Rathore and Teammates Place Ninth in International Math Competition

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Pratik Rathore. Photo courtesy of Irene Ying

A team of undergraduates from the University of Maryland placed ninth out of 568 teams and earned an honorable mention nod in the 2018 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, popularly called “the Putnam.”

The Putnam is the preeminent mathematics competition for undergraduate college students in the U.S. and Canada. During the competition, participants work individually to solve 12 mathematical problems.

The Terp team’s performance placed UMD in the company of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose teams took first and second place, respectively. The University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley, were the only other public universities in the U.S. to place in the top 10.

Although students attempt the Putnam problems as individuals, each school picks three students ahead of the competition to represent its team. This year, UMD’s team members were Pratik Rathore, who is pursuing double degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering and ranked 120th; Erik Metz, a double major in mathematics and computer science who ranked 87th; and Aaron George, who is pursuing double degrees in mathematics and computer science and ranked 193rd.

Although math competition problems are designed to be different than math textbook problems—and bear little surface resemblance to real-world mathematical challenges—preparing for the contest teaches students practical skills.

“I definitely think that these kinds of competitions help a lot with problem-solving,” said Joshua Fernandes, a Banneker/Key Scholar pursuing double degrees in mathematics and chemical engineering at UMD who wasn’t on UMD’s three-member team but ranked 180th in the competition.

“To do the problems, you do need to know a lot of mathematical theorems and laws, but once you learn them, you still have to figure out how to apply them. That’s a skill that applies to anything.”

Before arriving at UMD, Fernandes, Rathore, and Metz also participated in other mathematics contests including UMD’s High School Mathematics Competition, directed by Roohollah Ebrahimian, a senior lecturer in the UMD Department of Mathematics.

“The best part about doing math contests is the friends I’ve made,” said Rathore, another Banneker/Key Scholar who attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, with Fernandes. “I formed relationships with people with similar interests—my high school friends and I did the Maryland contest all four years.”

Published April 11, 2019