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The math department at my institution (a private, four-year college with a total enrollment of about 4000) is in the process of brainstorming about a dedicated study/community space for our math majors (we have about 20-25 total). We would like to create something that is tasteful, functional, encourages collaboration, and reinforces the STEM identity of our students.

Does anyone have suggestions or advice about what has worked well (or not!) in their own various settings? Any commentary, pictures, or ideas are very welcome--thanks in advance for whatever insight you might provide!

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    $\begingroup$ I haven't done any research but off the top of my head: couches, desks, textbooks, white/blackboards, natural light, central location $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2022 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ If your college has extra money, maybe it should consider reducing tuition fees and book prices. Those who want to discuss math ideas will find a way to meet without bureaucraric reinforcement of STEM identity. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Jul 20, 2022 at 20:42

7 Answers 7

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Along with what others recommended, I would add some simple food prep options (microwave, fridge, sink, coffee-maker, cabinets). We are physical beings. It will encourage usage of the space.

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Chalkboards. Hagoromo chalk. Some small (individual) study desks and some round tables - with acceptably comfortable chairs. A couple of couches and living-room-type chairs.

POSTERS OF DIVERSE MATHEMATICIANS ON THE WALLS - the American Mathematical Society has a list on their website.

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    $\begingroup$ The chalkboards are what makes this maths or maybe physics specific and not just any other lounge/ common room. You want something big, possibly filling an entire wall. The ones with multiple boards that can be moved up and down are popular as well. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    May 4, 2022 at 7:30
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Here is an issue to think through in advance: When will the room be open, and what are the policies about sleeping in the room?

I've been on a bunch of campuses that had lounges like this (Harvard, Berkeley, UMich, MIT). They all tended to acquire students who worked late at night, leading to the questions above.

As a student, I definitely resented being kicked out of lounges at 5 PM, or 12 AM, or whenever. And I think it caused a problem for female students, in that it moved study groups out of the public lounge spaces into (mostly male) students dorm rooms at night. At the same time, as an older adult, I can see why the university didn't want to be responsible for keeping a space safe at all hours of the night and why they want to encourage students to go to bed at a reasonable hour. And I have heard female students saying it feels unsafe to work in an area where male students are lying out sleeping on the couches. The Michigan lounge is open from 8 AM to 5 PM.

Any way, I don't have a strong opinion about the right way to handle this, but it is something that may come up.

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  • $\begingroup$ Right. Although couches are nice, to avoid people sleeping in the space, it is probably best to not have couches, nor chairs that can easily be lined up for sleeping. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2022 at 20:42
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We have a room for this purpose at UMich. One nice feature besides the ones already mentioned is that it has blackboards and a projection screen suitable for hosting speakers. Here is Prof. Lagarias giving a talk to our math club:

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Some photos when the room isn't full. Note couches, tables, textboooks and books for pleasure, copies of the American Mathematical Monthly.

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We had a really awesome math masters room in my previous university. I definitely agree that a kitchenette area with a hot water dispenser/water/sink, and microwave if you can put the kitchenette in a separate room (don't want the whole room smelling) is great. White boards and/or chalk board are awesome. Other things that we appreciated:

  1. Adjoining rooms where you could go for collaboration, so that the main space is primarily for independent work.

  2. a printer/copier etc Stationary supplies.

  3. A space with bean bags/comfy sofa for people to chill and think and let their mind wander.

  4. Lockers. If someone needs use of one, they can contact the office admin to arrange it.

  5. A poster board with summer internship/graduate opportunities, conferences etc. Information about sholarships and funding.

  6. Restrooms close by.

  7. Some awesome geeky STEM things to play with. We had a 3D printer and lego at our disposal. The 3D printer already came with the code for a lot of math-related objects, so we could print Klein bottles, Tori etc

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Zometool (https://www.zometool.com/products/the-steam-kit.html) if you can trust students not to walk off with it. Papercraft solids (platonic, archimedian, etc) if you can't.

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Pool Table. Chalkboard. Printer. Lots of space to write. And yes, the Hagoromo chalk both white and other colors. Maybe some bulletin boards for professors to post things. This is my unresearched opinion.

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