An Algorithm Of Their Own: Penn State Math Club Goes Viral On TikTok

At 5 p.m., the Penn State Blue Loop has a total of 18 students riding on the bus. The sun is shining and the ride is smooth during the early evening trip. As the bus travels down College Avenue, seven additional students get on the vehicle and two students exit the bus. Two engineering students pull the cord for the Walker Building stop, and three students exit. Two more freshmen enter the bus and greet the driver warmly. The bus continues on the Blue Loop, past the Transit Center at Paterno Library and Beaver Stadium.

When the bus approaches the stop by the McAllister Building 30 minutes later, how many students exit the bus?

  • A. 22
  • B. 18
  • C. 9
  • D. All of them. Because it’s now 5:30 p.m., and Math Club is about to start.

If you selected “D” to the word problem above, you are in good company. If you selected “B” or “C,” you’re also in the right place for a quick tutoring session.

While not the most well-known group at University Park, the Penn State Math Club is a helping hand for students, faculty, and STEM majors. 

“We have different people of all majors and different skill levels,” Ceci Fidler, president of the Math Club, said. “We always want to make it an environment where you can just raise your hand and have that level of comfort to be curious, make mistakes, and learn.”

Thanks to a viral TikTok, the student-run organization is finally getting the notoriety it deserves.

In March, the group filmed an interview-style TikTok video, where each member of the club answered the question, “What is your favorite part of Math Club?” Since then, the video has gotten over 3.5 million views, 370K likes, and 6,213 comments. The group is no stranger to powerful algorithms, but this was still a first.

“We did not expect it to blow up at all,” Fidler said. “When I was on the account, it just kind of slowly kept gaining likes, kept going with 100 and up to 200… almost 1,000 likes. But then it just continued, exponentially took off.” 

Gaining the recognition of champions, the video also gathered a large sum of positive comments. Strong sentiments were absolute in value, such as “Hell yeah. Go math club.”

“It’s definitely the real energy when you’re there,” Fidler said. “I’m glad that we were able to project that energy and that people were able to sense that it was a good, neutral, positive space.”

Speaking to the camaraderie of the club, the comment “feeling safe in this room” was left under the video and gained 62.5K likes on its own. 

“One thing I’ll say is, you’re definitely relieved that it is such a positive comment section because… It’s a math club, you can tell we’re all pretty nerdy,” vice president Sabrina Adler said. 

From fellow mathematicians to well-known brands like Microsoft Education and Star Wars, the outcry of online support was overwhelming. 

“In the past, we’ve gotten negative comments and so we’re so happy to see that people were really unanimously positive,” Adler said. “Obviously, a couple of one-off comments here and there, but overall, it definitely made the club feel good.” 

The group even got a shoutout from the official Papa John’s TikTok account, which made a special moment for Math Club. Every week, the club orders pizza for its meetings at 114 McAllister.

“We did have Papa John’s comment on our video because so many people were tagging them in the comments,” Fidler said. “Papa John’s even ended up following us!”

Factoring in the friendships of Math Club, Fidler and Adler lead a variety of activities for the group. From colloquium-style lectures to Integration Bee Tournaments, the group has discovered the formula for fun, and the only mean is the kind they calculate.

“That is what I want for the club, not necessarily for the math. It can be so hard to find community, especially when you might be in a STEM major, where it’s intimidating to talk to people in classes,” Fidler said. “It can be very isolating.”

Indivisible like any good prime number, the executive team fosters community to prioritize the welcoming environment above all else. In the order of operations, kindness always comes first. 

“We had a common understanding of where we both were coming from and what we were envisioning for the club, to make it this haven for people,” Fidler said. “Who are nerds or who aren’t nerds, who are just hyping up their friends, who just want to get the pizza and be social through an avenue that doesn’t have a lot of pressure to it.”

Subtracting the stress, the club also offers simple-level math activities to members and encourages attendees to ask questions.

“Being a math major can seem very intimidating, especially when you learn it here at Penn State. It’s very stressful, especially the weed-out classes that…can be very discouraging,” Fidler said. “That was our goal for the club: to show the beauty of math and that we’re there to make it not be an intimidating environment for people to ask questions.”

Adding social media to the equation, the calculus-loving group plans to use its newfound fame to stay true to themselves. 

“We’re looking to, if people are comfortable enough, spotlight some of our members because they make the club what it is,” Fidler said. “They bring their energy and enthusiasm every single week.”

Emphasizing the fact that there’s no “I” in “math,” the Math Club is endlessly grateful for the support shown online. 

“It was just surreal in the moment, and it’s taken some time to process,” Fidler said. “I think it’s just made me so filled with joy to know that people feel that way.”

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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