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Westmont High Student Brings Home the Gold from China

Amid concerns of American students falling behind in math and science, a U.S. team of eight—with a Westmont High School student among them—provides a glimmer of hope with medals won in the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad (CGMO) this month.

Danielle Wang of Campbell, a freshman at Westmont, walked off with a gold metal.

The other local winners include Julia Huang of Saratoga, a sophomore at Lynbrook High School who walked off with a silver medal in the contest, and home-schooled student Rebecca Burks of Los Altos.

The winning team was sponsored by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), an independent organization based in Berkeley. Founded in 1982, MSRI advances mathematical research through workshops and conferences.

In 2007, MSRI sent the first team from the United States to CGMO, which began in 2002 as a competition for female students from China and other East Asian countries, but later invited teams from more countries.

The math contest for teams of girls consists of a rigorous two-day exam. This year the CGMO drew 192 girls from countries such as Japan, Russia, United States, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and China.

Robert Bryant, director of the research institute, said he is pleased that every member of the U.S. team won a medal, especially given that most of the members are freshmen and sophomores, while many of the other contestants are juniors and seniors.

Bryant added that he hopes the medals from the CGMO will help break a stereotype.

"It's common to hear math is for boys in the U.S., but, in fact, girls can do extremely well in math," said Bryant. "The girls on our team are role models for young women."

Bryant also addressed the concern about falling math scores in the U.S.

"In our society, there are so many distractions that young people don't have enough focus on their studies," said Bryant. "But there's a lot we can do to improve the curriculum and teacher training. We need to make math interesting so the students will realize it's not a grind."

CGMO gold medal winner Wang expressed her view on math in America as well.

"We seem to value entertainment, wealth and fame more than we do skill in science and math," said Wang. "Great singer? Great, you're now famous, hyped and rich. Great mathematician? Sorry, no one knows who you are. Society needs to reward people who love science and mathematics and are good at it, especially those who do basic research, which is not yet profitable."

In terms of rewards, Wang said she is happy about winning a gold medal from the first international competition she entered, and she is thankful to the instructors in the pre-contest training camp [sponsored by the] Mathematical Association of America, which runs the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program and is MSRI’s partner in funding the team.

Huang also expressed her gratitude.

"I want to thank my parents most for my achievement, for guiding me in mathematics as far as they could and letting me pursue what I love," she said.

Bronze medal winner Burks said her mother was the one who helped her most in math.

"My mother is responsible for my success," said Burks. "She taught me math, found places for me to take competitions, and encouraged me to always do my best. Because of the time she spent on math with me, I was able to qualify for CGMO."

Burks attends Danaidae Learning Studio, a Los-Altos-based home school that her mother, Linda, runs.

NOTE: To see photographs of the team members, please follow the URL link at the top of this webpage.