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Sunday, December 5, 2021

There’s more to mathematics than academia – says hackathon winners

A team of three Rhodes University students and two external collaborators have won first prize at the recently concluded nationwide Hackathon challenge.

The two-day challenge was organised by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA).

Dr Patrice Okouma, Department of Mathematics & Applied Mathematics Lecturer said when the Rhodes Artificial Intelligence Group hosted by the Mathematics Department was made aware of the challenge, they realised that it offered a unique opportunity for strengthening teamwork among some of our students.

He said three graduate students in the Mathematics Department accepted the challenge to compete.

“They are Irene Nandutu, Nicole Oyetunji and Kamvalethu Vanqa. Vanqa who have a joint affiliation with the Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technology in the Physics & Electronics Department.

“Nandutu is a Ph.D student who has considerable experience in building communities, Vanqa is an MSc student who has won a number of prizes and awards and Oyetunji is an MSc student and team leader,” said Okouma.

Adding that as per the design of the competition, the team had two external collaborators: “Professor Oleg Smirnov as well as Dr Marcellin Atemkeng and Dr Patrice Okouma are the students’ supervisors,” said Okouma.

A Hackathon is an event, usually hosted by a tech company or organization, where programmers get together for a short period of time to collaborate on a project. The participants work rapidly to achieve their task, as the events generally only last 24 hours or take place over a weekend.

The Rhodes University team won R5000 and a sponsored two-day tour of the Western Cape’s top space facilities, including the SANSA Hermanus campus. 

The win also includes flights, food, and accommodation.

Okouma said the win re-asserts the fact that Rhodes University has talented students with an inspiring willingness to contribute towards alleviating some of our practical problems.

He said as the university strives to strengthen a fertile environment for its students’ creativity to blossom.

Oyetunji said maths is a very male-dominated area, which can be intimidating, but I hope this win by two female leads encourage any girls out there that have an interest in science and to know that they are capable of achieving great things,” said the 24-year-old.

Adding that while academia is important, there are misconceptions about real-world maths application not extending beyond teaching.

“While teaching is an extremely important profession, there are other career paths for mathematicians who wish to be active in science,” said Oyentuji.

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