The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is more than a math competition for high schoolers: It’s also a springboard for subsequent success. The MIT delegation that annually dominates the Putnam Mathematical Competition is largely composed of alumni of the IMO and related math competitions. Many of these mathletes remain involved by producing training or prep courses and study guides, like the popular Euclidean Geometry in Mathematical Olympiads by Evan Chen ’18, a PhD student in the Department of Mathematics, which is read by aspiring contestants around the world.
Now, a new program invites MIT undergraduates, particularly those with a background in competition mathematics, to travel across the globe to train the national teams in Uganda and Ghana.
“MIT is a magnet for talent,” says Chris Peterson, a senior assistant director in the MIT Admissions Office. Enabling alumni to assist the next generation of competitors factors into MIT’s campaign of creating a better world. “I think anything we can do to help spread the intellectual wealth concentrated at MIT, while giving our students a global education, is a win-win,” Peterson says.
The goal is not just about helping African teams to place at the competition. A recent study by economists at the International Monetary Fund and University of Bath suggests that the skills honed by math contests help contribute to mathematical productivity and economic prosperity down the line. “It helps to identify and develop a critical mass of problem-solvers who will help develop the world,” explains Joel Dogoe, who founded the Mawuenyega International Science and Engineering (MISE) educational non-profit program in Ghana that recruits and trains the country’s IMO team and has collaborated with MIT before.