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July 6, 2010 > Logan student earns national recognition

Logan student earns national recognition

By Jerry Ting
Photos By Jerry Ting

Taking AP Calculus BC as a 15 year old at Union City's James Logan High School is merely another one of Michael Wang's many accomplishments, which include singing at President Obama's inauguration as a part of the San Francisco Boys Chorus, performing in five operas with the SF Opera, participating with Logan's speech and debate team, and scoring highest in the state on the American Mathematical Competition (AMC).

The AMC is a grueling 25 problem mathematical assessment that tests geometry, algebra, number theory, and reasoning. It is the first of a series of tests that young mathematicians across the nation take every year in hopes of earning a spot in the Mathematics Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP), a prestigious camp that attracts the nation's brightest minds in preparation for the International Mathematic Olympiad.

After scoring 144 out of 150 on the AMC, Wang later advanced to take the American Invitational Mathematic Exam (AIME), answering 14 questions correctly out of 15, and finally to the U.S. American Math Olympiad (USAMO), where he wrote a four page proof and was ranked among the top 100 young mathematicians in the country.

When asked how he approaches such complex problems, Wang responded "I draw it out, separate the problems by genre, try to narrow it down, and put it in my own words." He also uses a step that his father, Jeff Wang, developed called the UPS Check, an acronym that stands for understand, plan, solve, and check.

"I have to thank my dad for helping me out all this time. He's the one who's been tutoring me and helping this entire time," says Wang. "My love of math began when I was little, when my grandpa and dad worked with me." With his family's help, Wang memorized the multiplication table at age six and learned exponents and logarithms in elementary school.

Wang's talent reflects his talented familial background. His mother is a chemical engineer and computer engineer and his grandfather was a math professor in China. Wang's father has a Ph.D in physics and taught at the University of Iowa before moving to California, where he interned for NASA and worked on secret coding for the Navy. Currently, Jeff Wang coaches the Logan math team, which ranked fifth in the state this year, and teaches at Mathnasium, a private math tutorial institute.

"You have to understand the rhythms and patterns of math. Math is a language. Math is like music," said Wang's dad, who is looking forward to coaching more mathematicians in the Tri-City area for competition.

Given his achievements and family's background, it is surprising that Wang does not intend on pursuing a career heavily based upon math. He aspires to study International Law or Neuroscience at Harvard after graduating from high school. Wang explains, "I have music, math, I guess I have strengths in a lot of different subjects. I don't want to just put my head into books."

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