University of Rochester

Exponential Climb Sends Rochester Students to Ranks of Math Elite

March 27, 2009

The University of Rochester had a break out performance in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, earning the highest ranking a Rochester team has ever received. Their 10th place finish among 545 competing teams garnered an honorable mention, placing them amid several Ivy League schools. Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Caltech were the top five universities, while Duke, Michigan, Toronto, Waterloo, and Rochester rounded out the top 10. The Putnam exam is the premier undergraduate mathematics competition in North America. More than 3,600 students from the U.S. and Canada participated this year.

Dan Geba, an assistant professor in the mathematics department, has coached the team since 2006, taking them from 67th place to 10th place in just three years. "I had a strong belief that they had the potential to achieve results of this magnitude," says Geba. "To be in the company of Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, who are considered powerhouses in mathematics, is a great honor."

As for the future, he is enthusiastic; the interest is building among undergraduates and Geba has been recruiting students through an increasingly popular Problem-Solving Seminar. "We hope for the best and will keep the effort going. From here, its being one of the top five, that's the ultimate goal."

Team members Chris Kauffman '11, Kevin Lin '12, and Xiaoqing Tang '12, earned individual rankings of 145th, 157th, and 262nd respectively. Other notables were Cheng Sun '09, who ranked 400th and Zachary De Santis '09 and Eric Ottman '10 placed in the top 620. Seven other University students, Yi Han '12, Dennis Hu '10, Halley Orshan '12, Jordan Paschke '10, Raisa Trubko '11, Lia Joy Weiner '11, and Greg Wilbur '10, also had distinguished performances.

The exam, administered by the Mathematical Association of America, creates a healthy rivalry in mathematical studies, highlighting the value of organized team competition. Questions cover topics including group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, number theory, and cardinal arithmetic.