BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan student Tung Nguyen ’15, a mathematics and economics
double major from Hanoi, Vietnam, placed 49th and earned an Honorable Mention in the
prestigious annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. The competition,
which took place on December 1, 2012, is renowned for its difficulty and includes
student participants from schools such as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT), University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Carnegie-Mellon University.
Elizabeth Lowell Putnam founded the competition in 1927, in memory of her husband
William Lowell Putnam, an advocate of intercollegiate intellectual competition. The
Mathematical Association of America has offered the exam annually since 1938. The
self-enrolling competition is open to undergraduate college students at institutions
of higher learning in the United States and Canada. Considered by many to be the most
prestigious university-level mathematics examination in the world, the competition
consists of two three-hour sittings in which participants are given the task of solving
twelve problems that require extensive creative thinking.
Top students are awarded cash prizes ranging from $250 to $2,500, and top schools
are awarded prizes of $5,000 to $25,000. In addition, the top ten individual scores
receive waived tuition at Harvard, and the top 100 individual scores have their names
mentioned by rank to leading universities.
Nguyen and several other Illinois Wesleyan students competed among 4,277 contestants
from 578 institutions across North America. The median score among these contestants
was 0 out of 120 possible points, while Nguyen scored 50 points, earning his rank
of 49th place.
According to Nguyen, who has competed in numerous competitions at the regional and
national level, this competition proved the most challenging. To prepare, the participating
IWU students met weekly with Assistant Professor of Economics and Computer Science
Andrew Shallue and Visiting Professor of Mathematics Aaron Zerhusen to discuss and
solve practice problems. Nguyen found the preparation helpful in leading to his success
in the competition, which he describes to be a motivating accomplishment.
“The competition increased my interest and joy in math again. I was inspired to do
something more than attending classes and studying, so I began a research project
with another student. I hope to pursue further education in math or economics, where
I can further apply my problem-solving skills,” said Nguyen.