by Alyssa Chen, Features Reporter
photo contributed by Ryan Normandin
For most, math is dreadful, but sophomore Elena Baskakova would beg to differ. A math enthusiast since second grade, Baskakova has gone from competing on her middle school team to leading that team, serving as an inspiration to current middle schoolers who share her passion.
Baskakova serves as a role model to many, like eighth grader Sophia Yan, whose mother, Jing Li, said that Baskakova’s encouragement inspired Yan to participate in the Lexington Math Tournament (LMT) as the only girl on the math team.
“[Baskakova] talked about her experience when she joined the LMT and that she [was] the only girl on the team and she also encouraged Sophia to take this [initiative],” Li said. “She influences Sophia a lot and is a role model.”
When Baskakova started at Oak Hill, there were no opportunities to compete in national math competitions. This prompted her parents to organize their chapter of MathCounts, a prestigious math team that competes in local tournaments. After Baskakova graduated from Oak Hill, the club needed new leadership, so starting last fall, Baskakova stepped in to fill the role.
“I was talking to one of my students recently, and she said all of the nicest things about how inspirational it is to have someone to look up to from high school. It’s just really rewarding being able to share this knowledge that I’ve gained,“ she said. “I want them to have the opportunities that I had.”
Baskakova said that math competitions bring an exciting flair to a subject often regarded as monotonous.
“In school, the math that we do has a definite answer, but competition math [has] so much more to it. You never know what to expect,” she said. “There’s so many different approaches that you can use, and it’s just really interesting trying to find these new approaches that you just haven’t seen before.”
As MathCounts coaches, Baskakova and other students design lesson plans and create unique problem sets and lectures. Yan said that Baskakova’s interactive teaching style has helped her master the material.
“She’s really clear and concise and intuitive,” Yan said. “She can tell which areas you’re unfamiliar with, and then she goes with that. She also likes to use the whiteboard to draw diagrams, and her diagrams are really pretty.”
Baskakova’s father, Yuri, said that Elena’s love for teaching is evident in the time and care she puts into developing her lessons.
“She very much likes the teaching aspect. [I’ve] observed some of her lectures, and she’s putting a lot of effort into delivering it and making it clear, making sure everybody understands,” he said. “She cares about all the students. She has very spectacular relationships with some of them.”
Baskakova’s leadership helped bring the MathCounts club back from their brief hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Oak Hill Principal John Harutunian said that he was impressed by Baskakova’s efforts to restore the math team.
“It’s pretty much the first example of a true partnership. I’ve always dreamed about having students be really closely involved with Oak Hill,” he said. “This is really the first time there’s been an authentic, consistent execution [and] not just talking about an execution of it.”
A member of South’s mock trial team, Baskakova is self-assured when publicly speaking in trial rounds, mock trial team captain senior Sydra Shapiro said.
“People like to hear the sound of their own voice, and we all have so many important things to say and all just want to be heard. Elena is a very, very unique person in the sense that she has so much to say, but she doesn’t need to be heard all the time,” she said. “Someone could be yelling at her or ranting at her, or trying to fill as much space as possible with their voice, and she has so much power in the sense that she’s secure enough that she could have the same amount of power in a single sentence.”
Baskakova’s global English teacher Rachel Becker said that in addition to Baskakova’s passion for mathematics, she is involved with the classroom material and contributes to a positive atmosphere.
“Her passion for math definitely extends to other subjects as well. She’s also the kind of person who wants to push her thinking,” she said. “She doesn’t sit around with questions, she asks them, and I have a feeling that a lot of the questions she asks other people have.”
As a finalist in the United States of America Junior Mathematical Olympiad, Baskakova was invited to participate in the three-week-long Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program. The program is held at Carnegie Mellon University in June and trains students for the International Mathematical Olympiad. Baskakova has a lot to look forward to, but she said that looking back, she would tell her past self to continue persevering and to push for what she needed.
“In math competitions, there’s a lot of failure. You’re constantly doing worse than you expected [and] doing worse than your peers. There’s always people who are performing better than you, and that takes a toll mentally to keep going and pushing yourself. So I would tell myself to just keep persevering through it and take charge of my own successes,” Baskakova said. “Advocate for yourself, advocate for what you need, and [do] not be afraid to be obnoxious and demand what you want.”