Dr. Zeb Engberg
The Wasatch Academy Math Team has competed in the Snow College Math Contest intermittently for at least fifteen years. In 2019 we won once again, extending our streak to five years. Our students dominated the leaderboard taking 9 of the top 10 positions within our division.
In my five years as coach of the Wasatch Academy Math Team, I have come to appreciate the diversity and style of problems we encounter at various contests. The purpose of a math contest is to make students think deeply. The problems we solve at Snow College have a distinctive and unique flavor. While all math contests aim to emphasize creativity and critical thinking, the writers of the Snow College exam include their own thumbprint. Studying higher mathematics, one often works through very abstract concepts to arrive at a single beautiful theorem or idea. The writers of the Snow exam provide glimpses into these higher mathematical discoveries through the problems they pose. These problems inspire my students and stimulate in-depth conversations after the math contest has ended. The Snow College Math Contest succeeds in making students think deeply and also generates significant enthusiasm for mathematics.
Though I’m a coach rather than a participant, my favorite aspect of math team competition is engaging in the tremendous amount of learning that occurs while problem-solving. Instead of giving my students a lesson on various techniques they might encounter on the exam, we prepare by working through the problems of previous tests. This year, we met at lunch daily to exercise our brains in this way. I like to think of myself more as a collaborator with my students than a coach. I sit alongside them as we think and unpack ideas. I encourage them to take risks, and I dive into the messy calculations with them. Just like my students, I have a love of problem-solving, and I aim to model the creativity, determination, and deep thinking needed to solve hard problems. The amount of thinking encapsulated within a single interesting math problem is awe-inspiring for me and I hope to instill this excitement in my students as well.
At this year’s Snow College competition, there were several students whose achievements deserve additional recognition. Wasatch students Nguyen Le, William Wang, Bryan Lyu, Hongbo Xu, Charlotte Cai, Eric Yang, Karen Liu, Jacqueline Wang, and Hoang Nguyen all simply dominated the tournament, earning 9 of the top 10 positions within our division. In particular, math and chess prodigy Nguyen Le attained a nearly perfectly score — he only missed one question out of 40!
I am especially proud of the commitment and progress of William Wang at the Snow College Math Contest. William came to Wasatch mid-way through his freshman year, and the 2016 Snow College contest was William’s first taste of math competition. Even four years ago, William prepared fiercely for the contest and was the overall winner among 9th graders. Since then, William has continued to push himself within our math team. Though he experienced tremendous growth throughout his sophomore and junior years, William did not always attain the success he had envisioned. I was thrilled that William remained encouraged and let his love of problem-solving drive his pursuits. William placed third among all 10th-grade through 12th-grade students this year. I am proud of William’s development at Wasatch and his leadership on our math team.
Other math team updates:
In early March, Nguyen Le, Eric Yang, Rena Shen, Arthur Zheng, Hoang Nguyen, Bryan Lyu, and Angel Nguyen competed in the Utah State Math Contest. Nguyen Le placed third out of roughly 250 students and received recognition at an award banquet for his performance. Over spring break, Nguyen Le competed in the American Invitational Mathematics Examination, a prestigious and difficult contest.