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UBC Reports | Vol. 55 | No. 6 | June 4, 2009

Honours math degree for 18-year-old

By Jody Jacob

Eighteeen-year-old Jason Sewell will receive a Bachelor of Science degree with honours in mathematics at UBC Okanagan’s convocation ceremony this month. He’s graduating with an overall grade-point average of about 95 per cent, reflecting high academic achievement throughout a post-secondary journey that began when he was just 10.

“My family went to an open house at what used to be Okanagan University College to look around,” says the long-time Kelowna resident. “At one of the booths there was a competition to solve a logic puzzle, so I entered it and won. When everyone found out that I was 10 years old, and I was the only one to solve it, I guess it created a stir.”

Sewell and his parents started communicating with a small group of math professors about how they could nurture Sewell’s talent. At first, the teachers only acted as mentors to him, providing him with advice and guidance. However, by age 12 Sewell was taking his first post-secondary math course, and doing very well.

In fact, as time went on he began taking two or three university courses at a time, and by the age of 16 he had not only completed his high school graduation requirements, but was almost half way through his university degree. In September 2007 he began studying full-time at UBC Okanagan, taking up to six courses a semester to “catch up” to the graduating class of 2009.

“Math has always just made sense to me,” says Sewell. “I like it because it explains so much using natural concepts. It is something I like doing, and have been doing since I was four years old. I know I’m pretty young to be graduating from university, but really the whole process has been a natural progression for me.”

Heinz Bauschke, a math professor at UBC Okanagan and Canada Research Chair in the field of convex analysis and optimization, has played a significant role in Sewell’s educational journey over the years, and says Sewell is one of the most talented students he has encountered in his career.

“Jason has extremely strong analytical and problem-solving skills, and I feel he has a very bright academic career ahead in mathematics should he choose to pursue this further,” says Bauschke.

Fellow UBC Okanagan math professor Shawn Wang agrees.

“Jason Sewell is an A++ student,” says Wang. “He has taken Analysis I and Analysis II with me, and earned 97 per cent and 100 per cent respectively. Analysis has been a hard-core and challenging course in mathematics, which demands a lot of abstract thinking rather than routine calculations. He is the only one who has got 100 per cent in Analysis II. In my opinion, Jason is a truly talented student.”

And although the 18-year-old has certainly earned himself a well-deserved summer break, Sewell has no plans to slow down. He has received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Undergraduate Study Research Award (NSERC USRA) and will be back at UBC Okanagan this summer to work with Professor Bauschke.

In addition, Sewell has received the prestigious NSERC Canadian Graduate Scholarship and intends to take up graduate studies in mathematics, possibly at UBC Okanagan this fall.

After that, the future is wide open.

“Math is mainly something I like to do right now,” says Sewell. “I have no great ideas about where I want to go with my career.”

“I’m only 18.”

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Last reviewed 02-Jun-2009

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