MCS "Mathletes" Place Second in Prestigious Putnam Competition-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, March 23, 2012

MCS "Mathletes" Place Second in Prestigious Putnam Competition

Team of Three First-year Students Gives CMU its Best Showing in Definitive Math Competition for Undergraduates in North America

PITTSBURGH—A team of first-year students from Carnegie Mellon University's Mellon College of Science has placed second in the Mathematical Association of America's William Lowell Putnam Competition, the premier mathematics contest for undergraduate students.

This year, the Putnam Competition engaged 4,440 American and Canadian undergraduates from 572 institutions in a six-hour math marathon. During the competition students attempted to solve 12 complex mathematical problems using a combination of concepts taught in college mathematics courses paired with creative thinking.

"This remarkable success is a reflection of the high caliber of students in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Mathematical Sciences, as well as a reflection on the students' hard work and dedication," said Po-Shen Loh, assistant professor of mathematical sciences and the team's coach. "At Carnegie Mellon we have developed an innovative undergraduate program, which leads the brightest undergraduate mathematicians to achieve their full potential."

The three students on the second-place team, Michael Druggan, Albert Gu and Archit Kulkarni, are all first-year students and Knaster-McWilliams Scholars. The Knaster-McWilliams Scholars program, which has been fully funded by a physics alumnus and a mathematics and electrical engineering alumnus, is one of only a few scholarship-supported programs in the country that is also paired with an honors program that features increased access to faculty and early research opportunities. The first five participants entered the program at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

"This program has created a unique collaborative atmosphere for some of the world's best minds to learn and thrive in a rigorous, yet supportive educational environment," said John Mackey, associate department head of Mathematical Sciences, and a key architect of the program.

Mellon College of Science Dean Fred Gilman, who was a part of Michigan State University's first-place Putnam team in 1961, said "Congratulations to the team and to John Mackey, Po-Shen Loh, and others whose years of effort have created an outstanding undergraduate program in mathematical sciences and made this result possible."

The second-place finish marks CMU's highest showing in the 73-year history of the Putnam Competition. The university's team has placed in the top five three other times, ranking third in 1987, third in 1949 and fourth in 1946. CMU's Department of Mathematical Sciences in the Mellon College of Science will receive $20,000 for the second-place finish, and each team member will receive $800.

In addition to the three members of the second-place team, more than 100 students from CMU participated in the Putnam Competition. Individually, Druggan and Gu ranked among the top 10 and Benjamin Alpert, another first-year student at CMU, ranked in the top 25. In total, 26 CMU students placed among the top 500 competitors in the competition. 

By: Jocelyn Duffy,, 412-268-9982