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Discussing mathematics in the Middle East
April 23, 2012
As president of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), St. Olaf faculty member Paul Zorn frequently travels around the United States to further the national discussion about mathematics. But this spring he took that discussion all the way to Kuwait and Bahrain, where he met with students and faculty interested in how mathematics is taught at colleges in the U.S.
Zorn spent much of his time in Kuwait at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), one of the nation's main universities. Students there are eager to meet with American and European mathematicians, he says. Many aspire to become engineers and work in the country's booming oil industry, but at the same time realize that oil and the resources it provides the country are not going to last forever. "They see education as a preparation for a future that will not be rich in oil," Zorn says.
In Bahrain he spent much of his time meeting with mathematics faculty from local universities. In both countries, Zorn says, university faculty placed more emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning than personal research. "The professors and faculty were also very interested in making international connections, and wanting others to come and be colleagues at their university," he says.
Zorn worked to help make that happen. The MAA does extend beyond the boundaries of the United States, with approximately 1,000 of its 20,000 members working abroad, and the organization aims to continue to expand. "We are always keen to invite people to join the association," Zorn says. "And members in Kuwait would be a wonderful addition."