For more than 50 years students from across New Mexico have participated in a UNM-PNM math contest, competing for cash prizes and bragging rights.

“It creates interest and excitement around math,” organizer Jehanzeb Chaudhry said. “Parents and teachers get involved, fostering knowledge and a community-based feeling.”

The UNM-PNM Statewide High School Mathematics Contest is a two-part competition that promotes mathematics education, while rewarding students, teachers and schools for excellence in mathematics. Students in grades seven through 12 have the opportunity to participate, however students in elementary school are also welcomed to compete.

“It’s very humbling and motivating to see some of the ingenious ways in which the high school students come up with solutions..." - Jehanzeb Chaudhry, UNM assistant professor

The contest, that draws in nearly 1,000 students each year, was established in 1966. PNM began sponsoring the competition in 1997, providing about $17,000 every year. The sponsorship contributes to prize money, books and other related expenses.

“These students are learning valuable lessons that they can apply to a career in the field of science, technology, engineering, and math,” PNM Public Affairs Manager Laurie Roach said. “With these tools in their pockets, students can stay on top of the ever-changing and developing technology industry. This is extremely important as our state moves towards a clean, energy future.” 

The annual contest is currently directed by UNM Associate Professor Hongnian Huang and Assistant Professor Jehanzeb Chaudhry. They are tasked with making sure the competition goes smoothly; inviting participants, organizing contest rounds and writing, distributing and grading exams. 

“This contest fits in with UNM’s mission to help spread basic science knowledge into our community,” Chaudhry said.

The contest has two rounds of exams designed to test mathematical potential and ingenuity as well as formal knowledge. Round one was administered in November at each students’ home school. This month, the top finalists moved onto round two where they were invited to UNM to compete in the final exam. Students also heard from guest speaker and Kansas State University Professor Natasha Rozhkovskaya, who gave a public lecture: What do partitions count?

Huang and Chaudhry said the contest is an opportunity for students to continue to develop and sharpen their mathematical skills.

“We see students who come back from the previous year and they improve,” Huang said. “They see that they continue to get better and better scores, so this contest proves to be motivation for them.”

The winners will be announced at a banquet in April.

“It’s very humbling and motivating to see some of the ingenious ways in which the high school students come up with solutions to problems that we have not even thought about,” Chaudhry said.