West student takes on international math competition

Michael Han ’20 is one of 12 students selected from three different countries to compete in the 2019 “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Championship?” which features the top math students from the US, Canada and the UK.


Aditi Borde

Michael Han ’20 is selected to represent West and compete in the “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Championship?”. The competition is set to take place in Maryland on January 19.

Michael Han ’20 will represent West and compete for $10,000 in Baltimore, Maryland. The event will be livestreamed this Saturday at noon.

To qualify for the championship, Michael had to take a 10-question online qualifying test that included questions on algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and probability. A score of 9/10 on the test makes you a candidate and number 10, the tiebreaker question, determines who qualifies from each region of the countries.

He’s such a humble person—sometimes a bit too humble. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him brag about anything; he puts in the work and lets the results speak for themselves.”

— Elizabeth Han ‘16

“While taking the test itself, I felt like it was just another competition,” Michael said. “Only after being informed that I qualified did I realize how prestigious that I was one of just [12] people nationwide to do this.”

On the exam itself, the last question (#10) is the only one that makes you approximate the answer, since it serves as a tiebreaker.

“My initial reaction when I found out I qualified was, “Woah!”, Michael said. “My answer for the estimating problem that was off by a factor of 20,000 actually won!”

$5,000 will be awarded to the winner with an additional $5,000 for the math department of the winner’s school. According to Michael, if he wins, he will donate most of the money to his favorite charity: Unite to End Genocide.

“I did a lot of research on the situation in Darfur, Sudan a couple years back,” Michael said. “I want give to an organization that helps prevent atrocities since it’s never okay to hate someone because of whom they were born as.”

Inspired by his sister Elizabeth Han ‘16, Michael started math competitions in sixth grade. They competed together for three years. The pair would compare solutions after each round in competitions and work through difficult problems together.

“He’s such a humble person—sometimes a bit too humble,” said Elizabeth. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him brag about anything; he puts in the work and lets the results speak for themselves.”

The first competition Michael took part in was called the American Math Competition (AMC) 8 in the fall of  2013 where he competed against high schoolers.

I love competing because of the tricky nature of the problems,” Michael said. “When you think hard about one problem one way, then realize that the solution was completely different, you feel that you’re more ready for the next problem that is going to test your problem-solving intuition.”

This accomplishment, however, is only one of many for Michael. He recently completed Linear Algebra Honors at the University of Iowa and has been the Mathcounts Iowa individual state champion twice.

Michael typically prepares for competitions with workbooks from a company called “The Art of Problem Solving,” and help from his teammates and coaches.

Math teacher and Mu Alpha Theta coach James Kirpes first encountered Han at a competition in sixth grade. Since then, he’s seen Han grow both in and out of the classroom.

“Mathematically he’s maintained a high level of excellence, and personally he has blossomed into a self confident leader,” Kirpes said. “Simply stated, Michael, knows much more mathematics that I do.”

In the future, Michael hopes to put his math skills to good use.

“Some people treat math as a single subject, but I’ve seen the beautiful results of many kinds of math, from algebra to number theory. I’ve decided that this is what I want to pursue in the future,” Michael said, “My dream job is to be a math professor at some university.”