PROFile: Solving problems

Terry Visentin, professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, U of W

Supplied photo.

For Terry Visentin – professor for the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Department of Mathematics and Statistics – problem solving is one of the most engaging aspects of mathematics.

“I’ve always (been) interested in solving puzzles,” Visentin says. “Eventually, that led to an interest in mathematics.”

Visentin’s love of puzzles began at a young age. Growing up, he would play all sorts of strategy games with his family and friends. Funnily, even Yahtzee inspired a level of calculating thinking.

“I was intrigued with trying to figure out how likely certain rolls are and so forth.”

During Grade 7, Visentin’s interest in mathematics took root after attending classes with a particular teacher who expanded his love of the subject. Visentin realized there was more to math than just calculating numbers.

When it came to pursuing a career, Visentin didn’t consider anything other than mathematics. However, he didn’t necessarily plan on becoming a professor.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a professor,” he says. “I considered jobs in the industry and so forth, but eventually I decided that being a math professor was a pretty good thing to do if you can do it.”

Visentin has taught roughly three-quarters of the courses offered by the U of W’s mathematics and statistics department. Additionally, he runs problem solving and helps students train for mathematics contests.

“At the end of the day, what I really love most is just solving problems,” Visentin says.

What is something you’ve learned from your students?

“I think students teach me to consider things in a different way ... not just about math, but about the way I teach things.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I know a lot of people give this answer, but I’ve always been fascinated by time travel.”

What’s the most out-of-the-box method you’ve seen for solving a math problem?

“There was this technique, and it’s called using generating functions ... It was an incredibly surprising technique that I had never learned before, and that became my research area.”

Published in Volume 76, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 7, 2021)

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