Middle-schoolers today, problem-solvers tomorrow

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Thirteen-year-old Allan Yuan solved it in six seconds – faster than the host of the 2022 Raytheon Technologies MATHCOUNTS National Competition could read it out loud.

Yuan, an eighth grader from Hoover, Alabama, pressed his buzzer and gave the answer: One thousand two hundred sixty, or, as he put it, “one, two, six, zero.”

And with that, Yuan became the competition’s newest champion and the recipient of both a trip to U.S. Space Camp and a $20,000 college scholarship named for MATHCOUNTS co-founder Donald G. Weinert.

Yuan put his head in his hands as the moment sank in and as fellow competition finalist Calvin Wang, 13, extended his hand in congratulations.

“When I realized I won, I was really relieved,” he said. “Then, after talking to Calvin, that’s when it hit me that I had won, and I started crying. There were a bunch of other competitors that we all expected to win, so I think I may have surprised a lot of people.”

It was a captivating end to the yearly competition’s final Countdown Round – an intense, game-show style showdown between the top 12 contenders, or Mathletes, in the United States. Raytheon Technologies’ title sponsorship of the middle-school competition dates to 2009, and it is part of the company’s commitment to education in science, technology, engineering and math as a means of positioning young people for success in STEM-related fields.

This was the first in-person national competition since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 competition took place virtually.

Through it all, the Mathletes never lost a beat, said Tracey Gray, the vice chair of MATHCOUNTS’ board of directors and a vice president at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business.

“The last few years have been challenging, and it’s impressive to see their resiliency and passion for problem solving,” he said. “Their dedication and perseverance show they are on the right path to create innovations of the future.”

In all, 224 Mathletes took part in the national competition in Washington, D.C.  They represented all 50 U.S. states, along with various territories and schools abroad that serve families of those employed by the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense.

They earned the trip to D.C. after advancing through local and state rounds, where more than 25,000 students compete.

In the team competition, the New Jersey team captured first place with the Washington state team winning second and the team from Texas taking third.

Among the 2022 Countdown Round finalists was Shruti Arun, 13, representing Campus Middle School in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

Shruti Arun calculates a math question

Shruti Arun calculates in her head a math question during the Countdown Round at the 2022 Raytheon Technologies MATHCOUNTS National Competition in Washington, D.C.

“It’s so chaotic and fun being here in person. I really enjoyed the experience,” she said, “and it was great getting to skip school to come here.”

For Yuan, the win and the hours of preparation that led to it are the latest steps in a journey that began in the second grade, when his dad introduced him to Art of Problem Solving, a forum for math enthusiasts.

“I’ve pretty much enjoyed math and have been competing in math contests at various levels ever since,” he said.

Though the competition was a thrill, the real excitement comes in seeing what the Mathletes do next, said Kristen Chandler, MATHCOUNTS’ executive director.

“I cannot wait to see how they use what they’ve learned in MATHCOUNTS to make a positive impact on the world,” she said.