BYU math department video brings academics to the spotlight


As March Madness begins to spread around campus, it seems college towns everywhere are getting caught up in school spirit. At BYU, this is no longer limited to pride about the basketball team; students are also riled up about an unlikely subject: the Mathematics Department.

BYU recently unveiled a rap music video highlighting the success of the math department’s very own athletes (better known as mathletes), that brings academia into the spotlight.

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The Mathletes sign autographs at the annual Pi Day celebration in Brigham Square on Wednesday.
The video depicts three of the department’s star mathletes — Sam Dittmer, Hiram Golze and Robert Yang — as they take center court and participate in a mock math competition. The video is a satire of the BYU basketball hysteria and shows scenes of cheering fans mobbing the students for autographs and applauding them as they take down the competition.

Lonette Stoddard, who works in the math department, describes how it was a pleasant surprise for the campus to focus on academics, something that is often overlooked.

“It’s always nice, especially when it’s positive evidence that our students are achieving,” Stoddard said. “We may not bring in the money that the sports activities do, but in many ways it’s longer lasting and more of a career. A lot of our majors go on to careers in mathematics, whereas I don’t know how many athletes go on to careers in their particular sports fields.”

Although the video includes lines like, “Don’t try to keep up once the math race gets going/ When you’re halfway done, they’ll be already Tebowing,” the math department takes these math competitions seriously. During the fall the team took part in two major competitions, winning the Intermountain Mathematics Competition against five other schools by scoring 159 points to 71 for their closest opponent, then placing third nationally in a field of 99 teams, including Duke, Yale and Vanderbilt.

Golze, from the Salt Lake City area, is no stranger to math competitions. He has been competing in this arena since middle school and was ranked Utah’s top math student of 2009. He admits the competitions aren’t quite as glamorous as the video makes it out to be.

“They’re extremely long, they don’t emphasize speed as the main focus of your competition,” Golze said. “It’s more about the endurance and being able to work your way through a problem.”

The competitions the mathletes took part in consist of three hours of tests in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Stamina is needed for the students to get through the entire block.

Dittmer, from Zionsville, Ind., is known nationally for his math skills. He was given the title “Mr. Math” by the Indiana governor and was accepted into MIT and Stanford, which is depicted at the end of the video.

Although Dittmer recently returned from a mission to Albania, he has been able to easily jump back into the math realm. To practice their skills, the students involved with these competitions meet twice a week in a pass/fail class to go over questions.

“The reason why these contests are hard is because the questions are different every time,” Dittmer said. “To make these problems difficult, they constantly make new questions that you have to use a new method on. Once you do a lot of them you start seeing patterns where similar methods will work.”

The BYU Mathletes’ rap music video can be found on the BYU homepage.

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