Manama : A resident of Bahrain is among the twenty students from around the world who have been chosen for the prestigious Egleston Scholars Program. Shawn Amirthan, an expatriate who lives in Bahrain, is among those who have been selected by Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and
Applied Sciences as an Egleston scholar. Only 1% of the applicants are chosen for the world renowned programme. Amirthan is the only student from the Middle East to have been accepted for the programme. Known as a ‘Mathwiz’ among his peers, Shawn is also a part-time investor. DT News caught up with Shawn where he explained how the scholarship will help him earn a career in economics and mathematics. Excerpts from the interview.
What attracted you to mathematics?
This is essentially what my college personal statement was about! In my personal statement, I discussed the impetus in my development as a mathematician and also talked about my growth in the context of maths. Here is an excerpt from my personal statement: “As I strategized which moves to make next, my pudgy little eleven-year-old fingers dexterously slid the red and white tiles around the four-by-four frame. I glanced at my binary watch: 18 seconds (10010 in binary). Only two more rows to go. A grin slowly started to form on my face, stretching from one ear to the other. Right, left, up, down – my eyes grew wider as I continued to reposition the multicolored metal squares into their natural order. As I moved the “15” tile down to the last row, I instantaneously whacked the stop button on my timer: 29 seconds (11101 in binary). I solved the “15-puzzle” in just twenty-nine seconds, only four seconds off of chess grandmaster Bobby Fisher’s personal record! My first reaction was to run to the living room, pick up my phone, and call my best friend and puzzle-solving nemesis Shehab, who I knew would be crushed when I told him that I had shattered his best time.” It was the 15-puzzle, a toy that my dad gave me for tenth birthday, that first exposed me to the interesting parts of mathematics. Prior to that, I used to think that mathematics essentially boiled down to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But it was only after learning about the 15-puzzle and its connections to group theory that I realized how complex mathematics is and how interesting its real-life applications are.
Have you always been a topper in mathematics among your peers?
I wasn’t always the best in mathematics amongst my peers, but I was definitely one of the only people in my school that was intrigued by mathematics from a young age. It has always been my favourite subject; due to my curiosity in mathematical fields that aren’t taught at school, I spent a significant proportion of my childhood learning about abstract maths concepts. This passion developed into a more concrete interest in mathematics as I grew older and naturally led to me spending a significant proportion of my time on mathematics both at home and in school. Last year after going through a year of calculus and mechanics at school, I wanted to explore more challenging mathematical concepts such as probability theory and group theory. This is what led me to apply to the Hampshire Summer Studies in Mathematics program (HCSSiM). HCSSiM is the US’ oldest summer maths program and currently has an acceptance rate that hovers around 17%. Fortunately, I was selected to take part in the program and was truly stunned by the mathematical abilities of my peers at the program. I was able to discover a wide range of fields in mathematics that I never knew of prior to taking part in the program and I had the privilege of being taught some extremely interesting mathematicians. It was HCSSiM that eventually convinced me to apply for primarily quantitative courses at university and to continue to pursue advanced mathematics at the collegiate level.
What is your ambition in life?
My answer to this question has wavered between a computer scientist, an entrepreneur, a mathematician, and an investor over the last few years. While I don’t have a clear vision of what job I would like, I have got a rough idea of the fields I would like to work in. I have come to realise that economics and mathematics are what I enjoy learning about most, and thus I would love to work in a field that combines the two fields together. This is essentially why I applied for the financial engineering degree at Columbia as it essentially teaches me how to use mathematical models in the context of finance. As investing has been one of my hobbies for a long time, I would love to continue to invest in equities, commodities and even cryptocurrencies by using algorithms.
What was your reaction when you found out that you were accepted ?
I actually found that I was nominated for the scholarship through what is known as a likely letter, which is basically a letter colleges send out around a month before the official admission notification date to entice students that their strongest applicants. However, I had no idea of the existence of likely letters so when I received an email from Columbia’s Admissions Office in February I assumed that it was a promotional email as they send them quite frequently. Later on that day, I decided to clear my inbox so I started going through all my emails and then when I clicked on the email I noticed that it started with “Congratulations!” I was slightly confused at first, but then after reading the whole email I was ecstatic. Columbia had been one of my dream schools for a very long time, so I was so thankful to be accepted as an Egleston scholar. The fact that they sent me a likely letter was also extremely relieving as I did not have to stress about other college notifications since I was almost certain that I wanted to go to Columbia. As well as a sense of relief, I also felt a sense of gratitude primarily towards to parents and Hale Education.