As a rising senior, 2017 Jesuit graduate Ashwin Sah (second from left) helped team USA to a gold-medal finish at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong. (Courtesy Ashwin Sah)
As a rising senior, 2017 Jesuit graduate Ashwin Sah (second from left) helped team USA to a gold-medal finish at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong. (Courtesy Ashwin Sah)

Each November, Jesuit High School in Southwest Portland welcomes dozens of middle schoolers from the Portland area to compete in the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) for eighth grade and under.

The challenging 25-question examination is taken by nearly 140,000 middle schoolers across the country annually and is the first step in a series of competitions leading to the USA Mathematical Olympiad, the nation’s premier problem-solving competition for high school students.

“STEM majors often report that their enjoyment of math began with math competitions,” says John Gorman, Jesuit mathematics teacher and AMC proctor. “This exam is the first step in joining a mathematical community of collaboration and meaningful friendships.”

The AMC is designed to be rigorous and feature “out of the box” problems. Gorman believes the challenging nature of the competition can spark a desire in students to learn more.

“At Jesuit, we try to teach students to embrace failure, be patient and be persistent. We are trying to ignite curiosity and a growth mindset for life.”

Jesuit began offering a series of AMC selection exams a decade ago. Since then, mathematics at the school has flourished.

In 2010, the school invested in the future of STEM education through the construction of the Elorriaga Center for Science and Mathematics, a LEED green-certified building containing biology and chemistry labs, robotics and math classrooms.

“We are fortunate to offer advanced-topic, full college-credit courses beyond Calculus BC,” says Paul Hogan, Jesuit’s principal. “What makes our math department unique at the high school level is the caliber of our faculty.”

In addition to a robust summer math program open to the public, Jesuit offers college-level courses taught on campus, including linear algebra, discrete math, number theory and multivariable calculus. These classes earn Jesuit students dual credit from Portland State University.

“No matter what classes students take at Jesuit, we want to inspire a genuine passion for learning,” says Gorman. “Our mission is to foster lifelong openness to growth and intellectual pursuit.”