President Obama offered his congratulations to Evan O’Dorney, who earned the second highest score—and a gold medal—at the 51st International Mathematical Olympiad, which was held in Kazakhstan in early July.
O'Dorney with MAA President David Bressoud at the 39th USAMO Award Ceremony in Washington, DC.
In a two-minute telephone call to O’Dorney on July 30, 2010, which began with the words, “This is the president,” Obama praised O’Dorney for his stellar performance as well as that of his team, which took third place.
“I’m proud of you for all the hard work you’ve done making a difference in being a role model for kids in the U.S.,” said the president. “I believe that math and science are important for our world.”
The president then asked if O’Dorney was still in Kazakhstan, which prompted the teenager to indicate that he was currently at the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, working on a problem in combinatorics.
“That sounds interesting . . . right up your alley,” Obama said.
When asked whether he thinks Obama understood the problem he was working on, O’Dorney replied, “I can't really attest to his understanding of the problem, but he could tell it was pretty complicated and that I was enjoying it."
The 10-week-long Duluth REU program “is the most loosely structured of all the similar programs," according to director (and former MAA president) Joseph Gallian. Normally, only college students attend, but Gallian made an exception for O’Dorney.
“There are no organized sessions where the students will come in a classroom and work. Math is solitary. The students work individually because we treat this program like a mini Pd.D. experience,” Gallian said.
Of the more than 150 participants who have taken part on the program since its inception in 1977, more than 100 have gone on to graduate programs at MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Chicago, Princeton, and Stanford. Many of the participants have garnered the Morgan Prize and the AWM’s Alice T. Schafer Prize for original research.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency, the program attracts more than 100 applicants a year for its 10 or so slots. “I then spend time looking for suitable research problems for the students to work on while they are here,” Gallian said.
Participant Emily Berger (MIT) said that the summer program is “heaven for young mathematicians.”
Young mathematicians, including O’Dorney, also attended this year’s MathFest in Pittsburgh. Representing the Berkeley Math Circle, O’Dorney presented a paper, “The Dynamics of Continued Fractions,” as part of the session “The Mathematics of Math Circles” on Aug. 7, 2010.
O'Dorney is no stranger to competition. Among his numerous honors are Scripps National Spelling Bee champion (2007), Bay Area Math Olympiad grand prize (2007, 2009, 2010), USAMO winner (2008), IMO silver medalist (2008, 2009), Who Wants to Be a Mathematician national champion (2010), and Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalist (2010). For more on O'Dorney, see "Evan O'Dorney, Spelling Champ and Math Whiz".