Featured Alumni

Victoria College | Faculty of Arts & Science | School of Graduate Studies

John Mighton

Bachelor of Arts (BA) 1978, Victoria College Master of Science (MSc) 1994 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2000 Honorary Doctor of Sacred Letters (Hon. DSL) 2006, Victoria University in the University of Toronto

Imagine an acclaimed and popular playwright who doubles as an advocate for literacy in mathematics. No need to imagine: John Mighton is for real.

Multitasking Mighton is hard to pin down. As a pure mathematician he earned his PhD at U of T for a thesis on Knot and Graph theory in 2000. This was the same year his play Possible Worlds was turned into a Genie Award-winning movie by the director Robert Lepage. Three years later, his influential book The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child became a national bestseller. And it was around this time that he founded Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies (JUMP), an agency dedicated to the belief that all children – including those in inner-city schools, hospital wards and youth detention centres – can learn mathematics.

Mighton’s plays have won two Governor General’s Awards and earned a place on the playbills of some of Canada’s most prominent theatre companies. Among the best known are A Short  History of Night, portraying the astronomer Johannes Kepler; Scientific Americans, set in a U.S. Department of Defence facility in New Mexico; and Half Life, about a romance between an elderly man and woman in a nursing home. Science is a recurring theme in his work, but also psychology and the ethical issues intertwined with research.

That moral dimension has also informed Mighton’s non-fiction books, which deal with the perception, in his view erroneous, that only a minority of students can excel at and love learning math. The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential discusses the successes of his JUMP program, which stresses a motivational atmosphere and incremental “drops of knowledge” that end up transforming the mind of a student.

Mighton has been elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in recognition of his accomplishments as a social entrepreneur and is a fellow of the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences. He has spoken at the Perimeter Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has given the keynote address at the Aspen Brain Forum at the invitation of The New York Academy of Sciences, and won the 10th Annual Egerton Ryerson Award for Dedication to Public Education in 2016.   

As a playwright, educator and activist, Mighton has worked assiduously to reconcile the worlds of science and art. “If the two worlds communicated more,” he says, “we’d have much richer art and science as a result.”

For more information on JUMP Math visit http://jumpmath.org/jump/


Published Dec. 4, 2013.


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