Fifteen-student math team places second at Intermountain Math Competition

Team member Chris Salls places fifth overall in competition at BYU

1/30/2014 - By: Patrick Harris
DMS The math team from the University of Nevada, Reno placed second at the ninth Intermountain Math Competition last year. Training sessions were held weekly at the Davidson Mathematics and Science Building. Photo courtesy of the University of Nevada, Reno.

The University of Nevada, Reno's math team placed second overall at the ninth Intermountain Math Competition at Brigham Young University in Utah.

The competition is a timed exam that takes place twice a year and draws students from participating colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

"When I became chair, I was looking for opportunities to enrich the math program for students and give them a better experience," Eric Herzik, professor and dual chair of the University's Political Science Department and Mathematics and Statistics Department, said. "These competitions are incredibly hard and required preparation, but it leads to closer interaction with professors and students."

The exam has seven difficult mathematical problems, two of which were proposed by the University of Nevada, Reno's organizing committee, to be solved within three hours. The top three scores from each university are combined to yield a team's score. The highest individual scores earn monetary rewards.

To help prepare for the Intermountain Competition in November, the University's math team participated in weekly practices since September. Students repeatedly solved multi-part problems and learned to articulate how they got the answer. These sessions were overseen by Department of Mathematics and Statistics faculty members Birant Ramazan, Valentin Deaconu and Alex Kumjian.

"The practice paid off," Ramazan said. "Our team had excellent results considering the difficulty of the competition."

Top University of Nevada, Reno scores in the competition were by Chris Salls (40 of 70 available points), Michael Ponce (30 points), Jeff Belding (23 points) and Matthew Jeanos (20 points). These scores demonstrate significant progress compared to last year's top three scores of 13, 10 and five.

"Both the students and faculty coaches put considerable time preparing for the contest," Herzik said. "It is a point of pride that the University team does so well."

The top scoring member, Salls, took fifth place overall in the competition, and is also the department's Westfall Scholar Award winner. Prior to college, he competed in math competitions, graduated from Reed High School in Sparks, Nev., as co-valedictorian, and entered the University as a National Merit Scholar in 2009. After joining the math team, Salls began to participate in math competitions. He placed in the top five percent out of 4,300 students in a nationwide math test, the Putnam Exam. His high score contributed to the University team's placement in the top 20 percent of 578 schools. Salls graduated from the University with a computer science and engineering degree this fall.

"Chris Salls' overall fifth place in the Intermountain Math Competition is outstanding in which the top four participants were the members of the BYU team that placed sixth in the nation at the Putnam Exam in 2012," Ramazan said.


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