Math Olympians Develop "Intellectual Fearlessness" at CMU-CMU News - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, July 10, 2017

Math Olympians Develop "Intellectual Fearlessness" at CMU

By Jocelyn Duffy

Image of 75 high school students in front of Hamerschlag Hall
The world's best high school math students visited CMU to participate in the annual Mathematical Association of America's Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program.

For the third consecutive year, Carnegie Mellon University hosted some of the world's best high school math students for the annual Mathematical Association of America's (MAA's) Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOP).

Among the students were the six members of the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) team, who are coached by Carnegie Mellon Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Po-Shen Loh and a team of assistants. Under Loh's direction, the U.S. Team has taken first place at the Math Olympiad in the past two years.

The summer program is the team's final chance to prepare together for the international competition and gives the students the opportunity to hone problem-solving skills alongside mathematically talented peers.

In all, 75 students attended the three week program. Sixty-one of the students qualified for MOP based on their performance in the MAA American Mathematics Competitions program. An additional 14 international students participated in the program through an effort to provide students with a multicultural experience like the one the members of the IMO team have when they travel to the international competition. The international students are supported by funds provided by the Benter Foundation, the Allegheny Foundation, and Carnegie Mellon's President's Office and Hillman Foundation through the Henry L. Hillman President's Chair.

During the program, students attended classes taught by professors, and undergraduate and graduate students, many who are MOP alumni. The participants were encouraged to think creatively about problems. The goal, Loh said, is not pressuring students to get the "right" answer, but to approach problems with an open mind and a critical eye.

"We want our students to develop intellectual fearlessness, to innovate creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems and advance our civilization," said Loh, who was a silver medalist in the 1999 IMO.

During MOP the students learn about college, student life and career options in a series of seminars.

The U.S. team will compete at the IMO July 17-22 in Rio de Janeiro.

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The Mathematical Association of America accelerates the understanding of our world through mathematics because mathematics drives society and shapes our lives. The MAA organizes the MAA American Mathematics Competitions with the mission to increase interest in mathematics and develop the next generation of problem solvers. 300,000 students participated in the MAA American Mathematics Competitions this year.