Generous sponsor helps connect budding maths scholars

The mid-year workshop, which is part of Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC)’s MATH199 course, is going from strength to strength. It’s a highlight for a unique group of maths-, statistics- and engineering-loving Year 13 students.

Over 300 students from around the country are enrolled in the course, with almost 80 percent coming from outside Christchurch. That means finding ways of bringing the learners together is key.

The Elaine P Snowden maths workshop has been made possible by donor Michael Snowden, who named the programme after his late mother. He has promised $10,000 per annum to the programme in perpetuity. His support was especially valuable in the earthquake recovery years, and even now when the workshop has grown much larger the cost to enrolled students to attend is their airfares only.

Whilst the funding might once have covered the full cost of the workshop, it’s now a ‘victim of its own success’ according to organiser Te Kaupeka Pūhanga | Faculty of Engineering lecturer James Bartlett, who has taken over from the recently retired Liz Ackerley. The university contributes additional funding to meet the increased demand.

“The popularity of the workshop continues to grow. We had 76 students attend in 2019, paused in 2020 for COVID, and last year we had 120 students staying with us for the three nights at Rochester and Rutherford (R&R) Hall. It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to connect,” says James Bartlett.

“Being a high achiever at maths is a niche thing. They’re bright sparks. After feeling isolated at times at school because of their passion for maths, they come here and find other people who think the same as them.

“Students attending the workshop go away with their heads full of differential equations, space imaging, piano-playing robot designs, and most importantly, a new set of friendships. We hope to see many of these students back on campus the following year,” says James Bartlett.

The 2021 speakers included COVID modeller and Professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics Michael Plank, master’s student and tutor Patrick Kearney (who completed the course in the past) and another past student, Dr Ryan Ridden who is now working for NASA.

The post-workshop survey says it all:

  • “The workshop was the best 72 hours of my life!”
  • “I loved getting to know the other people doing this course from all over the country. I’ve met people I have a lot in common with, and others completely different to me.”
  • “…I was dead set on surveying at Otago, now I’m re-considering my options. The workshop has been very insightful to the potential Canterbury has to offer me.”
  • “…the experience at Canterbury University and R&R was astonishingly eye-opening and I am so grateful for the opportunity. It’s so amazing that I was able to meet so many like-minded people…”

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