Carnegie Mellon University

Road to Gold: Jenny Iglesias Coaches U.S. Girls to Mathematical Olympiad Victory

July 14, 2017

The Road to Gold: Jenny Iglesias Coaches U.S. Girls to Mathematical Olympiad Victory

By Emily Payne

As a coach of U.S. teams that have competed in the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad (CGMO) and the European Girls Mathematical Olympiad (EGMO) and an instructor at the Mathematical Association of America’s Math Olympiad Summer Program (MOP), Carnegie Mellon University graduate student Jenny Iglesias inspires young girls to find the beauty in mathematics.

The world of competitive math has captivated Iglesias since middle school. She says that in the competitions, there is more to success than simply finding the right answer. There’s a certain finesse and beauty in writing the proofs that explain not only that a given problem is true but why it is true.

Competitive math has been part of Iglesias’s life for years. She was selected to attend MOP, a 3-week intensive problem-solving camp for high school students with the top scores in the MAA American Mathematics Competitions, the summer after she graduated from high school. She took home her first gold medal at the CGMO the following year.

The sense of accomplishment that comes from solving problems, Iglesias says, is what continually fuels her interest in mathematics. She completed her bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and is now a Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon’s algorithms, combinatorics and optimization program. As a graduate student, Iglesias tackles the idea of turning the unknown into the known through her work on approximation algorithms. Her operations research group looks at NP problems, like which route a FedEx delivery truck should take for the day, and develops algorithms that allow computers to quickly produce the best approximation of an optimal solution.

Iglesias thrives on the highly collaborative environment in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Mathematical Sciences and believes the key to better problem solving is to bring as many diverse viewpoints into the field as possible, especially when it comes to including more women in the discipline.

“A big part of the process in math is working with others. When you have a more diverse group, you are better at problem solving, and mathematics is the purest form of problem solving. If we can get more women, minorities and diverse viewpoints in the field, then mathematics will progress faster as more people work together,” said Iglesias.

“Girls are just as good at math as guys. One of the reasons girls are turned off from math is it doesn’t seem very creative, but most everything I do is creating new ideas, new proofs, new algorithms…the goal is to keep girls in math until it becomes a more creative process,” said Iglesias.

Iglesias fosters this goal by working alongside the young women mathematicians, supporting them through training camp to international mathematical Olympiads each year. Iglesias has been an instructor and later a deputy leader at MOP, which has been held on Carnegie Mellon’s campus for the past three years. She also has coached the U.S. team for the CGMO three times and the EGMO five times.

This year, the United States took first place at the EGMO, and each member earned a gold medal for her individual performance tackling the competition’s exam.

“At the EGMO in April, there were 44 teams from all over the world. I was extremely impressed with our team’s performance this year. They worked hard and traveled far. Individually all four girls got gold medals, and we had one perfect score on the team,” said Iglesias.

Coming off their performance in Switzerland, Iglesias is excited to help coach the team again next year.