Selecting a suitable meeting site is the next major decision to be made. Faculty members at a college or university will probably opt to host the circle in a classroom or auditorium regularly used by their math department. For secondary teachers and parents the decision is less obvious. Although it may require more legwork, finding a math department at a local institution that is willing to sponsor and host the math circle has several strong advantages over running it out of a school, workplace, or home. For starters, a college or university provides a neutral, well-known, scholarly setting for the pursuit of mathematics. In addition, students tend to be excited by the prospect of spending time on a university campus. When the Peninsula Math Circle relocated to Stanford University after one semester of operation, its enrollment immediately doubled. Furthermore, corporations or private schools run the risk of having their mathematical outreach misconstrued as a recruitment effort. (Unless, of course, this is the intent.) Departmental sponsorship has the added advantage that finding speakers, which is one of the main challenges in operating a math circle, becomes much more feasible. At the end of the day there may be other constraints which make this option less appealing, but it is usually worth investigating.
Here are a few thoughts for organizers without a university affiliation who wish to enlist the support of math faculty at a nearby institution. If possible, avoid introducing new projects to faculty members during the summer, when they are typically at conferences, involved in summer programs, engaged in research, or writing their books; or in the fall, when they have their hands full with the start of classes and other responsibilities. One is more likely to receive a warm reception in the winter or spring when there is time to plan ahead for a new departmental activity. Secondly, contact the chair of the department; this person should be kept apprised of the math circle and will know who in the department is most likely to be willing to help out. Mention the name of another person on the faculty if someone else is already interested in coordinating the math circle. Finally, mention that such a project would be beneficial to the department in addition to providing an exciting mathematical opportunity to students in the area. Dan Silver at the University of Southern Alabama (USA) stated that, “The Mobile Math Circle has been by far the most effective outreach activity we have ever undertaken.” Part of the original motivation for their math circle was to draw students into the math major at USA; the strategy worked even better than they had hoped. It also had the effect of integrating the mathematical community in their region, bringing high school, college, and graduate students together with math faculty.
Secondary school teachers with the right combination of mathematical background, enthusiasm, and access to potential speakers have also managed to successfully conduct math circles at their schools. For instance, a math circle ran at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA for many years. Making the event welcoming to students outside the school is more of a challenge in this case. Finding qualified people to lead the sessions can also be more difficult. Therefore these groups are often composed solely of students from within the school who spend time preparing for math contests or together poring over books containing mathematical activities or advanced topics. As such they are more aptly described as math clubs than math circles. However, exceptions do exist; the St. Mark’s Institute of Mathematics is a good illustration.
Next: Setting the Schedule: Picking the Date