Guest blog by Professor Mohamed Omar
It started as a dare between friends. Would you dare post a video of yourself doing math on YouTube, for the entire world to see? That was the seed of what has become a fulfilling endeavor: creating and building the YouTube channel ProfOmarMath. What I could have never expected was the empowerment this channel has given so many students across the world.
The first video I posted was on a quick method for solving a problem on the GRE Math Subject test. This test is a requirement for entry into many math PhD programs, and is filled with slick problems that are quite non-standard in nature. After posting the first video I realized a few things about the mathematics environment on YouTube:
• There were barely any videos on tips and tricks for the GRE Math Subject Test.
• There were barely any videos on undergraduate mathematics material presented by a person from an underrepresented group.
I was excited to be able to address both of these issues, creating roughly 15 (and now almost 30) videos on tips and tricks for the test. I then essentially abandoned the channel until about 3 months ago.
The revival was something I had planned to do during my sabbatical year when I had more time to devote to it. I expanded the channel to include videos on fun math topics like a combinatorial proof of Fermat’s Little Theorem, clear and empowering solutions to Putnam Mathematics Competition problems, and theorems undergrads don’t usually see like the Gershgorin Circle Theorem.
The impacts of doing this have been astounding. I’ve received many private messages from students across the world who appreciate having access to resources for standardized tests like the GRE Math Subject Test, and supplementary material on random interesting math topics. Students have come up to me at conferences expressing gratitude for the “out of the box” thinking presented in videos, giving them renewed perspectives on familiar topics.
But I think what motivates me the most to continue making these videos is filling the void of underrepresented mathematicians sharing non-standard undergraduate mathematics material on YouTube. Representation is such a critical force in empowering underrepresented students to realize their excellence. In a math culture where underrepresentation is often entangled with a deficit mindset, we need resources that reflect a different narrative. Resources that show underrepresented mathematicians engaging in creative, challenging and interesting mathematics happily.
If you are a student, come join me at ProfOmarMath and have some fun with mathematics. If you are an educator, or anyone interested in sharing your love for math, I highly encourage you to start a YouTube channel. It doesn’t have to be fancy. My first videos were extremely basic in sound quality and production value, but still had an impact to an extent I never could have imagined. Try it! Start today.
Biography: Dr. Omar’s mission is to change the world from math phobic to math loving, fiercely devoting his life to inclusion in mathematics. In 2018 he won the Mathematical Association of America’s Henry L. Alder award, the most prestigious early career undergraduate math teaching award in the nation. He has also been featured online in Forbes and Scientific American. Dr. Omar is also a fierce advocate for overcoming obstacles of underrepresentation in mathematics.
He is the author of over 20 peer-reviewed articles in internationally recognized journals. Dr. Omar is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College after a 2 year award-winning appointment at Caltech.