Mathematics major Petch Chueluecha ’21 ranked 51st out of 4,229 students in the 2019 Putnam Mathematics Competition, the premier undergraduate math competition in the United States and Canada. The Lehigh University team ranked 26th out of 570 schools nationally.
Lehigh Student Places 51st in Premier Putnam Mathematics Competition; Lehigh Team Ranks 26th
Petch Chueluecha ’21 uses his mathematical prowess to score high in the prestigious annual college competition.
The Putnam Competition is an extremely challenging exam, consisting of 12 questions worth 10 points each. About half of the participants score a zero. However, Chueluecha received 63 points, earning him a spot in the top 100. Mavin Buranasilp ’21 scored a 22, ranking 436th, and Eric Wolf ’20 scored an 18, ranking 627th. As Lehigh’s top three finishers, they constituted the Lehigh University team.
Prior to the competition, Chueluecha took a problem-solving course with Lehigh mathematics professor Steve Weintraub, specifically designed to prepare students for the Putnam exam.
“[The Putnam Competition is] mostly a test of cleverness rather than a test of advanced mathematical knowledge,” Weintraub said. “The problem-solving course is designed to teach students various different mathematical techniques, some of which are likely to occur in both problem-solving in general and on the Putnam competition in particular.”
Chueluecha said he had competed in many math competitions before taking the Putnam exam.
“I started my math journey when I was 5 years old,” Chueluecha said. “We had a small competition in my primary school, and I got first place. I took...the national math competition [in Thailand] was when I was in grade five. I got a gold medal.”
Chueluecha’s passion for math led him to continue competing, with the ultimate hope of earning a spot as a high school student at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Comparable to the Olympic Games, the International Mathematical Olympiad is an annual competition between high school students from over 100 countries. As a senior in high school, he reached his goal, earning a bronze medal—a high achievement. Because of his ranking, Chueluecha received a scholarship to attend college in the United States.
Furthermore, planning and strategizing played a role in Chueluecha’s success: He analyzed past Putnam patterns and applied them when he took the test.
“I know that the first question is easy,” Chueluecha said. “So I must do it first and then I should do it very quickly. [After that] it doesn't matter if I do problem two, or problem six. They have the same difficulty.”
Chueluecha looks forward to attending graduate school, getting a Ph.D. in math and becoming a professor. He plans to return to his native Thailand to teach.
Story by Tabitha Nowak