The brilliant careers of two Euler course alumni

A lesson in mathematics for young talents in Romandie. © 2023 EPFL / Alain Herzog.

A lesson in mathematics for young talents in Romandie. © 2023 EPFL / Alain Herzog.

Fifteen years ago, a group of talented children in French-speaking Switzerland were chosen to participate in EPFL’s first Euler course, an advanced course in mathematics. Two of them, Renaud Rivier and Shirley Ye, bear testimony to the program.

EPFL’s Euler course in mathematics, founded for young talents in French-speaking Switzerland by Kathryn Hess, currently EPFL associate Vice-President, is celebrating its 15th year anniversary and 120 alumni at la Fête des Maths this coming week-end.

“Having benefited greatly from a program like the Euler course as a child, I was certain that it was worthwhile to create a similar program for highly talented children in Romandie. Fifteen years later, I am truly delighted with the development of the course and the remarkable achievements of Euler alumni,” says Hess.

The Euler course is a mathematical program specially designed for high potential children, as a complement to the usual school curriculum.

The six-year program is structured to allow young students to fast-track the usual curriculum in three years instead of six. The remaining three years are then dedicated to studying first year university courses in mathematics.

“It is a very rewarding experience to teach such gifted and passionate students, to see them play with abstract concepts at a young age and progress at a challenging pace,” says Jérôme Scherer, Euler Course coordinator.

Renaud Rivier and Shirley Ye.

“The Euler course taught me rigorous thinking and how to study effectively.”

Fifteen years ago, Renaud Rivier was part of the very first Euler class, he was also the youngest at 10 years old and had already skipped two years of school. Rivier recalls, “From the start, we had to take our own notes, we were taken seriously, and this was tremendous for developing my independence and confidence.”

“The quality of teaching for the usual curriculum was efficient and of high quality. Then we received the handout for mathematics. There were no cartoons trying to sugarcoat the content, just mathematics. It was very concise, it was hard, but it was worth it,” continues Rivier.

As Rivier tells it, the Euler course comes with its share of challenges. “I failed my very first exam. It was quite a shock for a ten-year-old. I failed half of my exams during the first two years. But I always managed to pass the second-chance exams. It was stressful at first but I had the determination to stay in the program, an important lesson that things can get easier even if they are hard at the beginning.”

Upon completion of the Euler course, Rivier was admitted to EPFL’s 2nd year mathematics program at 16, and recently completed a PhD in mathematics from the University of Geneva. Rivier says, “Entering university at such a young age was socially difficult for me. But the Euler course taught me rigorous thinking and how to study effectively.”

With a solid foundation in mathematics, Rivier, now 25 years old, is trying to find ways to apply mathemathics to solve concrete problems. He is currently exploring his entrepreneurial skills, consulting opportunities, and challenging himself to connect with strangers as he rallies for political causes.

“The course was a nice challenge and taught me many skills in self-development.”

Shirley Ye also participated in the first Euler course. Originally from China, she had only lived in Switzerland for one year when she had entered the program, at 12 years old. By then, she could speak French, had already skipped 6th grade, and had won math and logic competitions. “Fifth grade mathematics was very easy,” Ye recalls.

She remembers being approached by her 7th grade teacher about the Euler course, after hearing about it on the radio. “My teacher saw that I was getting bored in 7th grade math, that it was probably better for me be challenged.”

Yet she insists that her above average level in mathematics was not innate, “I am not that gifted in mathematics. The level in Switzerland was easy compared to what I learned in China.”

“The course was a nice challenge and taught me many skills in self-development,” continues Ye, now a doctor at 27 years old, pursuing her 4th year of internal medicine at Solothurn hospital. After completing the Euler course, Ye, who speaks 5 languages (French, English, German, Mandarin and Shanghainese) and gets by in Swiss German regarding medical topics, went on to study medicine at UNIL with a year exchange in Heidelberg. “My grandmother was a pediatrician. When I was young, she would take me along with her in consultations. I realized early on that I wanted to help people, across all generations and social aspects.”

“Today, the mathematics that I use is in medicine is simple. But the Euler course taught me to think independently, how to perform research, how to acquire knowledge, and perseverance in solving problems,” continues Ye. “I don’t look for answers on the internet. Instead, I think about the theory in order to figure things out. I try to build answers on my own, pushing my limits.”

Author: Hillary Sanctuary

Source: People

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