The University of Texas at Dallas

Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science


Putnam Club Earns Honors for Math Skills

Putnam Club Earns Honors for Math Skills

Dr. Nathan Williams, Weston Miller, Evan Bailey and Matthew Babbitt.

From left: Dr. Nathan Williams, mathematics senior Weston Miller, computer science senior Evan Bailey and mathematical sciences teaching assistant Matthew Babbitt.

A team of University of Texas at Dallas undergraduate students ranked among the top 10% in the 83rd annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, finishing No. 32 in a field of 456 college squads.

Computer science senior Evan Bailey, computer science junior Suraj Mathashery and mathematics senior Weston Miller all placed in the top 500 individually in last December’s competition, which included more than 3,400 participants. Bailey, who was the top UTD finisher at No. 178, and Mathashery are National Merit Scholars.

The competition, which began in 1938 and is administered by the Mathematical Association of America, features undergraduates from the U.S. and Canada and is considered to be one of the most challenging mathematics competitions in the world. It consists of 12 problems that must be solved in just six hours. But the time constraint is far from the only challenge.

The problems are designed to be extremely difficult and unconventional. It is a proof-based competition, meaning there are multiple correct methods to solve the problems. This requires a significant amount of creative thinking and novelty in their approach. Students are tested on a wide range of topics, including algebra, number theory, geometry and combinatorics.

Few competitors can correctly solve even one problem. In the most recent competition, the average score was about 8.2 out of 120, and the median score was 1.

“Even for a professional research mathematician, these problems can be very challenging,” said Dr. Nathan Williams, assistant professor of mathematical sciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “It’s not like you just reach some point in your career and are able to suddenly solve them. Not even close.”

Williams and mathematical sciences teaching assistant and PhD student Matthew Babbitt are coaches of the UT Dallas Putnam Club. UT Dallas has participated in the competition nearly every year since 2006, and in 2016, it had its best finish of 18th place.

Dr. Vladimir Dragovic, professor and head of mathematical sciences, said the UT Dallas Putnam Club will help students in their future careers.

“Mathematics education is not just about numbers and equations,” he said. “It’s about problem-solving, critical thinking and logical reasoning. It teaches us to analyze and interpret data, make informed decisions and navigate the world with confidence and clarity.”

A version of this story appeared in News Center.