St. Olaf College | News

For St. Olaf mathletes, winning is as easy as π

“One primary reason I chose to come to St. Olaf was for the variety of math classes that it offered,” says Jakob Hofstad ’20, who took first place in the math problem-solving contest alongside Eric Anderlik ’20. He recreated one of the problems from the contest on the board behind him in Tomson Hall.

On your mark, get set, math! This year, six teams from St. Olaf College competed in the 21st annual team problem-solving contest hosted by the Mathematical Association of America’s North Central Section. Each team can include up to three students. These students collaborate on 10 problems at their home campuses.

The competition: 61 other teams from 28 regional colleges and universities.

The line-up: 6 teams from St. Olaf, pencils at the ready.

With St. Olaf having claimed first place last year, the pressure was on. But worry not, because Oles only ever up the game.

So this year, the six teams of Oles participated in the competition and met their fate.

The results: another impressive set of successes. One Ole team took first place and another took second place. In fact, five out of the six teams finished in the top third of the competition.

Winning? Easy as π.

But St. Olaf doesn’t just have successful math students: it has a lot of successful math students. In fact, mathematics is one of the college’s most popular majors, with 194 students currently enrolled. That makes mathematics the third-highest declared major among Oles. With all that talent, it’s no surprise Oles took the competition by storm.

The members of St. Olaf’s first place team, Jakob Hofstad ’20 and Eric Anderlik ’20, say the college’s math program is top-notch.

“For all of my life I knew I wanted to pursue math, and one primary reason I chose to come to St. Olaf was for the variety of math classes that it offered,” says Hofstad, who is majoring in mathematics and physics. “Since coming here, I have gotten a taste of the different types of math that I may use in a career, and I look forward to taking more challenging classes here in the future.”

Anderlik — a chemistry, mathematics, and physics major — also has nothing but praise for the Ole way: “The math major at St. Olaf is excellent. The professors are great, from having inspirational, magnificent beards to having children who already are learning how to say ‘differential equations.’ My peers in the math major never fail to disappoint either. I’m always impressed by how creative a group of people can be. The courses are also amazing. Currently, I am in Budapest studying number theory; the cafes here are perfect for sipping thick hot chocolate with a cat and pondering modular arithmetic.”

Studying a subject you love while surrounded by hot chocolate and cats? Anderlik knows how to celebrate — just like Ole mathletes know how to compete.