Gone are the days when Barbie dolls were made to squeak “Math is hard!” in soprano voices; girls compete in math contests these days. The 8th Annual Girls Mathematical Olympiad took place in China in August 2009, with the participation of several countries including Russia, Australia, Canada, Philippines, and Singapore.

The United States sent a team of seven members, of which four were from the San Francisco Bay Area. They returned with two golds, three silvers and two bronze medals, and placed second overall behind China. 15-year-old Ramya Rangan, who won a bronze, spoke with India Currents soon after her return.

When did you realize you loved math?

Even when I much younger, I enjoyed Kumon and loved to solve math problems. I started competitive math in 6th grade (at Harker School). I participated in Math Counts (a U.S. math competition for middle school students) in 7th and 8th grade and performed well at the state level.

How did you qualify for the Olympiad?

We have to take part in a series of contests to qualify for the U.S. Math Olympiad, where 500 high school students are invited every year. Of those 500, the 50 best are invited to a summer training program. The top 8 girls from those 50 compete in the China  Olympiad.

What is the format for the competition?

It is a “Proof” contest. We are given 8 hours to present proofs for 8 problems and the contest is spread over 2 days. Each problem is worth 15 points. This year the gold medal winner got 80 points and the silver, 60 points. My score of 57 points narrowly missed the silver.

Though we go as a team, we compete individually. At the end, the individual scores are totaled for the team score.

Tell us a little bit about your experience at the Olympiad.

It was pretty exciting for me because I feel I’ve gotten better at math in the last couple of years. Typically, there are very few girls in advanced math classes; the ratio can be insane, like 2 girls to 30 boys. But at  the Olympiad, I had the opportunity to meet many more girls who were also into math. The conversations, the activities, all revolved around math.

I was one of the younger participants (Ramya is now a sophomore), so I am looking forward to going back next year.

More information about the China Girls Math Olympiad can be found athttp://www.msri.org/specials/gmo/2009

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...