Washington state math wiz takes first prize in national MathCounts competition

This week, Edward Wan, a seventh grader from Lakeside Middle School in Seattle, Washington, became the first-place champion of the 2016 Raytheon MathCounts National Competition. Approximately 140,000 students in the United States participate annually in school MathCounts competitions, leading up to this big event.

EdwardIt was a particularly proud moment for those of us at Microsoft. For the past 10 years, we’ve hosted on our campus the MathCounts Lake Washington Regional and the Washington State Championship competitions.  For one Saturday in February and for another in March, we open up our conference center to hundreds of Mathletes, their families and volunteers for food, fun, prizes, inspiration and general competition event support.  Our goal is to support MathCounts’ mission to engage middle-school students of all ability and interest levels in fun and challenging math programs, and to expand their academic and professional opportunities along the way. That’s one of the many reasons we’re excited not only to see Edward’s success, but also two middle school students from Odle Middle School, Alex Wei and George Lan, finish in the top 28. And on top of that, Washington state placed third in the team competition.

As reported in a news release about the event, Edward won the final round by answering the question: “What is the remainder when 999,999,999 is divided by 32?” He gave the correct answer, 31, in 6.95 seconds. As national champion, according to the release, Edward is the recipient of the $20,000 Donald G. Weinert College Scholarship and a trip to U.S. Space Camp.

It took a while for Edward’s win to sink in. “I didn’t really believe it at first,” he told us shortly after his victory. “I didn’t expect it. I felt pretty good that all the work I did paid off.”

Photo: David Russell, Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution
Photo: David Russell, Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution

While Edward was a bit anxious about the competition – as would any middle-school student – he found his next task even more daunting: a live appearance on LIVE! with Kelly & Michael. But Edward did a terrific job on the Disney-ABC Television program, and easily bested the two hosts in an entertaining math-off. We’re grateful that the hosts and producers of this program took the time to bring a message about the rewards of learning math to a national audience.

One thing that’s particularly inspiring about Edward’s big win was that he didn’t qualify for the national competition last year. There’s a great lesson here about perseverance. All kids can succeed in math, and build self-confidence in the process. But they should remember that getting problems wrong is part of the journey. Edward is a great reminder that learning math is a process of trial, error, and, of course, repetition. In fact, when Edward is asked about the difference between his performance this year, versus last year, his simple answer is, “Practice makes perfect.”

“Washington state has competed well at this MathCounts event for several years, but a third-place finish, out of 56 competing teams, really helps shine a light on the talent we’re nurturing in Washington state,” says Pam Maloney, a chapter coordinator for MathCounts. “MathCounts inspires curiosity, builds confidence and cultivates talent.  We try to plant seeds about future career opportunities possible through math. As a long-time volunteer, I’m heartened by the talent and commitment these young students have.”

Congratulations, Edward, and to all of the students who participated this year. All of us at Microsoft are proud of you!  Keep up the great work! And if you would like to learn more about MathCounts, please visit MathCounts.org.

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