Math students fare well in national, state competitions

A team of Washington University in St. Louis math students won first place in the 15th annual Missouri Mathematical Association of America Collegiate Mathematics Competition held earlier this month at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

The winning team members, all mathematics majors in Arts & Sciences, were sophomore Alex Anderson, junior Andy Soffer and junior Tim Wiser.

Hang Chen

The winning WUSTL team at work (from left) Alex Anderson, Tim Wiser and Andy Soffer.

“On the second day, we finished all the problems and were very confident in our answers with more than an hour-and-a-half left,” Wiser said. “Since we didn’t want to sit there idly, we spent the remaining time solving more math problems.”

To win, the WUSTL team had to outscore 35 other teams representing 16 Missouri colleges and universities.

A second WUSTL team, made up of junior Stephanie Higgins, sophomore Juan Manfredi and senior Todd Romkema, placed eighth.

The contest consists of two sessions, in each of which teams work collaboratively on five problems for two-and-a-half hours.

The competition, sponsored by the Missouri section of the Mathematical Association of America, began in 1996. Since then, a WUSTL team has captured first place nine times.

To view this year’s problems from the state competition, visit

Top 15 finish at prestigious Putnam

The Department of Mathematics has announced the results of the William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition held in early December on campus under faculty supervision, says Ronald Freiwald, PhD, professor of mathematics and director of undergraduate studies in the department.

The Putnam consists of two three-hour sessions, during which students working alone must solve six challenging problems.

The university fielded 23 indviduals and a three-person team. The WUSTL team — Anderson, Wiser and freshman Ari Tenzer — placed 13th in a field of 439 teams from colleges and universities across the United States and Canada.

As individual participants, Soffer ranked 14th nationwide, and both Wiser and Anderson placed in the top 150.

Hang Chen

Soffer was the WUSTL student with the highest individual score in the Putnam competition.

The WUSTL students prepped for the competition with weekly problem sessions coached by Steven Krantz, PhD, professor of mathematics, and Carl Bender, PhD, the Konneker Distinguished Professor of Physics.

“The problems are very hard,” Bender says. “They’re the kind of problems that full professors in general would not know how to solve. So solving them is a test of imagination and creativity, not so much a test of knowledge.”

The Putnam competition, sponsored by the MAA, began in 1938. It is named for William Lowell Putnam, a Harvard graduate who believed that team competitions should be a regular part of college studies. The first Putnam competition was in English rather than in math.

Washington University won the Putnam in 1977, 1980, 1981 and 1984. In the competitions from 1976-2009, the WUSTl team has placed in the top five 11 times.

This year’s Putnam problems can be found at