Passion for numbers leads to teaching others

Frances Smith has loved maths ever since the age of ten years old. This May, she will graduate from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Statistics, fulfilling the first step in her dream to be a maths teacher.

Frances Smith

Originally from Tauranga, Frances was drawn to Wellington and knew she wanted to move to the city.

“I think the culture in Wellington is great. It’s very laid-back, inclusive, and welcoming—you can walk down a busy street and everyone smiles at you, which is nice. I definitely came here for the city and was lucky enough that the University offered what I wanted to study.”

Pursuing a degree in Mathematics and Statistics might sound intimidating to most, but Frances says she was up for the challenge.

“Once you get into it, even though it’s challenging, it becomes easy to immerse yourself into the work and block everything else out. Often you had to do a little bit of extra research or collaborate with others to try to solve questions, but I quite enjoyed that.”

The degree also gave Frances the opportunity to explore new areas of study, like graph theory, which can explain relationships between different objects or situations. As graphs in mathematics can be used to represent connected networks, or collections of objects, Frances explains that graph theory has many everyday applications like mapping and timetabling.

“Imagine if you represented every town with a dot. And then you connect the dots with a line if you can drive from one town straight to another one. You can then start talking about the shortest way to get to one town by going through the other towns. It’s all about relationships between objects.”

This passion and diligence for her studies paid off as Frances received the W H (Bill) Vaughn Prize for Mathematics in 2023, which is awarded annually to the best student completing the mathematics major. In 2022, she also received the Jenny Whitmarsh Award for Mathematics, which is awarded to the best female student in Mathematics and Computer Sciences at a 200-level. Recipients of these awards are determined through their academic performance or by nomination by their Head of School. Frances says that winning both awards was “completely out of the blue, but quite validating to have my hard work being rewarded, which was really great.”

“There’s a lot of support available for students to excel at what they’re good at. Study can sometimes feel like a solitary thing, but getting those prizes was a really nice way of saying ‘you as an individual have done really well and we recognise that.’

“It also really helped that the lecturers were always supportive, and you could reach out to them easily if you needed help. They were really welcoming and knew everyone, especially in third year.”

Frances was also a tutor at the School of Mathematics and Statistics, which became a formative experience during her time at the University. While she cites a previous maths teacher as one of her inspirations to teach, tutoring other students at the University ultimately determined that this pathway was for her.

"Tutoring actually helped me realise that I did entirely want to go maths teaching. I was able to try different teaching methods to refine my teaching style. There were some moments when you can see the students understanding things that I was teaching. It was great to see them become more confident and becoming more likely to ask questions and ask for help.  It was really nice to create a welcoming space for them.”

Frances is currently studying for a Master of Teaching and Learning (Secondary). She spends two days a week with a secondary school in Wellington, where she is supported by a mentor and can develop her teaching skills further. She plans to be a maths teacher full-time—and has even already received some offers to teach in Wellington.

Her advice for students thinking about studying mathematics and statistics is to look to teachers and lecturers for support.

“If you’re still in high school, talk to your teachers. You can even come to the University and talk to some of the lecturers—they’re wonderful at helping you with the courses you want to do. You don’t have to do any of this alone.”