Teaching graduate mathematics at AIMS Cameroon

ICYMI, From the archives. So proud that my doctoral student Erin Meger won a Ryerson graduate leadership award for her work as a TA in my course at AIMS Cameroon. -AB

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I’ve finished teaching my graduate course at AIMS Cameroon, and am back home in Toronto. What an experience it was! You can learn more about the African Institute for Mathematics Sciences (AIMS) and their mission on an earlier post.

I was the first mathematician from my home institution of Ryerson University to teach a course at AIMS after our Faculty of Science (FOS) struck a one-year pilot agreement with them. As I am on sabbatical this year, it was a great opportunity to teach at AIMS. Courses run for three weeks; with travel time, it’s about a month away.

My class

I had thirty students in my course from all over Africa; specifically, from the following thirteen countries: Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These are students who have completed an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and are pursuing their Masters degree at AIMS.

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Selfie with my terrific students at AIMS.

My accelerated, three-week course was on Modelling and Searching Networks and is based on a graduate course I’ve taught at Ryerson, but also at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, and at Dalhousie University in Halifax.  We had four quizzes, two assignments, and then a group presentation by the students on the final day. For many of the students, it was the first time they learned about network science and graph theory.

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My students worked on interactive exercises in lecture. They were so focused on mathematics, they ignored me!

I brought my doctoral student Erin Meger, who began her Ph.D. studies in September 2017. Erin was also my Masters student and was familiar with the course material. Erin enjoyed the experience of serving as a tutor to the students. She graded the assignments, ran tutorials, and assisted with the running of the course. I had two other tutors from AIMS, Nathalie and Peguy, who helped a great deal.

The future of math is in Africa

Teaching at AIMS was an incredibly positive and rewarding experience that I will never forget. The students were amazing and resilient. As I’ve said before:

The future of math is in Africa.

The experience was not without challenges. We had daily power outages, as well as occasional internet and water outages. I had no hot water in my room. One of my students came down with malaria and had to be hospitalized; one of my tutors came down with typhoid fever (fortunately, both are recovering). These were constant reminders that Cameroon is a developing nation. The food at AIMS was decent, but as a vegan, I had to augment it with additional protein. Luckily, I found a nearby shop that sold peanut butter and soy milk (and dark chocolate, too).

On the final day of lectures, there was a send-off ceremony for myself and the three other lecturers (one from Cameroon, one from Burkina Faso, and one from Germany). The AIMS Cameroon director Marco Garuti (University of Padova) said a few words about me and the course, followed by one of my tutors and students. All my students signed a thank you note that I will cherish.

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Send off ceremony at AIMS Cameroon with Director Marco Garuti and Erin Meger.
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Thank you note from my students.

While at AIMS, I was busy with the course and my research, but we did take a trip to the Old Market in Limbe.  We went out for dinner one night, and there were trips to the beach and botanical gardens.

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“Stains have met their match!” The Old Market in Limbe.

Whither?

Cambridge University Press has reached out to me to write a book based on my lecture notes, as part of their AIMS Library Series. I’ll be writing a draft this spring; if published, it will be sold globally at normal cost, and in Africa at a much-reduced cost.

While I delivered the pilot course for a professor from FOS, AIMS is interested in the applications of mathematics, and the Director expressed interest in other courses from our Mathematics Department. I hope Ryerson and FOS can have an ongoing relationship.

Anthony Bonato

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