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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at Providence College on Pi Day 2012

"There were so many students and so much enthusiasm, and congratulations to Tri Ha who was a wonderful champion."

"I want to personally thank you and Annette for making our WWTBAM day so memorable!!!! I am so happy that we were able to attend this year. It has been an incredibly hard year for our education department and our high school and this is just what we needed. I will treasure this day forever. Thanks so much for everything."

"It was very exciting for all of us... we are thrilled he did well.... can't wait for next year and hopefully send another student.. I am glad we got it to happen... kids were on fire with math.... love it.."

Mike and Tri Who Wants to Be a Mathematician often pays off for individual students, but when Tri Ha (at left), a junior at Woonsocket High School won US$3000, it was a big pay-off for the whole city of Woonsocket, its schools, and its students. The city, like many others in the country, is having financial troubles and had proposed shutting the schools down early to save money. In fact, there was a school committee meeting about the proposal later that day, after Who Wants to Be a Mathematician ended (which many teachers and parents attended, and which led to a withdrawal of the proposal).

Woonsocket teacher and students



Given this financial situation, the school could not afford to pay for a bus or a substitute teacher. So the students who accompanied Tri that morning (at left with Tri and his teacher Ms. Walker) chipped in to pay for the bus, and teachers at the school volunteered to cover the classes of Ms. Walker. The roar that went up when it was revealed that Tri had won $3000 was something to hear. Tri, Ms. Walker, and the students experienced the thrill of victory, not over the other contestants, but over the recent spate of bad news. The rest of the 200 in attendance appreciated the good fortune, too.

Immediately below are videos of the action and of Tri talking about his win, as well as welcoming speeches by Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah A. Gist and by Providence College's Frank Ford. Also below see a description of the games and a slideshow from the day.



Description of the games

More than 200 people were in attendance, a record number for Pi Day. In fact, Providence College personnel had to scramble to find more chairs to accommodate everyone.

Mount Saint Charles rooters Woonsocket rooters


audience audience

The contestants, pictured below, are (left to right):

  • Carl Chen, Westerly High School
  • Jack Liang, Barrington High School
  • Wayne Wu, The Wheeler School
  • Tri Ha, Woonsocket High School
  • Alex Jenkins, Portsmouth High School
  • Kim Hoffman, Mt. Hope High School
  • Oneib Khan, Mount Saint Charles Academy
  • Becky Chinn, The Prout School



Game one contestants In game one, Jack Liang and Carl Chen were tied for first place from question three through question six. Wayne Wu was the only contestant to answer question seven correctly, which moved him into first by 200 points. That slim margin held up as those three contestants answered question eight (the last question in the game) correctly. Wayne's victory earned him $500, a TI-NSpire CX, and a spot in the Ssquare-Off Round against the eventual game two winner. Jack and Carl later talked it over to decide who would get which prize.

Game two contestants The second game was not quite as close. Tri was tied for first with Oneib Khan (whose Mount Saint Charles rooting section may have been the most exuberant) after question two, but Tri moved into first after the fourth question and stayed there for the rest of the game. Tri won by 400 points over Oneib and Kim, who tied for second place. Kim earned the tie by being the only contestant to answer the last question correctly. Alex was right behind, only 100 points out of second.

Tri and Wayne in the square-off round

In the Square-Off Round, between Tri and Wayne, Tri was the first to answer correctly, which earned him another $500 and a chance at the $2000 Bonus Question. The Square-Off question involved combinatorics, while the Bonus Question concerned geometry.

Tri thought for a while, then made his choice with about one minute left. The audience was very quiet while he was thinking and while they waited to hear if his answer was correct. Tri did make the right choice, which gave him $3000 for the day and gave everyone else a good reason to cheer and smile.

Wayne, Mike, and Tri
Above: Wayne and Tri display their uncashable checks.

At right: Tri and his teacher, Suzanne Ross Walker

Ms. Walker and Tri
Below are the prizes won by the eight contestants:
  • TI-Nspire CX from Texas Instruments and $3000 from the AMS: Tri Ha
  • TI-Nspire CX from Texas Instruments and $500 from the AMS: Wayne Wu
  • Maple 15 from Maplesoft: Carl Chen and Kim Hoffman
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis, from John Wiley and Sons: Jack Liang and Oneib Khan
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, from the AMS: Becky Chinn and Alex Jenkins

Thanks to Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah A. Gist for her opening remarks, to Lynne DeMasi, Frank Ford, and Jeff Hoag of the Providence College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science for making all the arrangments for the event; and to the teachers and students who were such a great audience. The AMS also thanks sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons for supporting Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

Photographs by AMS Public Awareness Officer Annette Emerson, and Notices Managing Editor Sandy Frost. Text by Mike Breen (Who Wants to Be a Mathematician host and AMS Public Awareness Officer).

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.