Math whiz joins world's elite: his equation - adding awards while dividing time among activities

While Andrew Dittmer continues to add math awards to his collection, he multiplies the quality of his life by dividing his time between several interests without subtracting from his commitment to the gospel.

The 18-year-old priest in the Vienna Ward, Oakton Virginia Stake, has excelled in math at several levels, capping his achievements by capturing a gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad in July in Istanbul, Turkey."At my age, this is certainly the limit," he said after becoming one of only two U.S. students to win international gold. "I moderately enjoyed [the competitionT, but I wouldn't want to do it again. It was a good feeling to come up with the solution."

Part of his experience on the U.S. Olympiad team was testing himself, he said, to see how well he could solve problems under that kind of pressure.

The competition consisted of six problems that had to be solved in nine hours over two days. Each problem, requiring an essay-type answer, was worth up to seven points with 30 points required for a gold medal. Andrew scored 33. He said two contestants - one from China and one from Taiwan - had perfect scores of 42, but the average score was about 10.

Andrew started his drive to the national math team as one of nearly 400,000 students competing in a three-stage competition beginning early in the year. Andrew was among eight students honored for their achievements in the competition during a June 7 awards ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Then he was thrown into a pool of 24 students competing for a spot on the six-member U.S. team that would travel to the International Olympiad. There were four weeks of intensive training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. When the scores from three competitions during training were combined with the qualifying score recorded before the training, Andrew was tied for first place.

Prior to his latest accomplishments, Andrew picked up several other awards and honors. For example, in 1992 he won the Marine Corps scholarship award of $10,000 from among about 800 entries in the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Duke University named him an A.B. Duke Scholar, one of 15 in an entering freshman class of 1,575, giving him a full-tuition scholarship.

At an early age, he got sick of math because it was boring, but his second-grade teacher recognized his aptitude and started giving him sixth-grade work. He credits Vern Williams, a junior high school teacher, with inspiring him to excellence by giving him unlimited opportunities to explore his interest in math.

He is a graduate of Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.

While he has mastered math, he hasn't let math master his life.

He admits that excelling in math doesn't provide "popularity benefits that accrue to someone who is a great high school athlete," but is happy with the achievements and diversity in his life. He enjoys activities such as playing the piano, basketball and weightlifting, and he likes the outdoors.

To round out his life, he loves the gospel. He is a seminary graduate, attending early-morning classes for four years. He is looking forward to enriching his life through serving a mission.

"If you help other people and do the best you can, [a missionT will broaden you in all your capacities," he said. "It makes you a deeper person."

And he has been assured by Duke University that his scholarship will be waiting for him when he returns after two years.

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