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The City Journals

High school senior starts Waterford math club, creates nonprofit math organization

May 30, 2018 11:10AM ● By Julie Slama

Waterford School’s Tanisha Martheswaran started the MATHCOUNTS team at her school, and last year was the coach of Utah’s delegation to nationals in Orlando. (Photo courtesy of Prabha Nagenthram)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

She is the driving force behind Waterford’s MATHCOUNTS chapter that won the school’s state title last year. She is the founder of Mission Math Utah, a nonprofit organization designed to help elementary and middle school students develop a love for math. She holds math camps allowing students to polish up their skills before participating in competitions she coordinates. 

These are just some of the accomplishments of Tanisha Martheswaran, a senior at Waterford School who recently was awarded the highly competitive Coca-Cola Scholar.

“I really love math and am a firm believer of the need for students to have a strong foundation,” she said. “I hear ‘when am I ever going to use this in real life?’ and I love to show students how it applies, especially with problem-solving and critical thinking. I also am really trying to bridge the gender gap and inspire girls into math and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.”

Martheswaran, who attended Peruvian Park Elementary and Midvale Middle School—where her team found quick success.

“We went to nationals in 2013 and 2014. In seventh grade, our team placed in the top 25 and in eighth grade, I did better individually,” she said.

That inspired her as a ninth-grader to shadow her former Midvale Middle coach, Bob McGee, to help the team. As a sophomore, she founded Waterford’s chapter of 10 students, and placed third in the state. Last year, she took Utah’s team to nationals. 

“At first, a lot of kids thought of MATHCOUNTS as a nerdy club. After we did well at region and won state, we got a lot of respect and cheering,” she said. “Our team didn’t care what they thought; they were focused. It was inspiring to see how hard they worked.”

This year, she passed the reins to her brother, Tarun, as well as Daniel South. Waterford’s Nathan Zhou came in first place in both the individual and countdown competition and qualified for nationals. Overall, the team finished third in a newly formed region that included private and charter schools across the state. 

However, Martheswaran’s love for math didn’t stop there. With friends, she first served as a math coach in Cottonwood Heights, where they’d regularly tutor elementary school children in math at the local library. 

From there, she also founded Mission Math Utah, a nonprofit organization that holds math camps as well as math competitions for children across the state. Each year, about 60 elementary and middle school students take part in the camps and about 150 participate in the competitions. 

“I want to give back to the community that has given me so much,” she said.

As CEO, she has a staff of volunteers of other students throughout the Salt Lake Valley who are devoted to the organization.

“As a team, we talk about outreach, curriculum and any other ways we can help our youth learn,” she said.

Her dream, as some of the board members are graduating seniors and will go to colleges across the country, is that they will start Mission Math chapters in other states to spread the love of math and the desire for students to challenge themselves.

Martheswaran also has included math in her own research that helped her 2017 science fair project win first place in the Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair and fourth at the international science and engineering fair in the environmental engineering category. Additionally, she was invited to present her research at the WasteExpo 2017. 

“It’s important to introduce younger kids to math and STEM as it will help them change the world in a better way,” said Martheswaran, who is the vice president of the student advisory board of the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair. 

This spring, the 4.0 GPA student was one of 150 students chosen as a Coca-Cola’s Scholar, from more than 140,000 high school seniors across the nation who applied for the merit-based scholarship. Martheswaran will receive a $20,000 college scholarship to be applied to the college of her choice, Harvard University, where she wants to use applied math to study computational biology or bio stats. 

“It’s an amazing feeling. It seemed impossible to achieve,” she said.

In addition to looking at her accomplishments in academics and through her school and community service, the committee reviewed her school involvement with winning state singles in tennis, participating in school choir and serving on student government.

Martheswaran was expected to travel to Atlanta in late April to accept the honor. According to their website, the “Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation exists to bring better to the world through investment in exceptional high school students who are dedicated to leadership, service, and action that positively affects others.” 

For Martheswaran, her focus has been to help others. 

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” she said. “It’s a big part of life and I love to be out, about, helping teach children in our community.”