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Intellect

BYU mathletes no longer a Cinderella story

What if star students got the same treatment as star athletes?

A few of them did, late one night after basketball practice at the Marriott Center, during a video shoot aimed to get them some well-deserved attention as they take their program to the next level.

Sam Dittmer, Hiram Golze and Robert Yang have once again put BYU in the Big Dance of mathematics this year. After crushing the University of Utah 159 – 70 in the fall, the three undergraduates notched wins against Duke, Yale and Vanderbilt in a national competition where they placed 3rd in a field of 99 teams.

“They’re just doin’ work,” said BYU math department chair Tyler Jarvis, the owner of a Ph.D. from Princeton.

The BYU squad has their own March Madness with the highly-anticipated results of the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition – a six-hour-long contest between more than 400 universities.

During Dittmer’s phenomenal freshman season, he powered BYU to a Top 25 finish on the Putnam exam. But Sam’s subsequent call to serve a church mission in Albania for two years left the team with big equations to fill. With Dittmer still overseas last season, Golze, Yang and the now-graduated Michael Griffin reached the Sweet 16, the deepest run of any BYU team since 1979.

"Some people were worried we wouldn't do well because Sam Dittmer was on a mission,” Jarvis said. “The rest of the team stepped up and worked hard to make it happen. The BYU Math program was always good, but now we are really moving up to the next level, with smart students and excellent faculty coaches."

And now their superstar is back and appears to have very little “mission rust” after setting aside mathematics for two years for a greater cause.

“I’d forgotten some of the terms, but when you learn something deeply enough, it comes back pretty quick,” Sam said. “It’s kind of like riding a bike – it comes from deep down.”

That mindset made Sam the nation’s high school math champion before the state of Indiana considered him old enough to drive. Governor Mitch Daniels honored Sam with a surprise visit to school where he named Sam the state’s first “Mr. Math,” borrowing from the Hoosier state’s tradition of naming a “Mr. Basketball.”

These feats translated into offers to take his skills to MIT and Stanford, but Sam ultimately chose to be a BYU Cougar where he could get on the field immediately with undergraduate research opportunities. Sam’s dream to get a Ph.D. someday was also a factor in the decision. In the last five years, BYU is ranked 5th in the country as a Ph.D. launch pad.

To keep the recruiting pipeline going, BYU welcomes tips from fans around the country about their local high school math whiz. Send details and game film to the Department of Mathematics.

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