Daleen Gerber – leading by example and a contagious passion for mathematics

Annette Willemse -- Mon, 04/13/2015 - 10:16

NWU Vaal school director leads by example

The School of Information Technology on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal) is regarded as being one of the most progressive of its kind in South Africa.

The school is home to dynamic and innovative units such as the Serious Games Institute of South Africa, an App Factory ,the Unit of Applied Risk Management (UARM) and the research focus area MUST (Multilingual Speech Technologies) – all of which have made their mark very successfully in both the commercial and academic environment. In terms of academic offerings the School of Information Technology offers undergraduate and postgraduate BSc-degree programmes in: Business Mathematics and Informatics, Quantitative Risk Management, Financial Mathematics and Data Mining, Computer Science and Economics/Statistics, and Information Technology. Heading-up this multidisciplinary team is the first-ever female School Director, Ms Daleen Gerber.

Daleen Gerber

From humble beginnings to great accomplishment

Daleen is a force to be reckoned with and bears testament to the saying that still waters run deep. She leads by example and most importantly, she inspires and motivates others to want to follow her. Born and raised on a farm in the Cradock district in the Eastern Cape, Daleen first set foot in the Vaal Triangle when she commenced to grade 7. She completed her school career at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark and subsequently enrolled for a BComm degree at the then Vaal Triangle Campus of the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education. Her love for mathematics soon became evident and upon graduation she received BSc status which allowed her access to the BSc Hons degree in Mathematics and later also her M.Sc in Mathematics.  According to Daleen, her love for numbers can be attributed to her late father who taught her to count, add and subtract. “I always used to help my father to count the sheep, and I have fond memories of my parents and me playing card games together from a young age,” says Daleen who have been awarded the title of Rapport Top Lecturer for two consecutive years. “When the competition was first announced, I said that no student will ever vote for a strict mathematics lecturer,” remembers Daleen and adds laughingly that she was “very surprised” when it happened not once, but twice.  “To me this recognition was very special, since it showed me that my students value the personal connection I have with them.”

According to Daleen the transition from full-time academic lecturer to School Director has been challenging but her experience as the Subject Chair for Mathematics over a four year period, has prepared her for her new position as administrator and manager. "As Subject Chair I oversaw seven staff members, and as the Director I now have to lead more than 40 staff members ranging from support staff to lecturers and researchers," explains Daleen and says that she is fortunate to enjoy both the Dean (Prof Herman van der Merwe) and the Vice-Rector's (Prof Linda Du Plessis) support and guidance. The other School Directors within the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology are also of great help and assistance.

Passing the torch

For Daleen, however, there is another form of achievement that speaks to her heart – and that is helping young mathematicians to foster a love and understanding of mathematics. “From a very early age children are told that mathematics is difficult and children grow up with this perception,” says Daleen and explains that mathematics is all but dull and boring. “Mathematics should be fun and since students learn from example, I believe that my passion for the subject should come to the fore during every lecture I give.”

When asked about her opinion on Mathematics versus Mathematical Literacy, Daleen states that “mathematics is the real thing”, and that it is essential for students who are contemplating a career in a subject field such as BSc or BCom. “Mathematical literacy is about numeracy and quantitative literacy,” explains Daleen and says that the subject helps students to compute equations such as what they earn and spend every month.

Two innovative ways in which the School of Information Technology are making mathematics more accessible to high school learners, include the Bridging The Mathematical Gap (BTMG) short course and the annual Geexpo venture.

Bridging the Mathematical Gap

The BTMG initiative not only betters school learners’ understanding of mathematics – and improve their overall performance in the subject, it also increases access into fields of study such as commerce and information technology.  The programme aims to assist grade 12 learners to improve their mathematical performance and by doing so, allow them access to degree programmes that requires a sound mathematical basis, such as BCom and BSc. The syllabus of the programme covers not only basic mathematical concepts – which are taught from grade 8 onwards, but also the application of these concepts in accordance with the outcomes specified in the grade 12 curriculum. In short: an intensified foci on the entire mathematical spectrum that will serve as pre-knowledge for the mathematical modules in the BCom and BSc curriculums respectively.

Geexpo

Through its annual Geexpo initiative hundreds of learners from across central South Africa are exposed to the multitude of opportunities that are associated with mathematics and information science – not only as a potential field of study, but also as an exciting and innovative career choice. During the Geexpo learners - from as young as Grade 8, are invited to take part in several mathematics and information sciences related activities, such as: a PAT (Practical Assessment Task) competition, a Mathematics Olympiad, a Robotics Challenge and interactive presentations by the Serious Games Institute of South Africa (SGI-SA). The latter includes mobile technologies as well as an app factory.

According to Daleen the importance of mathematics and science cannot be stressed enough, since these subjects are compulsory if students wish to undertake further studies in a number of fields that are very important to the economy and the further development of South Africa. These sectors include engineering, natural sciences, information technology and medicine. “Apart from the event showcasing the different applications of mathematics and science within a university context, learners also stand the chance to win study bursaries during the event. Geexpo is set to take place on 17 October 2015 at the Vaal Triangle Campus.

Interesting facts about Daleen

  • How do you relieve stress? I play tennis
  • Favourite holiday destination? Hartenbos and Port Elizabeth
  • Do you cook? I don’t like cooking, since it is – in my opinion, too time consuming! I am however known for my 1-pot dishes
  • What subjects do you lecture? Introductory Algebra and Calculus I and II
  • How long have you been working at the North-West University? 14 years
  • What did you do before you joined the University? I was a teacher at Delmas High School

* Schools are invited to register as many learners for Geexpo as they see fit. Please note that the PAT Competition is for learners who are in Grade 10 – 12, whilst the Mathematics Olympiad is open for any learner from Grade 8 – 12. For more information please send an e-mail to jt.terblanche@nwu.ac.za  or to sune.vanderlinde@nwu.ac.za The entry form is also available on the web

Daleen in action during one of the previous Geexpo events hosted by the School of Information Technology

The School of IT hosted Kevin Horsley's Pi Matrix World Memory Record attempt in 2013

Daleen congratulating top performing students during the Faculty's recent gala awards ceremony