Training the Next Olympic Champions ... in Math
By Jocelyn Duffy
Olympic hopefuls from around the world have arrived at Carnegie Mellon University, dedicated, driven and focused to begin their final training for this summer's games. But these competitors aren't preparing for Rio. Instead they're flexing their mental muscles in anticipation of the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) this July in Hong Kong.
Seventy of the best high school mathematicians from around the world, including the six-member U.S. IMO team, arrived at Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh campus on Tuesday (June 7) to embark on a three-week program that will push them to become better problem-solvers.
This summer marks the second year the Mathematical Association of America's (MAA's) Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP) is being held at CMU under the guidance of Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Po-Shen Loh, head coach of the U.S. IMO team. Loh is joined by more than 20 assistant coaches.
Last year, Loh led USA to its first IMO victory in 20 years. While he is hoping for a repeat performance, it's not his ultimate goal. His focus for the team and other students who attend the MOSP is to teach them creative problem-solving techniques and critical-thinking skills that will help them to be successful in high school and beyond.
"The goal is to teach them how to think about a problem and come up with innovative ways to solve it," said Loh, who was a silver medalist in the 1999 IMO. "If we teach students the tools they need to become problem-solvers, success will follow."
Sixty of the students attending the MOSP represent some of the best young math talent in the United States. They were selected from the more than 340,000 students who participated in the school-based mathematics contests that are part of the MAA's American Mathematics Competitions program. An additional 10 students come from around the world - some as far as Australia and Singapore. This year marks the first time international students have been invited to the MOSP on such a large scale, an endeavor that has been funded by CMU and supported in part by the President's Office through funds provided by the Hillman Foundation for the Henry L. Hillman President's Chair, and the Benter Foundation.