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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of New Mexico

"Thanks for inviting us to participate. The excitement around campus was tremendous after we returned to school. I hope that you come back and offer us another opportunity to compete in the future."

"That was really a lot of fun ... Thank you for all your work and time and effort that went into putting on this event. I think it went very smoothly, and was enjoyed by all."

University of New Mexico campus


On October 11, eight students from four New Mexico schools played Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the University of New Mexico. The game coincided with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the Tenth New Mexico Analysis Seminar, and preceded the AMS Fall Western Sectional meeting, the latter two events hosted by the University's Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The morning of the game, Michael Nakamaye, Undergraduate Chair of the Department, gave an entertaining talk to the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician audience entitled "Mathematics: Learning How to Think and Communicate Clearly."

Contestants, Alejandro Aceves, Mike, and Michael

Pictured above are: Front, left to right, Helen Wu (Albuquerque Academy), Kathy Lin (Los Alamos High School), Christine Kreitinger (La Cueva High School); Back, left to right: Tony Huang (La Cueva High School), Alejandro Aceves (Chair, UNM Department of Mathematics and Statistics), Benjamin Dozier (Los Alamos High School), Jack Ingalls (Albuquerque Academy), Mike Breen (AMS Public Awareness Officer and game emcee), Ben Goldsmith (Santa Fe Preparatory School), and Michael Nakamaye. Not pictured: contestant Maxwell Wu (Albuquerque Academy).

Mathematics: Learning How to Think and Communicate Clearly - Michael Nakamaye

Nakamaye related his experiences with mathematics from when he was about four until the present, so that the students in the audience would know what to expect should they become mathematicians. He also gave reasons why he would encourage people to study mathematics.

Not much of Nakamaye's education was traditional. For example, after taking geometry in high school - when many students would take another algebra course or a combination of algebra and trigonometry - Nakamaye spent a few weeks in a precalculus course, but wasn't learning anything new and so was allowed to enroll in calculus. Calculus was great "for a few weeks," but he yearned for something more challenging. This challenge came when his family moved to Germany and Nakamaye studied Eric Temple Bell's Men of Mathematics, proving a result that Bell said fewer than 10 people in a million could prove.

Nakamaye did not finish high school, but instead went to Gonzaga College, where his father taught. At Gonzaga, he ran out of math courses to take in two years. In his junior year he studied French literature abroad. This experience was so satisfying that he advised students "to leap at the opportunity" to study abroad. In his senior year at Gonzaga and in graduate school at Yale University, Nakamaye didn't take classes but studied mostly on his own.

At his first faculty position, at Harvard University, Nakamaye was very impressed with the intelligence and the enthusiasm of the students. In his fifth year at Harvard he became very sick, which forced him to think about what was really important to him. As a result, he decided to dedicate himself to teaching. Since joining the faculty at the University of New Mexico, he has become involved in math education. He thanked colleagues Kristin Umland and Adriana (Rocio) Aceves for their help in giving him different ways to help motivate students.

Nakamaye's advice to students is to pursue what they enjoy, try lots of different things, and use their college education to learn about themselves.

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician


Game one contestants


Game one finished in a tie between two talented sophomores: Jack Ingalls and Kathy Lin (sitting in the back row), as each missed only one question (the same one) in their game. So the game went to a tie-breaker to determine who would be in the bonus round. Kathy was the first to answer correctly, and so she earned her way into the bonus round and a chance at $2000. (Front row, Maxwell Wu and Tony Huang.)


Game two contestants: Trevor, Alec, Steven, and Courtney

In game two, Ben Goldsmith answered every question correctly, which put him into the bonus round. Although no game one contestant used his or her "Help," the game two contestants did use their "Help," including Ben, who used it wisely on a geometry question. (Front row, Benjamin Dozier and Ben Goldsmith; back row, Christine Kreitinger and Helen Wu.)


Ben and Kathy in the bonus round

Both Ben and Kathy gave good explanations of their answers to the bonus question, but upon hearing the other contestant's reasoning, each realized that he or she had made a small error, which meant that no one won the $2000 prize. Yet both were happy to have played and to have won the TI-Nspire graphing calculators.

Kathy and Ben, with their prizes, and Mike

Here are the prizes won by all eight contestants:

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments: Kathy Lin and Ben Goldsmith
  • Maple 11 from Maplesoft: Jack Ingalls and Benjamin Dozier
  • Calculus by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Maxwell Wu and Helen Wu (brother and sister)
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Tony Huang and Christine Kreitinger

The AMS thanks Alejandro Aceves, Chair of the University's Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Department Administrative Assistant Claudia Gans, who made the local arrangements for the game; and sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons for their continued generous support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.


Balloon basket in hotel lobby

The Who Wants to Be a Mathematician crew, seeking to minimize its carbon footprint on the trip home and save on parking,
learns never to trust a stuffed bear's GPS.

Photographs by Who Wants to Be a Mathematician judge and co-creator Bill Butterworth of the DePaul University Department of Mathematical Sciences and by Sandy Frost, Managing Editor of Notices of the AMS.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be aMathematician.