, which was the only cost of running the program.
Below is a simple step-by-step of how to start and run such a program. It is intended for departments with graduate programs. If your chapter is at an undergrad-only institution, consider a pure mentorship program that matches upper- and lower-classmen.
Step 1: Secure a small amount of funding. Buying pizza and soda for a few dozen people will cost $100-$200. Everything else is free.
Step 2: Solicit graduate volunteers.
Step 3: Advertise to undergraduates with some possible topics (usually in the research areas of the volunteers). Allow undergraduates to suggest their own topics, too. Often someone who didn’t volunteer in Step 2 will step up now if they see a student who really wants to work with them. It is important to ask what kind of upper division classes students have taken so you can tell if they are adequately prepared for certain topics. You can easily collect applications with Google Forms.
Step 4: Select participants and assign groups. Run group selections by the graduate volunteers before informing the undergraduates. Set a specific deadline for when the group should have had a first meeting. Check back in on that date and make sure each group has gotten started.
Step 5: At least a month before the end of the semester, start planning the presentation & pizza party event. If you have many groups, try splitting it across two days or holding it on the weekend. Book rooms with the math department and order food.
Step 6: Enjoy the final presentations!