Snow College 2019 math contest dominated by WA

May 9, 2019

MT. PLEASANT — Wasatch Academy (WA) Math Team has competed in the Snow College Math Contest intermittently for at least 15 years. During the 2019 competition, WA won once again, extending their streak to five years. The WA math team dominated the leaderboard taking nine of the top 10 positions within their division.

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 nine of the top 10 positions within the team’s division.

In particular, math and chess prodigy Nguyen Le attained a nearly perfectly score — he only missed one question out of 40!

Dr. Engberg is especially proud of the commitment and progress of William Wang at the Snow College Math Contest. Wang came to Wasatch Academy mid-way through his freshman year and the 2016 Snow College contest was his first taste of math competition.

Even four years ago, Wang prepared fiercely for the contest and was the overall winner among ninth graders. Since then, he has continued to push himself within the WA math team.

Though Wang experienced tremendous growth throughout his sophomore and junior years, he did not always attain the success he had envisioned. Dr. Engberg was thrilled that Wang remained encouraged and let his love of problem-solving drive his pursuits.

Wang placed third among all 10th through 12th-grade students this year. Engberg is proud of Wang’s development at Wasatch and his leadership on the WA math team.

Dr. Zeb Engberg has served as coach of the Wasatch Academy Math Team for the past five years. He has come to appreciate the diversity and style of problems the students encounter at various contests and notes that the purpose of a math contest is to make students think deeply.

The math problems to be solved 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. According to Engberg, the competition problems inspire his students and stimulate in-depth conversations after the math contest has ended. The Snow College Math Contest does succeed in making students think deeply and also generates significant enthusiasm for mathematics.

Although Dr. Engberg is a coach rather than a participant, his favorite aspect of math team competition is engaging in the tremendous amount of learning that occurs while problem-solving.

Instead of giving his students a lesson on various techniques they might encounter on the exam, the team prepares by working through the problems of previous tests. This year, Engberg and the math team met at lunch daily to exercise their brains in that way.

Engberg likes to think of himself more as a collaborator with his students than as a coach. He sits alongside them as the members think and unpack ideas. He encourages them to take risks, and he dives into the messy calculations with them.

Just like his students, Engberg has a love of problem-solving and he aims 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 himself and he hopes to instill this excitement into his students as well.

Other math team updates:

Earlier this year in 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 awards banquet for his performance.

Up for another mathematical challenge over spring break, Nguyen Le also competed in the American Invitational Mathematics Examination, which is a prestigious and difficult contest.