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U.S. Team Places Second at European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

The U.S. team claimed second overall at the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad (EGMO), which took place April 14–20 in Minsk, Belarus. Every member of the U.S. team placed among the top scorers, winning either a gold or silver medal. On the team were high school students Meghal Gupta (Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California), Celine Liang (Saratoga High School in Saratoga, California), Danielle Wang (Andrew Hill High School in San Jose, California), Rachel Zhang (Parkway South High in Ballwin, Missouri).

The exam is made up of six proof-style problems given over two days. The U.S. team score was 116 out of a possible 168 points, behind Ukraine’s first-place 139. Wang was the only contestant to receive a perfect score of 42 points. One of her proofs was so well done it was displayed as one of the example solutions, says Mark Saul, MAA director of competitions.

Solving a mathematical Olympiad problem does not happen instantaneously. It takes hours of poking and prodding to extract an answer. Then there is an emotional rush when the problem is finally solved, describes Celine Liang, who won a gold medal at this year’s EGMO.

“After finishing an EGMO problem, or any Olympiad problem, I get an amazing sense of fulfillment. Mainly because I spent many hours working towards a solution,” says Liang.

In its fourth year as an international competition, the 2015 EGMO contained problems at the perfect level of difficulty, says Jenny Iglesias (Carnegie Mellon University), who was the U.S. team leader.

“You want the girls to compete against each other, and if it is too easy, half of them get high scores and there is no distinguishing factor. Too hard and it is demoralizing,” she says. The 2014 exam was an example of a demoralizing year, where high scorers received medals, but not a single contestant made it onto the list of honorable mentions, says Iglesias.

Fostering the joy of creative problem solving is a goal of the Olympiad. “When someone is going into a contest I say ‘have fun’ instead of ‘good luck,’’’ says Sherry Gong (MIT), the U.S. deputy leader. A former contestant in the International Mathematical Olympiad, Gong says she likes to excite her mentees about the exams.

“You should go into contests with the idea you are going to encounter problems that are going to be fun,” she tells them.

The U.S. team visited the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus, while competing in the European Girls' Mathematical Olympiad. From left to right: Mark Saul, Jenny Iglesias, Sherry Gong, Meghal Gupta, Rachel Zhang, Celine Liang, Danielle Wang, and Chargé d’Affaires Scott Rauland. Credit: U.S. Embassy Minsk

News Date: 
Monday, May 11, 2015