The University of New Mexico and PNM recently celebrated the winners of the 2023-2024 UNM-PNM Statewide High School Mathematics Contest. The winners, families and teachers gathered recently for the celebration in Ballroom C of the Student Union Building.

Professor Monika Nitsche, chair of UNM's Mathematics & Statistics Department, and PNM representatives gave congratulatory remarks. After a celebratory dinner, contest co-directors Professor James Degnan and Associate Professor Stephen Lau handed out awards to 35 students. Awards were presented to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall contest winners. This year, 17 winners by school were also recognized.

Additionally, for the second year, Campersand offered seven full scholarships to their summer math camp, which will be held at UNM this June. Campers and representative Anita Chou presented the awards to the top students in grades 5 through 10. Teachers, family members, and friends also praised each student.

Prizes included monetary awards and also books for the winners. The books awarded this year were recently published by L.S. Hahn, a retired professor from UNM’s Math and Statistics Department who was in charge of the Math Contest for many years (1975-1999). The department continues to honor Dr. Hahn's legacy.

"The contest is geared towards high school students, with challenging and often original problems. Participation is meant to be fun, but also offers students engagement with mathematical problems and concepts they might not encounter in their regular curriculum," said co-directors Degnan and Lau. "Some middle and even elementary school students also participated, and this year, place winners by grade were determined from 5th through 12th grade. Each of these high-achieving students has a promising future ahead! Congratulations to all!"

The New Mexico Mathematics Contest was born in 1966, the year before the first Super Bowl! It has gone through three name changes during the course of its history and is currently known as the UNM-PNM Statewide High School Mathematics Contest. In partnership with the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, PNM has provided yearly support for the contest since 1997.

The contest's goal is to promote mathematics education in New Mexico by rewarding students, teachers, and their schools for mathematical excellence. Before the pandemic, between 700 and 1,200 New Mexico students benefited from this program annually. The numbers dropped somewhat during the pandemic, but are now recovering. This year, nearly 400 New Mexico students from over 20 schools (including home and online schools) in grades 5 through 12 participated.

The format of the contest includes two examination rounds, each testing mathematical potential and ingenuity in addition to formal knowledge. Round I was administered online in November. The top finalists, which included 121 students from Round I, were invited to the UNM Campus in early February to compete in Round II, administered as an in-person written exam, although due to bad weather, some participation was shifted online at the last minute.

By tradition, prior to the Round II examination, a prominent mathematician or statistician gives a presentation available to all. This year, Stefan Steinerberger of the University of Washington gave a fantastic public lecture on "Simple Things That We Don't Know."

** The thumbnail image used in this story was created with generative AI using Adobe Firefly.