Elite Team Organized by AAAS Attends Prestigious Mathematics Competition in Mexico

A small, elite team of four mathematicians from U.S. high schools will participate in the Mexican Mathematical Olympiad beginning Monday 12 November in the city of Guanajuato.

The intensive competition will span two days, with results announced on Friday 16 November. The students were selected for the team based on their skills in math and Spanish after an intensive 10-day special training program in August organized by AAAS.

The four members of the AAAS team are:

  • David Vargas, 17, a senior at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park on New York’s Long Island. Vargas has already taken college-level calculus courses and participated in advanced mathematics competitions.
  • Sohail Farhangi, 17, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. Farhangi has already taken classes in complex analysis and participated in advanced national math competitions;
  • Emanuel Perez, 17, a junior at the Whitney M. Young Magnet School in Chicago, Illinois. Perez has completed advanced algebra and trigonometry and has participated in advanced math competitions; and
  • Varun K. Mohan, 15, a junior at The Harker School in San Jose, California. Mohan has completed college-level calculus and participated in advanced math competitions.

The AAAS training is a new initiative that aims to increase participation by underrepresented minorities in higher mathematics. Florence Fasanelli, the AAAS mathematician-in-residence who coordinates the program, said about 70 students applied for the 20 slots in the summer training.

“We wanted mature students who had competed before and loved doing it and could share this enthusiasm,” Fasanelli said. “We also wanted novices, especially younger students who would go back to their schools and get their friends excited about doing this special kind of mathematics. We wanted girls and boys.”

Mark Saul, consultant to the project and director of the Center for Mathematical Talent at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, added: “The important part of the story is that they are minorities and immigrants, or the children of immigrants. They need to be celebrated for persisting. The world needs to know there is this vitally important pool of talent—we just have to find it and nurture it.”

Minority and immigrant students with high-level mathematics skills are often isolated at their schools, Saul explained. Schools often don’t have the resources to support such gifted students, and when a school does have a math club or a math team, it may have no other minority students or advisers.

In September, another group of four student “mathletes” from the AAAS training program participated in the Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad in Tunis, qualifying for three medals. The Mexican Mathematical Olympiad is open only to students from Mexico, but the team organized by AAAS received a special invitation to come to Guanajuato as an unofficial participant in the competition.

What’s important, Fasanelli said, is that Vargas, Farhangi, Mohan, and Perez have a chance to compete on an international stage against some of the world’s top talent. That will build skill and confidence as they finish high school and enter college, she said, and perhaps go on to careers in mathematics, science, or technology after completing their studies.

The team will leave the United States on Saturday 10 November and return home on Saturday 17 November.


Read about last summer’s AAAS mathematics training sessions and the team of students who were sent to the Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad in Tunisia.

Learn more about the Mexican Mathematical Olympiad (en español).