National Math Stars

National Math Stars

National Math Stars ensures mathematically extraordinary students from all communities have the resources they need to reach the frontiers of math and science


National Math Stars was conceived as a joint effort of Carina Initiatives and Polynera Fund, two philanthropic foundations focused on helping more students reach the frontiers of math and science. Through years of funding transformational math programs, they realized that no single camp, curriculum provider, or extracurricular program could drive systemic change in identifying and recruiting a diverse group of talented students nationwide. That mission required its own dedicated nonprofit, which would work with the rest of the ecosystem to ensure those students were prepared for and had access to the best opportunities available.

They hired National Math Stars’ founding CEO, Ilana Walder-Biesanz, to build the organization. Ilana knew the struggles families face when trying to find and fund the right opportunities for mathematically extraordinary children. She was one of those kids growing up – by age 13, she was walking to a local college for courses in differential equations and linear algebra, having already aced AP Calculus at her small public high school. It took a mix of online courses, grade skipping, tireless school advocacy, and scholarship programs to feed her appetite for advanced mathematics. She and her parents found solutions, but it was a lonely journey that required substantial time, knowledge, and financial resources. She is excited to help other families navigate this journey and access the right resources for them.

Pedagogical Values

  1. Math is personal

    Each student should follow their own learning path, driven by their own mental models and interests. Our students will learn by developing their unique ideas, not by taking in a standard set of facts. Different students will demonstrate their learning in different ways, and we will celebrate all of those paths

  2. Math is rooted in creating and solving hard problems

    Tackling hard problems helps students appreciate that math requires persistence through struggle and failure. We celebrate resilience, not just success. The best problems prompt new ones. Our students will pose their own problems, extending their understanding of mathematical ideas and expanding the field of mathematics

  3. Math is joyful

    Math is fun because of both its inherent beauty and its connection to the world, and we learn math in ways that emphasize that fun. Games, play, and sheer silliness are important tools of mathematical learning. We also believe in plenty of not-math time to ensure that math time remains joyful

  4. Math happens in a community

    Math is not just about solving problems; it’s also about communicating and collaborating with others. We help students connect and work with a community of mathematicians

  5. Math is interconnected

    Math requires students to make connections across big ideas to understand concepts in depth. We support our students in connecting their ideas and understandings across mathematical experiences

Organizational Values

  1. Choose impact over ego

    We do this work out of commitment to the mission. We don’t fight over credit or turf

  2. Share openly, listen actively

    We speak up, even when it’s difficult. We work hard to understand each other’s ideas. When we disagree, we debate without judgment

  3. Keep learning

    We strive to learn and improve, as an organization and as individuals

  4. Focus on what matters

    We don’t sweat the details that won’t move the needle. We say no to distractions that don’t match our priorities

  5. Persevere

    Building something new is hard, and we should expect to struggle. We keep pushing through those struggles

Our Supporters

National Math Stars is provided at no cost to families. We rely on our supporters to achieve our mission

Being a part of this has been like a dream come true… I’ve had this background noise in my head since he was little and have been so worried about how to make sure I could support him, and I finally feel like we can.

National Math Stars Parent