Carnegie Mellon University

U.S. Team Takes First in International Mathematical Olympiad

July 12, 2018

U.S. Team Takes First in International Mathematical Olympiad

Team Trained at CMU Under Coach Po-Shen Loh

By Jocelyn Duffy

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

The U.S. team has taken first in the 2018 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. This is United States’ third win in the world championship mathematics competition for high school students in the last four years.

For those four years, the team has been coached by Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Po-Shen Loh and has made their final preparations for the IMO at CMU’s Pittsburgh campus at the Mathematical Association of America’s Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MAA’s MOP).

This year, the team had another CMU connection ­— deputy team leader Sasha Rudenko, Loh’s assistant coach, is a graduate student in CMU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. Students also learned from six additional CMU faculty, students and alumni during MOP (see sidebar).

During MOP, Loh, Rudenko and a number of teaching assistants help the U.S. IMO team sharpen their problem-solving skills alongside more than 70 of the world’s most talented high school students. U.S. students are selected for the team and the program based on their performance in the MAA’s American Mathematics Competitions.

A select group of international students also are selected to participate in MOP. Funded by the Benter Foundation, the Allegheny Foundation, CMU’s President’s Office and Hillman Foundation through the Henry L. Hillman President's Chair, and CMU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, the addition of international students gives all of the MOP participants the chance for a multi-cultural experience similar to what the IMO team encounters at the competition. This year, students participated from Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Korea, Romania, Thailand, and Ukraine.

“A high-profile competition like the International Math Olympiad gives us the opportunity to bring math into the common consciousness,” said Loh, who competed in the 1999 IMO, which coincidentally also was held in Romania. "While it certainly has a competitive component which provides some excitement, it is perhaps even more important to seize this moment to think about what we can do for mathematics ability and interest in the world for everyone, just like how the athletic Olympics promotes sporting activity at all experience levels.”

When Loh assumed coaching duties for the U.S. IMO team, he brought his unique philosophy for teaching mathematics. To Loh, the goal isn’t teaching students to solve any specific problem. The goal is to learn how to think through a problem critically and creatively. He said he believes that learning math in this way will help students to be successful not only in math competitions, but in their future academic and professional lives.

In addition to placing first place as a team, each of the team members medaled in this year’s IMO.  Andrew Gu, James Lin, Vincent Huang, Michael Ren and Mihir Singhal were awarded gold medals and Adam Ardeishar was awarded a silver medal. Lin earned a perfect score.

Image credit: Mathematical Association of America