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Teen heading to China for math olympiad

  1. July 31, 2007
  2. by Justina Wang, Staff Writer
  3. THE BEACON NEWS
  4. http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews/news/490077,2_1_AU31_MATH_S1.article

See the article and photograph at the URL above:

The first clue that Jennifer Iglesias' mother had of her daughter's aptitude for numbers, was when she scored higher than all the other fourth-graders in the West Aurora School District's Math Bowl competition.

Then, in the sixth grade, Jennifer started asking her Jefferson Middle School math teacher if she could have more work after she finished the classroom assignments too quickly.

"I was OK at math," Jennifer said. "Well, I was pretty good, but I didn't think I was that good."

Three years ago, at a MathCounts competition held in Washington, D.C., she finished 37th out of 227 contestants, and first among the 41 young women there. Jennifer was also part of the Illinois squad that beat out all the other teams in the nation.

"She's always enjoyed doing math. She's seemed to have a natural ability with it," said Ann Iglesias of her 17-year-old. "And she knows what it's like to be in some pretty heavy competitions."

But if calling Jennifer a "pretty good" math student is an understatement, "pretty heavy" doesn't even begin to describe the latest competition she's qualified for.

After scoring at the top of the nation in the USA Mathematical Olympiad last year, Jennifer was one of eight young women selected to make up the first American team to compete at the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad that begins Aug. 11.

"I wasn't really expecting to (make the team), because you have to do crazy good," said Jennifer, who just finished her junior year at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.

To train for the six-day problem solving contest, Jennifer and her teammates have spent the last two weeks in Dallas, practicing algebraic inequalities in the mornings and geometric proofs in the afternoons. There's one more week of rigorous training left, though Jennifer is quick to point out that the girls also find time to play cards and Frisbee, or go running and swimming.

Not that she minds spending a good chunk of her summer break crunching numbers.

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't enjoy it," she said. "I like math because there's a concrete answer to almost everything. With reading it's like ... the author could mean 50 billion things. But with math you can say, 'OK, this is true based on this set of axioms.' You can work out things and come to an answer that is absolutely true."

Despite her own enthusiasm, Jennifer is also acutely aware -- from attending many male-centered summer math camps and competitions -- that this is a subject that doesn't draw a lot of interest from her fellow young women across America.

"Whether we think about it or not, we end up conforming to stereotypes or people push you to conform to stereotypes," she said. "If girls were as interested in it, I think they could do just as well."

So to Jennifer, who has never been out of the country, the 14-hour plane ride and the chance to pit herself against some of the world's most mathematically inclined young women are experiences that hold just as much excitement as intimidation

"There's a bit of pressure," she said. "And I can't wait to go."

RELATED STORIES
• Click to it: Read their online travelogue at the website of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, sponsor of the girls team: www.msri.org/specials/gmo.