mathNEWS Issue 90.6: Friday, November 29, 2002

Does MathSoc Matter?

In my last mathNEWS article as President of MathSoc, I wanted to write about the challenges that I believe face MathSoc. These all revolve around one question: is MathSoc relevant?

An easy way to answer the question would be to look at the Objects of the Society in its Bylaws: "to promote ... student participation in athletic, cultural, social, academic, and recreational activities; to provide services; encourage inter-student communication; and to aid in and give a forum for student representation within the faculty of Mathematics."

Let's first take a look at what the Society does well.

For many terms, MathSoc has offered some key services — office, photocopiers, exam bank — and continues to do so.

This term, VPA Colin Davidson and myself have worked hard on improving the quality and quantity of student representation. Students have been able to participate in lecturer hiring interviews, curriculum discussions, and academic planning. Academic representation is one of the things that MathSoc does best, and unfortunately few people realize it.

Through its clubs, the Society encourages students to participate in non-classroom academic activities. Many of the clubs run talks and information sessions, and some run professional development events. Our Social, Movie, and Charity Ball directors have been very active this term and have run social and recreational events for students.

So for the most part, MathSoc is keeping itself busy running events and services. But are we truly meeting our mandate? No. MathSoc is only reaching a small portion of the students in Math, and this is the key challenge facing us in the future.

There are about 3400 members of MathSoc this fall term. Consider each event that was run this term. If we assume that the sets of students attending each event are disjoint (which is hardly the case!), MathSoc social events would still have reached only about 1200 students. Our academic services would have reached about 700 students. And these numbers are high — many events are attended by the same set of students.

MathSoc needs to move from serving the interests of its active members to the interests of all its members. This new approach needs to be adopted at all levels of the Society. The executive need to constantly keep this objective in mind and ensure that they make every effort to attract students not regularly involved. This means searching for people outside the organization to serve as directors and councillors. MathSoc directors need to plan events and activities that reach out to all students. The organization also needs to make better use of Council for communication. Another major challenge is to effectively manage the organization's volunteers. All of this requires competent and hard-working leadership.

These changes will be met with resistance. Those currently involved may not want to see the office changed from a social environment to a business environment. It will be difficult to change mindset and to find new ways to reach students. The organization will require a number of strong executive teams to get these things done. I hope that our current students will step up to the challenge.

The Society isn't at a critical point where one mistake will destroy the Society. In fact, I believe the Society is in as a good a position now as it has been in the past few years. Rather, the Society risks becoming stagnant and stale, indeed, MathSoc risks missing out on all the ways it can benefit students in the Faculty of Mathematics.

Douglas Stebila
MathSoc President

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