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VWU Sophomore Excels in Challenging Putnam Competition

Nathan Richardson scores in top 14 percent on world’s leading university-level math exam

University News | February 25, 2022

The results are in! And they are impressive.

VWU sophomore Nathan Richardson, who some may know as “June,” participated in the 82nd William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition in December 2021 and scored an impressive ranking of 423 out of 2,975 participants.

Professor of Mathematics Lydia Kennedy, who took the Putnam exam as an undergraduate, was thrilled with Richardson’s stellar performance.

“This is a really, really, really big deal,” said Kennedy. “Nathan is the only Virginia Wesleyan student in recent memory to take the Putnam, and is definitely the only one to be recognized at this level. The top-scoring participants were all from institutions such a MIT, Harvard or Princeton.”

Kennedy, who proctored the exceedingly difficult exam at VWU, noted that Richardson recruited a small group to work on Putnam problems to diligently prepare for the competition.

“Nathan prepared by spending hours upon hours working through previous Putnam problems--all hard problems,” said Kennedy. “To give you an idea how hard the questions are in the Putnam Competition, the problems are scored out of a total of 120 points. The median score for the 82nd Putnam exam was a 4 out of 120. Nathan scored significantly higher!”

Kennedy wasn’t the only one impressed with the results received just this week.

“When I received the news that I earned 18 points, I was quite surprised since I was expecting to receive only about 10 or so points after discussing my solutions with other competitors after the competition,” said Richardson. “I was indeed quite excited when I heard the news.” 

Richardson spent considerable time getting ready for the exam by working through problems from previous years’ competitions.

“I found a book in the VWU library that contained about 20 years of competition problems with full solutions. I believe this was exceedingly helpful with gaining familiarity with the type of problems found on the Putnam,” said Richardson.

According to their website, the Putnam Mathematical Competition is the preeminent mathematics competition for undergraduate college students in the United States and Canada. Run by the Mathematical Association of America, the competition takes place annually on the first Saturday of December. It consists of two 3-hour sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During each session, participants work individually on 6 challenging mathematical problems.

The Putnam began in 1938 as a competition between mathematics departments at colleges and universities. Now the competition has grown to be the leading university-level mathematics examination in the world.

Richardson, a double major in mathematics and music composition and a member of the Batten Honors College at VWU, has plans to obtain a Ph.D in mathematics after graduation from Virginia Wesleyan.

“This is the route I must take to fulfill my career goal of teaching and completing research in academia. When I'm not working on math-related things, I enjoy playing and creating music. I get a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment from creating music of my own.”


Learn more about the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition and view complete results.