Five Euler Course students awarded their certificate at EPFL
They were children when they were accepted into the Euler Course and it’s as young adults that they have now received their certificate. They were honored yesterday, after six years of devoting their Wednesday afternoons to their love of math.
Eight years ago, the Euler Course was started, giving schoolchildren with a knack for math the chance to take special math classes at EPFL. In April of this year, some 300 of them – a new record – from all over French-speaking Switzerland signed up for the entrance exam. The 28 students selected include a little girl who is barely 10 years old. She knows she’s giving up her Wednesday afternoons for the next six years. Quite a commitment for someone so young.
Each student is unique
“We meet with each of the students who pass the entrance exam, together with their parents, to be sure they know what they’re getting into,” said Jérôme Scherer, who’s in charge of the program. “They need to anticipate potential problems, like the length of the commute.” That particular concern did not deter the participants completing the Course this year, as they include a student from Neuchâtel, one from Valais, one from Geneva and two from Vaud.
The classes are no walk in the park: they require a significant and long-term personal investment. Apart from the class time, the students must also put in up to ten hours of homework per week. After six years, half the students had left the program. “There’s no point in forcing them to continue if their passion for math is no longer there. Giving up on the Euler Course is not a failure.”
The high-potential students who make it in want more than to just be fed information. They need a specialized approach to teaching that includes logic and reasoning, as this will help them discover and use all their skills. The program also teaches them organization and time-planning skills.
Gauzelin Vidovic, 17 years old, is pleased to have made it through. When he passed the entrance exam, he was only 11 years old and did not really know what he was in for. “I had gone with my sister to EPFL's "math for girls" open house, which I found really good,” he said. “But my first Euler class was a total surprise, it was not what I expected.” He realized he was going to have to give it his all: “I had never worked so hard in my life, both at school and at home, it was a bit of a shock to have to sit down and do my series at home for hours and hours, even on weekends.”
Gauzelin had to buckle down, change his schedule, and make some choices and sacrifices, including stopping piano and some sports. “I hung in, not for the math itself but because it taught me how to work, because I wasn’t bored in class and because the EPFL team is nice.” Certificate in hand, he has enrolled in microengineering: “I want to keep going in the sciences but I have no idea what I want to do. In microengineering you do a little bit of everything, so it’ll definitely give me some ideas.”
What will they do after Euler?
Now that they have finished the program, some of these math aficionados will continue studying this subject, while the rest will go into other technical fields also taught at EPFL or different fields like medicine.
A lot of things will change for Xingjian Huang when the 2016-2017 school year begins. For starters, he will have to find an apartment in Lausanne and get used to his new classes. He’s enrolled in math at EPFL but is already considering whether he’ll do pure or applied math, because if all goes well he’ll start directly in on the second year of studies. “It all depends on my grade on my last exam at the end of June. I’m not totally confident, but it should go well.”
Xingjian, 18 years old, prefers to play things safe. It’s better to be prepared than overly confident – that’s what he keeps reminding himself, every step of the way. “I’m not really sure of myself, I don’t know what I can do until I try.” He didn’t think he could explain math to his classmates, for example, but then his German teacher asked him to give his daughter some help. She’s two years older, and she ended up getting a very good grade on her exam.
He’s the official Euler program assistant. He takes the series, corrects them, adds comments and helps the new batch of Euler students with anything they didn’t understand. “It brings back memories, which is cool, you can see that they are driven and I like the idea of being part of this process that helps people get ahead in math.”
Students who earned their certificate in 2016:
After 5 years: Benjamin Gates, from Neuchâtel
After 6 years: Xingjian Huang, from Geneva, and Mathieu Rochat and Gauzelin Vidovic, from Vaud. All three will study at EPFL.
Jim Délitroz, from Valais, still has another year of high school.
The Euler Course was funded by many gifts this year, including from the Fondation Henri Moser, the UBS Foundation for Social Issues and Education, the Fondation PPG and NCCR-SwissMAP. EPFL also provided financing.