A digital education program aims to nurture one-in-a-million mathematical minds and help them use their exceptional skills to change the world.

​In the early 17th century, famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei commented that the universe is written in the language of mathematics. Four centuries later, ever-increasing human fluency in that mathematical language has led to astounding advancements in science and technology.

To unlock the mathematical potential of the next generation of scientists, engineers, and scholars, the John Templeton Foundation supported a pair of grants totaling $2.2 million to launch the Cultivating Genius Initiative. The global program aims to identify high school students with extraordinary mathematical gifts and to further hone their special talents — and consider their contribution to the common good.

“We are getting into an increasingly quantitative world where mathematical ability is becoming ever more valuable,” says Tracy Day, the project leader. “We want to introduce gifted students to the possibilities of where their gifts can take them.”

Nurturing Minds, Benefitting Humanity

A one-year, $200,000 planning grant from the Templeton Foundation in 2014 launched the Initiative. Day, along with her husband, Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, are co-founders of the World Science Festival, which holds an annual celebration of science in New York City and is the home for the Cultivating Genius Initiative. Greene’s own experience as an adolescent was part of the inspiration for the project.

Precocious in math, Greene was referred by his high school teachers to seek collegiate-level tutoring at Columbia University. His nurturing by a graduate student allowed him to become the influential scientist he is today.

The Cultivating Genius Initiative also seeks to leverage the World Science Festival’s deep connections to world-leading researchers and educators and allow them to recruit and mentor students with one-in-a-million minds.

Students will enter a rigorous, two-year, online program consisting of engaging lectures, demonstrations, and problem sets, coupled with live and virtual office hours with mentors. A state-of-the-art digital platform, adapted from a sister online education project, World Science U, will deliver the course modules and support opportunities for students and teachers to interact.

A Community of Extraordinary Individuals

Before the coursework begins, the Cultivating Genius Initiative will convene students at the World Science Festival for an initial orientation. The students will meet senior scientists at the top of their fields, and attend World Science Festival events in the city. Participating students will also be able to build a professional, educational, and social network of talented individuals who can mentor them personally as well as advance their careers.

“We’re looking to build a community that grows, is mutually supportive, and goes out and changes the world,” says Day.

After completion of the initial program funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the Cultivating Genius Initiative will seek additional sources to establish a long-term program for attracting mathematically talented youth.

Day and her colleagues at the Festival envision the Cultivating Genius Initiative as a key element of a long-term strategy, raising up new generations who will use the language of mathematics to write new chapters in human progress.