Pathways to Mathematical Excellence: A National Perspective

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gary Walls

Advisor Department



This study examines paths students have constructed to mathematical excellence; it consists of two foci and is the joint pursuit of two researchers. One is international and seeks to consider how the American fingerprint compares with our genetic parents England. The researcher chose Oxford, with its long history and consistency in retaining its academic traditions, and compared the Oxford tradition to Princeton, frequently rated as having the top American undergraduate program in mathematics. The national perspective seeks solutions to the problem of the highly capable youth who experiences perpetual boredom in his math classes. Many available flexible options are defined and discussed. They include acceleration, advanced placement courses, dual enrollment, fast-paced boarding schools, early college entrance, special summer programs, math competitions, and mentoring. Solving the boredom problem sometimes causes undue pressure on the math student, so burnout is also addressed. In an effort to determine whether the student is in the right class, and to respond to the issues of enrichment and burnout, the researcher sampled 185 students in three categories of schools: schools of science and mathematics, highly competitive boarding schools, and early college entrance programs. Students from Mary Baldwin College, the University of Washington, the Mississippi School for Math and Science, the Illinois Math and Science Academy, Phillips Academy Andover, and Phillips Exeter Academy answered a survey of short answer and free response questions, in which they evaluated the importance of these opportunities in constructing a challenging pathway to mathematical achievement. They also responded to questions of stress and burnout. The major findings of this study suggest that precocious mathematics students thrive in residential schools which meet student needs of acceleration and advanced math course offerings. The nemesis of boredom was a significant factor at one time or another in two-thirds of these students academic math classes while burnout occurred much less or in 29% of this population.