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State, International Math Competitions Are Proving Grounds for UT Dallas Undergraduates

UT Dallas math students

Five UT Dallas undergraduates bested 31 other Texas college teams to win the Calculus Bowl, held in late March at Stephen F. Austin State University. Team members are (from left) Artem Bolshakov, Iakov Rachinskiy, Brendan Caseria, Asim Gazi and Caleb Spence.

UT Dallas undergraduates recently made high marks in international and statewide mathematics competitions.

This month a team of students learned that they placed 18th out of 554 U.S. and Canadian colleges in the 76th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. The contest, held on Dec. 5, involved 4,275 undergraduates on their respective campuses, each tasked with solving 12 math problems in six hours.

The UT Dallas team’s 18th-place finish was “stunning,” said Dr. Paul Stanford, senior lecturer in mathematical sciences and the UT Dallas coach for the Putnam competition.

This is the highest placement for UT Dallas since the University began participating in the event in 2006, when a team finished 24th.

“Competitors get 12 fiercely difficult math problems, and they don’t just have to get an answer, they have to write a precise proof, which is then evaluated by mathematicians,” Stanford said. “A relatively modest knowledge of mathematics is enough to understand what the problems are asking for, but students must be very ingenious to crack the problem and write up a proof, almost to the level needed to publish a paper in a journal.”

Zachary Hancock, a senior majoring in math and computer science, was one of 13 UT Dallas undergraduates who competed to solve 12 complex math problems in six hours during the 76th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. 

Before the contest, each school chooses three individual competitors whose combined scores on the problems will comprise a team entry. Representing UT Dallas were Artem Bolshakov, a junior majoring in math and physics; Brendan Caseria, a junior in math/statistics; and Andrew Merrill, a senior in physics.

Of the 13 UT Dallas students competing, the highest score came from Georgiy Klimenko, a junior in computer science, whose performance landed him in the top 200 competitors. Bolshakov and Caseria each scored in the top 500 entrants.

Stanford said such high rankings among the thousands of participants can stand out on a student’s résumé.

“A good performance can be very good for their career,” he said. “It’s a marker not just for general math ability and knowledge, but also real tenacity and the ability to solve difficult problems.”

The Putnam competition is open to undergraduates in all majors. The Department of Mathematical Sciences, in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, encourages and supports student competitors, and the Math Club, also open to all students, provides opportunities to practice problems and develop math skills.

“The Department of Mathematical Sciences is devoted to fostering a ‘math-vibrant’ culture within the University,” said Dr. Vladimir Dragovic, professor and head of the department. “We are very proud of the achievements of these talented and dedicated students and their mentors.”

The Department of Mathematical Sciences is devoted to fostering a ‘math-vibrant’ culture within the University. We are very proud of the achievements of these talented and dedicated students and their mentors.”

Dr. Vladimir Dragovic,
professor and head
of the Department of Mathematical Sciences
at UT Dallas

UT Dallas students also recently earned math kudos on the state level. A team of five undergraduates won first place at the Calculus Bowl in March at the spring meeting of the Texas section of the Mathematical Association of America.

The contest, held at Stephen F. Austin State University, featured 32 teams from Texas colleges. In its first time competing in the event, the winning UT Dallas team solved the most calculus problems correctly in the shortest amount of time.

Team members included Caseria and Bolshakov (the team’s captain), along with Asim Gazi, an electrical engineering junior; Iakov Rachinskiy, a biomedical engineering junior; and Caleb Spence, a computer science sophomore. Dr. Maxim Arnold, assistant professor of mathematical sciences, was their coach. 

“We are fortunate to have very competent and enthusiastic teachers offering the highest quality instruction and mentoring at all levels,” Dragovic said. “Their untiring efforts and the undeniable talent of our students ought to enable us to repeat such achievements.

“The Department of Mathematical Sciences is also fortunate that UTD's excellent recruitment system brings such bright students, and that we can support them through programs such as the Honors College, the math department’s cohort and the Math Club.”

Stanford said the culture at UT Dallas is welcoming to those bright, mathematically gifted students who sometimes face social challenges in high school.

“At UT Dallas, we have an environment on campus where these kids have permission to be brilliant, rather than being shy that they’re clever at math,” said Stanford, who is a past recipient of both the President’s and the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards, which recognize excellence in the classroom. “Here, there are many places where students revel in math, not just the serious and foundational, but also the intriguing and fun aspects that keep them excited and curious.”

Lucky Charms Are Partof Equation at Contests 

Many competitive athletes are known to indulge in quirky good-luck rituals, from growing a beard or eating chicken before each game, to tying their shoelaces in a specific way.

UT Dallas student Artem Bolshakov is no different, although his competitive arena is mathematics.

Bolshakov, a junior majoring in math and physics, was captain of a UT Dallas team of students who recently won a statewide Calculus Bowl contest. He and fellow undergraduates also had outstanding performances both individually and as a team in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition.

That success, he said, might be due in part to a well-worn suit and tie and a tiny, plastic disembodied monkey head, which are among Bolshakov’s good-luck totems. He’s worn the suit to every math and science competition since high school. That’s also when he acquired the monkey head from a fellow competitor.

A plastic monkey head serves as a good-luck charm for UT Dallas undergraduate student Artem Bolshakov.

“She told me to put it in my pocket for luck, and we won. It obviously worked, so it’s more or less been in my pocket ever since,” he said.

That luck might also have rubbed off on teammate Brendan Caseria, a native of Naperville, Illinois, who also fared well in both math competitions. He first learned about UT Dallas at an intensive summer math camp for high school students that he attended at Cornell University. The camp was established by Dr. Titu Andreescu, associate professor of science and mathematics education at UT Dallas.

“When I came to visit UT Dallas, I really liked the programs and the modern campus, plus the fact that the student population and the quality was growing,” said Caseria, a junior majoring in statistics who is already looking at graduate schools. His dream job would combine academia with doing analyses for sports teams.

Bolshakov, who considers himself a competitive person, is also planning to go to graduate school, but isn’t sure of a specific career path. “I’ve always been confident that you could do whatever you want with math and physics,” he said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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