While only in its first year of operation, the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS) showed it could compete handily with public and private school powerhouses from around the world by outscoring several of them at the recent Harvard/MIT Mathematics Competition (HMMT). This prestigious event draws the top students and teams from the best schools here and abroad-including China, India, South Korea, and Russia. With its novel and difficult questions, as well as its intense competition, HMMT has become one of the most influential mathematics competitions in the world. This year, more than 100 teams comprised of almost 800 students competed. The field was comprised of some of the most elite private schools and public high schools that regularly make the top 100 lists of "best American schools," as well as leading international schools.
PRISMS coach, Joseph Li, was initially worried about how his thirteen ninth and tenth grade "mathletes" would perform against older and more experienced competition, but the students urged him to participate in the top A bracket. The highlight of the day was the GUTS round tournament, which required the teams to compete against one another and the clock in answering increasingly difficult advanced, complex set of questions. The GUTS round is the most popular aspect of the weekend. All teams in the tournament are concentrated in two auditoriums, each with four questions, in ascending order of difficulty. As they answer questions, scores are posted so teams can see how they stand minute by minute. In addition to answering the questions, teams have to decide on the spot whether to work on problems at lower levels that they may be able to solve or risk it all by answering harder and harder questions at advanced levels. Being new to the competition, PRISMS put it all on the line and kept opting for the challenging questions, and passed one school after another until the final bell. When the results were announced the PRISMS tenth-grade team won sixth place, surprising far more experienced schools and winning their admiration with a top-ten finish after just a few months of the school’s ribbon cutting!
The PRISMS Falcons celebrated as if they had just won Olympic Gold and more stablished schools were very gracious in congratulating them. Team members Tingwei "Mark" Liu, Lingyun "Richard" Xiao, Yiming "Andy" Zhang, Douglas, "Yikang" Li, Ziqi "Joe" Zhou, Jifan "William" Zhang, Arthur Migdal, Ross Brown, Zhaohui "Max" Xiong, Zhao "Chao" Liu, Bairui "Harry" Liu, Hongze "Eric" Yu, and Yuanyi "Hill" Yin are eager to return and seek a top five finish next year. Notes Coach Joseph Li, "I was so proud of the students in this high-pressure, intensely competitive atmosphere. A key to their success was working as a team while still pushing each other. They worked hard and learned a great deal from the other top students and teams here and understand where their gaps are. I loved having them experience the fun and charm of mathematics. The PRISMS Falcons showed great spirit and are already excited about lining up future competitions." In presenting the sixth place award to an enthusiastic audience back in Princeton, Head of School, Dr. McGee shared, "We are so grateful to Coach Joseph Li, who is a model of dedication and drive, love and respect, and intellect and exuberance. He will never take the credit he deserves, but for our school to finish in the top ten in our first year, we needed more that terrific students and teachers, we needed Mr. Li. He is so talented yet so humble, and he is a great role model and inspiration for all of us. Thank you Mr. Joseph Li."