College Continues Tradition of Putnam Excellence

Combining cleverness and problem-solving skills, Harvey Mudd College students continued a longstanding tradition of success at this year’s William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, considered one of the world’s most prestigious university-level mathematics competitions.

Thirty-six Harvey Mudd students spent Dec. 6, 2014, taking the difficult exam along with more than 4,000 other students across the United States and Canada. In the individual category, three Harvey Mudd students earned Honorable Mentions (ranking 86th or higher): Abram Sanderson ’17 (85.5th), Tongjia Shi ’15 (56.5th) and Natchanon Suaysom ’18 (71.5th). Each will receive the RIF Prize from the Department of Mathematics for this accomplishment.

An additional nine Mudders made the Putnam Top 500 list: Ben Lowenstein ’16, Josh Petrack ’16, Sam Miller ’17, Colin Okasaki ’17, Joshua Kutsko  ’16, Dina Sinclair  ’17, Bo Li  ’16, Alex Ozdemir  ’17 and Martin Loncaric  ’15.

In the team competition, Reyna Hulett ’16, Sanderson and Shi placed 20th out of 577 institutions.

Harvey Mudd College has a strong tradition of performing well in the Putnam, says Francis Su, Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics, who, along with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Mohamed Omar, coached this year’s teams.

“On a per capita basis, on any given year, we probably have the highest participation rate and one of the strongest showings in the Top 500 of any school, when adjusted for school size,” says Su. “With 500 schools in the competition, we regularly claim between 10 and 20 students in the Top 500, and many schools are more than 10 times our size.” This year, 12 Harvey Mudd students—representing a cross-section of majors at the College—placed in the Top 500.

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

Harvey Mudd students first participated in the Putnam competition on Dec. 2, 1961. In 1991, the Harvey Mudd team garnered third place. Su hopes the College’s continued success in the competition will serve to attract a larger cross-section of participants.

“In particular, we’d love to encourage more women to participate,” says Su, who runs a pizza and problem-solving group (Math 93) ahead of the competition in the fall. “The experience is not as much about competition as it is to enjoy the fun of problem-solving with others.”