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Math majors make good showing in competition

Dordt College mathematics students earned a very respectable ranking in this year’s William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition held on Saturday, December 3, 2005. Results made public in early April placed the Dordt team at 68th out of 395 teams. The Putnam, which is open to undergraduates from any institution in North America, is the premier mathematics competition in the United States and Canada. Administered by the Mathematical Association of America, it operates under strict starting and ending times and supervision. As always, competition was tough, with Harvard, Princeton, Duke, MIT, and Waterloo taking the top honors.

“The Putnam competition is essentially the collegiate national championship of mathematics. However, there are no class divisions (like NCAA division I, II, or III), no other associations (like NCAA or NAIA), it is not divided by gender, and it also includes Canadian schools,” says Dr. Rick Faber, the mathematics professor who helps prepare Dordt students for the event. Every school has one team, and all compete on equal footing.

This year 3545 students from 500 institutions took the exam. According to Faber, it was a very difficult test, with nearly 1700 of those students getting zero points. Six Dordt College students scored points: Junior Bryan Burgers from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Senior Nate De Boer from Omaha led the way with nineteen; Senior Krystal Finseth from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Sophomore Micah Schuurman from Winfield, Illinois, scored eight points; Freshman Laura Birchard from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and Sophomore Jason Westra from Hull, Iowa, scored one point.

The Test

The six-hour test includes twelve very difficult problems worth ten points each. Students need to show all of their work to get all ten points. They receive partial credit for showing significant progress in solving the problem. According to the description given by the MAA, the examination is constructed to test originality as well as technical competence. A $12,000 prize is given to the top individual.