HMC Maintains Tradition of Excellence in Putnam Competition

April 5, 2013

Harvey Mudd College continued its reign as the top-scoring undergraduate institution in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, seen by many as the world’s most prestigious university-level mathematics competition.

Of the 42 HMC students who spent Dec. 1, 2012 taking the very hard six-hour exam, many scored well in both the team and individual categories. Across the U.S. and Canada, 4,277 students competed, and this year the median score was 0 out of a total of 120 points. Mudders Sorathan (Tum) Chaturapruek ’14, Kevin O’Neill ’13 and Peter Fedak ’13 placed 11th out of 578 teams. In the individual category, out of 4,277 students, Chaturapruek scored 14th nationally and was recognized in the N1 category, which is the second-highest level of distinction possible in the competition (just under Putnam Fellow).  He will receive a $1,000 cash prize. Tongjia Shi ’16 scored 32.5th nationally and was recognized in the Honorable Mention category. HMC’s top three scorers, Chaturapruek, Shi and Fedak also will receive the RIF Prize from the HMC Department of Mathematics.

The following students made the Putnam Top 500 list: Andrew Carter ’13, Michael Earnest ’13, Fedak ’13, Emil Guliyev ’13, Henry Huang ’15, O’Neill ’13, Joel Ornstein ’14, John Phillpot ’16 and Jeremy Usatine ’14.

“The Putnam Competition requires a unique blend of cleverness and problem-solving skills,” said Francis Su, professor of mathematics, who coaches the Putnam Seminar with Nick Pippenger, professor of mathematics. “But Putnam success is not required for success in mathematics since research problems do not always have neat and tidy answers like Putnam problems do. Persistence is often much more important at research success. In the math department, we hope that all students experience the joy of discovery, and math competitions are just one way that our students continue to impress us with their love for mathematics.”

The competition was founded in 1927 by Elizabeth Lowell Putnam in memory of her husband William Lowell Putnam, a Harvard graduate who was an advocate of intercollegiate intellectual competition. The six-hour exam, composed of 12 problems, each worth 10 points, has been offered annually since 1938 to college students in the United States and Canada and is administered by the Mathematical Association of America.

HMC students first participated in the Putnam competition on Dec. 2, 1961 and, in 1991, the HMC team garnered third place.