PACT, Summer 2023

Rajiv Gandhi, Director of PACT

“Picture a room full of students hard at work on math problems. Some draw graphs on the chalkboard, testing out algorithms. Others shuffle complicated algebraic expressions, trying to simplify a summation. Still, others stare intently at a piece of paper, trying to find the one necessary final lemma to complete a proof or to understand a recent result.

The students are all working hard, but they are also having fun, as the air is ripe with the excitement of discovery. These are not college students, though they are studying at a college campus, and learning material that is not normally taught until the undergrad or even the graduate level. Rather, these are mostly high school students, spending their summer learning and enjoying themselves, studying theoretical computer science.”

Created by the PACT team,

The Program in Algorithmic and Combinatorial Thinking (PACT), ran by Rajiv Gandhi (Professor of CIS @ Rutgers-Camden/part-time Lecturer in CIS @ UPenn), is partially supported by the National Science Foundation. It is a five-week intensive course that teaches students about the mathematics and algorithms fundamental to the computer science field. There were two groups running simultaneously. In the “Beginner’s Group”, students learned the “Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science” while students in the advanced group studied “Advanced topics in Algorithm Design”.

“During Summer 2023, PACT was run in hybrid mode, i.e., there were some students who did the program in person and others did it online. The in-person program had 11 students (from MA, NY, NJ, China) and the rest (more than 150) did the program online — students from various countries (Australia, Canada, China, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, S. Korea, Switzerland, US). The youngest student in the program had finished grade 5. Most others were high school students and some were in college.”

Rajiv Gandhi

Rajiv Gandhi established the PACT for high school students in 2010. Since 2011, the program has taken place at Princeton University and has been attracting students from the U.S. and internationally. The program has grown from a handful of students to nearly 200 students each year. PACT gives students the ability to be exposed to advanced topics in computer science at a young age. Rajiv has also worked closely with and mentored students in India at schools whose students have not typically gone on to graduate study.

Many PACT students over the years have pursued PhDs in Computer Science as well as other STEM fields. Several of our students and alumni at Penn Engineering participated in PACT when they were in high school. Students including Chris Jung and Ezra Edelman (currently, a student of Surbhi Goel) are a few examples. The incredible thing about PACT is the students that the program is able to reach in various parts of the world. This can lead these young people to better opportunities and help these students build strong careers.

This past summer, the program was held at the University of Pennsylvania for the first time. For Summer 2024, Rajiv Gandhi is hoping to make the in-program component larger. Due to the success of PACT and his dedication to inspiring his students, Rajiv was presented the 2022 ACM-SIGACT Distinguished Service Award.