New Mexico’s future mathematicians are being rewarded for their love of math and science thanks to a special partnership between UNM and PNM. Each year, the Department of Mathematics & Statistics joins together with PNM to execute the UNM-PNM Statewide High School Mathematics Contest which promotes math education and provides students throughout the state with a platform to increase their knowledge and inspire their passion for the field.

Each year, students in grades 5-12 throughout New Mexico get to participate in this special two-part competition which rewards students, teachers and schools for excellence in mathematics. Round one was held online in October with round two following in February. This round invited the finalists to the UNM campus for the competition.

In addition to the competition rounds, the contest also featured a public lecture by Laura Kubatko from The Ohio State University and The Mathematical Biosciences Institute. The presentation, titled,
"The role of mathematics in studying biological diversity" was delivered via Zoom.

UNM Mathematics & Statistics Associate Professor James Degnan and Lecturer Michael Heitzman, helped direct this year’s contest.

This was Heitzman’s first year as one of the organizers of the event, and he found the students to be inspiring.

“I was surprised to see so many young students, even fifth graders, work with such intense focus on very challenging problems designed for high school students,” said Heitzman. “I was also surprised at how many students, after spending over four hours on the exam, lingered afterwards to mingle and have animated discussion of the problems.”

The contest was in a hybrid format this year, using online quizzes for round 1. Round 2 was able to be held in person for the first time since 2020 and the organizers are looking forward to holding more in-person events like this in the future.

“It was great to see the second round of the contest go back to being in person after having been online due to COVID,” said Degnan.

PNM has played an integral part in ensuring the contest happens each year, having donated more than $370,000 in sponsorship. Some of the companys more than 1,500 employees attend the award ceremony and witness firsthand how the UNM-PNM Math Contest benefits the community.

Thanks to this support, the winners of the contest receive books and cash prizes to foster their passion for math and support them in their future goals. The recipients of these awards were celebrated at a closing ceremony celebration on Saturday, April 29th at the UNM SUB.

David Metzler, a teacher at Albuquerque Academy, praised PNM and UNM’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics for the impact they are making on students throughout New Mexico.

“As a math teacher, I am always looking for ways to expose my students to the beauty of mathematics and the joy of solving hard problems,” said Metzler. “The UNM-PNM Math Contest has always been a great way for me to challenge them.

“The first round is accessible to a wide range of students, while the second round makes them really think hard and explain their reasoning. I particularly like the fact that both rounds provide a lot of time for students to do the problems, instead of being an exercise in speed.”

My hope is that the contest acts as a springboard for students to make connections they may not have thought of before, and inspires them to learn something new,” added Heitzman. “Although the contest is a (hopefully fun) competition, I also hope that it continues to foster a sense of community for these learners and problem solvers.”