A team of Colorado State University mathematics undergraduate students recently placed in the top 3 percent in North America at the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. The Colorado State team finished 12 out of 476 teams representing colleges and universities from the United States and Canada. The 12th-place finish was the second highest of any public university in the United States, second only to Berkeley.
Every December, teams of undergraduate students from across North America compete to solve a variety of problems designed to test their knowledge and creativity in mathematical problem solving. This year’s competition included 3,349 students, and in addition to team rankings, each student received an individual ranking. Six Colorado State students participated and three finished in the top 10 percent of individual scores: John Batchelder ranked 99 (top 3 percent), Manfred Georg placed 222 (top 7 percent) and Travis King ranked 246 (top 8 percent). Felipe Ramirez also finished in the top one-third at 1,113.
"This is equivalent to a basketball team making the sweet sixteen in the NCAA tournament," said Alexander Hulpke, professor in Colorado State’s Department of Mathematics. "Colorado State’s strong finish is an indication of the excellence of our students. It also reflects the faculty in the math department and the College of Natural Science’s dedication to outstanding educational programs."
The competition’s six-hour exam consisted of 12 challenging mathematical problems worth 10 points each, for a total of 120 points. The exam is so difficult that most competitors averaged a total of less than three points in this year’s competition.
Hulpke coached the Colorado State team. He met with the students each week during the fall semester to discuss Putnam style problems, introduce new problem-solving techniques and brainstorm solutions.
Colorado State’s Department of Mathematics has fielded a team for the Putnam competition every year for 25 years. Last year’s team finished 34th out of 2,954 teams.