Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Andrew Ardito: Soul of the Albany Area Math Circle

Andrew Ardito, our math circle's captain for the past three years, has racked up an extraordinary string of accomplishments during his time with our math circle. His infectious passion for problem solving challenges has inspired many others in our math circle community, both younger and older, and we will all miss him enormously as he heads off to college this fall.

Andrew is a homeschooled student from Coxsackie whose accomplishments go well beyond mathematics. By the end of his junior year of high school, he had already reached National AP Scholar status by getting high scores on nine AP exams, and he took five additional AP exams in his senior year. Those 14 AP exams covered a wide variety of disciplines including literature, art history, US and world history, economics and government, as well as mathematics and all the natural sciences. He also managed to find time to study four years of Russian during high school. He went into special depth in mathematics and physics, taking several advanced physics classes at SUNY Albany as well as even more advanced math classes at SUNY Albany and RPI, including number theory, topology, analysis, and a graduate class in combinatorics. His many honors also include a National Merit Scholarship and a Robert C. Byrd Scholarship. In addition, Andrew has won numerous awards for chess, as well as coaching a chess club for younger students.

Andrew started out as one of the youngest members of our first middle school math circle, back in 2003. He eagerly moved on to greater and greater challenges, taking over as captain of our high school math circle in his sophomore year of high school. He also student-coached MATHCOUNTS teams throughout his high school years. In his junior year, he helped spur a reinvorigation of our middle school math circles, and he leaves a remarkable legacy of inspiring leadership behind, as he has worked with so many students who have already demonstrated great promise as mentors themselves.

He is an outstanding example of the guiding principle of our math circle: the best way to learn is to share what you think you already know with someone else, because explaining it to them deepens your own understanding.

Andrew has accumulated an extraordinary number of accomplishments during his time as a member of our math circle, both in mathematics and in other areas.

A partial list of his many honors in mathematics include:

☞ National MATHCOUNTS contestant all three years as a member of the New York State team in middle school. As a 7th and 8th grader, he won the New York State championship and made the National Countdown Round in both years, placing sixth on writtens in 2005 and and 2nd place in the country at MATHCOUNTS Nationals Countdown in 2006. He also provided team leadership to two Chapter-winning teams, one of which came in 3rd place in the state.

☞ As a high school student, Andrew coached many successful MATHCOUNTS teams, including several teams that won Chapter championships and one team that won a state championship. He also coached many students who won high individual honors at Chapter and State MATHCOUNTS contests, including quite a number of Chapter and State CountDown participants and National MATHCOUNTS contestants. His mentorship and enthusiastic example has also inspired many younger students to embrace some exciting and challenging high school contests while still in middle school, including AMC10/12, HMMT, and NYSML/ARML.

The photo above shows Gili Rusak, a 7th grader at Shaker Junior High, and Aniket Tolpadi, an 8th grader at Iroquois Middle School, working with Andrew in a middle school math circle meeting. Both Gili and Aniket qualified for the American Invitational Math Exam (AIME) this year. Gili was the only 7th grader in the state to qualify for this exam, while Aniket was one of only four 8th graders in the state to do so.

☞ Andrew has earned many outstanding honors in high school math contests: he began taking the AMC high school contests in sixth grade and has won many honors in that series: he qualified for the AIME seven times, for the USA Math Olympiad five times. In 2007, he qualified for the Math Olympiad Summer Program; in 2008, he was the top scorer in the state on the AMC12B, and he also won an AMC12 gold medal for his consecutive four years as math circle's high scorer on the 12A and/or 12B.

Andrew has consistently been among Albany Area Math Circle's top three scorers on the AMC12 in every year since he began taking that exam in seventh grade, helping the math circle teams score among the top teams in the state each year. In February 2010, in his final attempt at the AMC12, he contributed to a record best-ever team performance by any Albany Area Math Circle on any AMC math contest--the Albany Area Math Circle AMC12B team of Dave Bieber, Andrew Ardito, and Schuyler Smith placed first in New York State. Indeed their team's performance on that remarkably challenging 2010 AMC12B contest was among the top five team scores in the country. Two younger students whom Andrew has coached in the past both earned top individual honors on honor roll for AMC12A/B: Schuyler Smith tied for high-scorer in the NY-NJ region on that contest, and Matthew Babbitt earned honors as the region's top-scoring student in ninth grade or below.

The first time Andrew qualified for the USA Math Olympiad, he had to take the 9-hour contest by himself, because he was the only qualifier in our area that year. However, he has generously shared his olympiad problem-solving skills with other students, and this has resulted in the camaraderie of a growing number of math olympians in our math circle taking the contest together in every year since then. This year's qualification process was exceptionally rigorous and yet our math circle had a record-tying five students taking the USA Math Olympiad, as Andrew was joined by Felix Sun (Shenendahoah HS junior), Matthew Babbitt (homeschool freshman), Schuyler Smith (homeschool junior), and Dave Bieber (Niskayuna HS senior).

There is an ancient metaphor invoked by many philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists that seems especially apt here: "standing on the shoulders of giants."

Andrew once stood on the shoulders of earlier members of Albany Area Math Circle, and he gives special credit to founding member and "soul of the Albany Area Math Circle" award-winner Drew Besse for inspiring and mentoring him.

In turn, Andrew's shoulders have surely provided strong support to launch many other students in our math circle, who in turn launch other students, and so on and on. Although Andrew and Dave will be heading off to college in the fall, our other olympiad veterans, who also include Ashley Cho (a rising senior at Emma Willard) and Jay White (a rising homeschool senior), as well as Felix, Matthew, and Schuyler, will surely continue to provide strong mentorship shoulders to future aspiring olympians in our math circle. Andrew has also helped to encourage and inspire a growing number of participants in the USA Physics Olympiad contests: our math circle had a record four students reach the top level of that contest series this year, with Dave, Schuyler, and Gurtej Kanwar (a Bethlehem HS junior) all joining Andrew in taking the USAPHO.

☞ Andrew has consistently risen to the occasion with outstanding and enthusiastic contributions to countless collaborative math team rounds in a variety of venues. He began participating on our teams for NYSML and the Harvard-MIT Math Tournament in middle school. PUMaC, the Princeton University Math Contest, did not start until he was a freshman, but he participated in that contest, studded with a stellar field of many of the strongest math olympians in the country, throughout his four years of high school, accruing multiple top 10 honors as a sophomore, junior, and senior years, including 2nd place rankings in combinatorics (2009) and number theory (2007). His record at ARML is also especially noteworthy: in 2007 and 2010, he made the national tiebreak rounds and received Individual High Scorer of the Meet awards, while in 2008 and 2009, he earned honors as high scorer on the Upstate NY team.

As Team Captain, his leadership contributions to team rounds at NYSML, HMMT, PUMaC, and ARML have been exceptionally impressive. Competing against extraordinarily strong teams from all over the state, the country, or even the world, he has led our math circle teams to many great rankings. Special highlights for teams he has led as captain include 3rd place rank at NYSML 2009--and "Most Improved" team award, 2nd place rank at NYSML 2010, 1st place rank for NYSML local in 2009-2010, a top 10 rank at HMMT 2010, and 3rd place Power Round at PUMaC in January 2009.

The crowning accomplishment for Albany Area Math Circle during Andrew's time as captain came in the national/international ARML Power Contest in 2009-2010. That contest is a collaborative round in which all members of the math circle were able to work together, and it's key for the captain to find ways to make the most effective use of the collective talents of rookies as well as veterans. There are two rounds to that contest each year, one in November and one in February. There is extremely challenging competition from math circles and magnet school programs all over the country and the world. The top 10 teams are honored with plaques at ARML each June. Our math circle had done well in the past, but we had never made that top 10 list before. Andrew clearly had been thinking hard about how to draw on his years of experience and knowledge of other students' strengths to do well this year. In November, the team was thrilled to take eighth place on the honors list, and in February, they were even more ecstatic to learn they'd placed second on the February round, resulting in a fourth place rank overall for the year. The photo below shows happy representatives of the Upstate NY Math team from the Albany Area Math Circle accepting the plaque at the Penn State ARML awards ceremony on behalf of all members of the Albany Area Math Circle.

As I write these words in August 2010, Andrew is at PROMYS, a summer program designed for students with extreme talent and passion for mathematics. Andrew won the ARML Scholarship to attend PROMYS in 2008 as a student, and returned as an advanced student the following year. This summer, he is a member of the instructional staff at PROMYS, working as a counselor.

Next month, Andrew will go off to Princeton, where he plans to study math. Dave Bieber will be heading to Princeton as well, with plans to study computer science. (For more about Dave, see this post.) Dave and Andrew have been the heart and soul of Albany Area Math Circle since Beth Schaffer and Drew Besse graduated in 2007.

Our math circle will miss them both, but we hope they'll come back to visit during school breaks, as Beth and Drew and many of our alumni do. And our math circle students will look forward to seeing them when the team travels to Princeton for PUMaC in November.

And, if Dave and Andrew miss our math circle, Princeton now has one too. Our loss is their gain. Well, no, not really--it is not a zero-sum game, but rather a positive-sum game. Our intersecting circles enrich us all.

And, of course, both Andrew and Dave have left our math circle with a remarkable legacy--their friendly encouraging spirits and their passionate enthusiasm for challenge and their generous willingness to share their prodigious talents and their remarkable ability to help others work well together will remain behind in the hearts and souls of all the enthusiastic younger students with whom they have worked.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pythagorean Auctions notes

Notes from my Pythagorean Auctions session at the New York Middle School Math Teacher Workshop at Bard College are available here. I will annotate them more fully later this summer.