Fueled by Hershey’s Kisses, caffeine and their passion for mathematics, nine students competed in the William Lowell Putnam Competition placing higher than any other UR team in the past 15 years.

Take-Five Tim Kneezel, sophomore Joseph Galante, freshman Chris Clark, sophomore Liam Rafferty, freshman Gershon Gerbialer and junior Juan Rodriguez competed along with freshman Siddharth Parameswaren and Dan Kneezel who both placed in the top twenty percent. Freshman Zachary Leung placed in the top 5 percent.

Only two-thirds of the 2249 contestants from 479 schools achieved a positive score.

Zachary Lueng, who has competed similar competitions and received a bronze medal in the 2001 International Math Olympaid, said that the Putnam was more difficult than other competitions.

“The Putnam is really fast. It’s 30 minutes a question. For the IMO it’s one and a half hours a question,” he said.

“My dad is a math professor at a university so he was the one who taught me math. I grew up doing math, so after a while I started to enjoy it.”

According to Liam Rafferty, the Putman Competition was more tedious than previous math competitions.

“I’ve been on a number of math teams in high school and competed in the AHSME [American High School Math Exam]. This one was much harder and longer,” he said. “I basically knew everybody from UR in the competition. The math department does an amazing job at giving undergraduate talks so I knew most of them from meetings and such.”Professor John Harper of the Mathematics Department, who entered the students in the competition, explained that the students did not receive any formal preparation on the test.

“The problems don’t rely on advanced mathematics. For example, you are given one equation and have to figure out how to produce another equation with just a few rules,” he said.

“It is very subtle and it is not just manipulation but you have to be able to recognize the emerging patterns and take advantage of them.”According to Putnam, there is very little partial credit awarded to incorrect answers.

Within the one to ten scale pointing system there is rarely a student who receives between three to seven points, but even one or two points requires a substantial, if incorrect, answer which makes the competition a strict judge of mathematical ability.

“Although the highest scored students receive scholarships there is little point to the actual money received from the competition,” Harper said. “The major impact is on graduate schools.”

“When a student has a decent score next to one of these competitions it is very significant and makes a big impact,” he said.

Although there was no formal preparation, the students each relied on something to propel them through the two three hour sessions of the competition.

According to Lueng, a large bag of Hershey’s Kisses gave an instant boost of energy while Rafferty similarly relied on caffeine.According to Harper who has been teaching math at UR since 1969, the students excel due to a combination of their high interest, good background and natural ability.

“It is a tradition of colleges to spur the interest of students by providing competitions and elementary problems that require more thought,” he explained.

“Although mathematicians don’t think any differently than say poets or historians, they just look at different things.”

“They choose to view different parts of life,” he explained.

Welzer can be reached at bwelzer@campustimes.org



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