Whiz kid:Freshman applies her passion for math

Amber McKenna

Features editor

For many college students, mathematics is the subject to avoid at all costs. For freshman Julianne Upton, it is the complete opposite.

“For me, math is just beautiful,” Upton said. “The beauty people find in poems and paintings, I find in math.”

Upton said she has had a passion for the subject for as long as she can remember. In school, she was put in talented and gifted programs. In her latter years of high school, Upton was given the opportunity to take math classes in her hometown of Corvallis at Oregon State University.

At OSU, Upton took courses such as Vector Calculus and Differential Equations, and had no problem keeping up with college students.

These early successes compelled her to take the William Lowell Putnam Competition exam this year.

The Putnam exam is a timed test taken by undergraduate math students throughout the United States and Canada. Each competitor is given six problems to solve in two three-hour periods.

Each question is worth 10 points, and the total possible score is 120. Since 1927, when the competition first started, there have only been three perfect scores. Upton participated in one section and received a score of three overall.

“Any kind of non-zero score on the Putnam is good,” Assistant Professor of Mathematics Julia Fredricks said. “To get a three as a freshman is excellent.”

Her exceptional score helped her get into a competitive, one-month program this summer at Carlton College in Minnesota. Along with free room and board and a stipend, Upton will study high-level mathematics with a small group of other undergraduate women. Some concepts she will study include the knot theory and dynamic systems.

Her favorite kind of math is pure math, which is done primarily for challenge and beauty, as opposed to applied math, which is used in engineering and the sciences.

Upton said she would love to do research, teach math and solve equations for the rest of her life.

“The world is so chaotic, but math has lines and structure,” Upton said.

A fondness of structure also drew her to Germany and the language. Upton has been to the country twice, and considers herself moderately proficient in German.

Upton credits her unique skills to her love of learning. The hardest thing on her plate is trying to choose another major to coincide with mathematics. She knows one day she wants to pursue graduate study.

“I know this is what I am doing in my life,” Upton said. “I love math for math, not just because I am good at it.”

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