Team USA solves for victory at international math competition

Jonathan Osborne teaches many intelligent students in his advanced math classes at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in McLean, Virginia, but Adam Ardeishar was something more.

Osborne said he remembered when Ardeishar asked “a pointed question about how we knew for certain that a Taylor series converged in a given region,” he said, referring to a concept used in advanced calculus. “I had never thought so deeply about exactly why certain things are true in my 10 years of teaching this class.”

Osborne’s star student and five other American teenagers are the reigning champions of the 2018 International Mathematical Olympiad. For the third time since 2015, Team USA took home first place at the competition that stands as the global benchmark for excellence in youth mathematics. The teammates hail from public and private secondary schools across the United States.

Seven people and a bear mascot standing behind an American flag (Mathematical Association of America)
Team USA members (in blue shirts) Michael Ren, Adam Ardeishar, James Lin, Vincent Huang, Andrew Gu and Mihir Singhal stand in celebration after placing first at the 2018 International Mathematical Olympiad in Romania. (Mathematical Association of America)

Ardeishar, Andrew Gu, Vincent Huang, James Lin, Michael Ren and Mihir Singhal represented the United States at the 2018 International Mathematical Olympiad in Romania after excelling at a series of rigorous regional and national competitions that the Mathematical Association of America organized.

The six secondary school students, ranging in age from 16 to 19, attended an intensive summer camp the association hosted at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Po-Shen Loh, professor of mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University, has led the camp since taking over as coach of Team USA in 2013. Several members of the association credit Loh’s teaching for the United States’ current winning streak.

“Po is very energetic and he has his own style,” says Michael Pearson, director of the association.

In 2016, Loh began inviting members of other countries’ teams to attend the camp. This year, 20 competitors from 10 countries spent a month training for the 2018 Olympiad alongside 60 students from the United States and Canada.

The American team benefited from getting to know the students from other countries, says Mihir Singhal, a 17-year-old teammate who earned a gold medal for his individual performance at the Olympiad.

“They had different perspectives,” he says. “In different countries, there is a different style of approaching a problem.”

This is the kind of curiosity and collaboration that Pearson wants to instill in America’s math students and the students of other countries who come to study here.

“We want to demonstrate that while we can and will compete in certain contexts, we want to collaborate and build bridges between the international mathematical community so we can raise standards everywhere.”