Baylor Math Doctoral Student Trains Math Olympics Bronze Medalist

Sept. 11, 2008

by Jaime Bates, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

For the past five years, Pedro Morales, a mathematics doctoral student at Baylor University, has trained high school students from his home country of Guatemala to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). In 2008, his work and the efforts of his students finally paid off at this year's international math competition. One of Morales' students, Esteban José Arreaga Ambéliz, became the first Guatemalan to medal in an IMO, bringing home the bronze in July.

The IMO is the world championship mathematics competition for high school students. Held annually in a different country each year, the IMO is the oldest of the International Science Olympiads. It was first held in Romania in 1959 with only seven countries present. Today, more than 90 countries and 500 contestants participate in the competition.

The IMO takes place over two days where contestants work on six problems which range from the pre-calculus level to branches of mathematics that are not covered at the university level.

"It is not that it is a high level of math, it is just more abstract," Morales said, "It is about proving, not calculating."

Each country sends teams of up to six students, plus one team leader, one deputy leader and observers. However, there are no formal team competitions. Awards are given to the top individual contestants, while team scores are totaled for each country and compared unofficially.

Morales competed in three IMOs and numerous other mathematical competitions as a high school student. He has helped train more than 50 students in the past. Morales, who came to Baylor on the recommendation of a friend, is just starting his doctorate and has four more years at Baylor.

"I am not sure of my future work plans," Morales said. "I hope to get opportunities as I grow in my studies."

However, Morales will continue to work with the students that will compete in next year's IMO.

"My experience in competing has helped a lot," Morales said. "It is not about just being smart, but working hard and knowing how to handle the pressure."

Morales said the IMO for math is like the Olympics are for sports.

Ambéliz began training for the IMO at the age of 12. Now at 17, he is the oldest of the Guatemalan team.

"Esteban was really clever from the beginning. We all expected it from him," Morales said.

Past winners of the IMO have gone on to win Field Medals and often times develop into some of the world's most famous mathematicians.

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