In 1989, three years before Swinburne gained university status, the Mathematics Resource Centre was founded at the then-named Swinburne Institute of Technology’s Hawthorn campus. It was one of the first university mathematics help centres in Australia, and today is one of the largest.
This month, the centre - now known as the Mathematics and Statistics Help (MASH) Centre - celebrates 30 years of existence. During that time it has helped more than 9,000 students with 30,000 consultations in mathematics, statistics and physics.
MASH has been under the leadership of its Director and lecturer in Mathematics Education, Dr Ant Edwards, since 2015.
He says MASH is one of Swinburne’s oldest programs and services, and that it has become a necessity for students.
“Overall, 85 per cent of students report that their confidence in mathematics improves as a result of attending MASH, and 99 per cent of students who visited in 2018 indicated they found their MASH visit useful,” Dr Edwards says, joking that he couldn’t resist talking about numbers when it comes to MASH.
Vida Weiss has been a MASH tutor for 14 years and values the opportunity to help students with mathematics and statistics
The beginnings of MASH
In 1989, staff from Swinburne Institute of Technology’s Department of Mathematics, Peter Jones and Chris Barling, submitted a proposal to identify at-risk students and intervene with academic learning support. In July of that year, Judy Johnston - on secondment from Swinburne College of TAFE - established the Mathematics Resource Centre (MRC).
Original documents from 1989 show the self-assessments worksheets available to students and a schedule for an inaugural bridging program
Helping students stay enrolled at university
The centre’s aim has remained unchanged since the beginning: to help mathematics and science students with their workload, assignments and exam revision. MASH helps students pass exam resits and gives them extra support to keep them enrolled.
“Around one per cent of all MASH visitors stay enrolled at Swinburne due specifically to getting help at the centre, which is empowering for the students and proves that the service we provide is invaluable and worthwhile.”
Two students who used the centre in 2018 said: “I don’t know how I could have stayed in university without MASH” and that “the mathematics in calculus alone might have ended my degree were there not a place to find help at almost any time.”
MASH tutors are experts in their field
MASH tutors are all STEM experts with a genuine desire to help the students.
Vida Weiss has been tutoring with MASH for the past 14 years and values the opportunity to help students one-on-one.
“I have seen some students progress from struggling with early concepts from school - such as basic algebra, inequality signs and working with fractions - to being able to pass university level mathematics units,” Ms Weiss says.
Previous MASH manager, Dr Emily Cook, says the students consider MASH a safe space to ask questions.
“Maths can be a big source of anxiety for many students, so having a friendly person, who is not assessing them, to ask questions of big or small is crucial for their learning,” Dr Cook says.
The year 2019 is shaping up to be a big one for MASH. As well as celebrating 30 years of supporting students, MASH is Swinburne’s nomination for an Australian Financial Review Higher Education Award in the Learning Experience category.
Due to increased demand, MASH is also moving to a bigger home in Swinburne Library. The MASH staff will also be watching former tutor, Matt Agnew, who recently completed a PhD at Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, star in the 2019 Bachelor Australia.