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Vocational student makes it to global math contest finals

By CHEN MEILING in Beijingand CANG WEI in Nanjing | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-06-16 23:41

Jiang Ping. [Photo/People's Daily Weibo account]

A 17-year-old student recently amazed millions of people worldwide by ranking 12th in the preliminary round of a global math competition, despite being up against formidable rivals from top universities, her own mentor and even artificial intelligence.

Jiang Ping, who is majoring in fashion design at Lianshui Secondary Vocational School in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, taught herself advanced mathematics for about two years, and then made it to the finals of the 2024 Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition with a high score of 93 out of 120.

She became the first vocational school student to reach the finals and the only girl among the top 30 contestants. Most of the finalists, totaling around 800, are from prestigious institutions such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, MIT and Princeton University. 

Vocational schools like the one Jiang attends usually focus on providing students with practical knowledge and training related to specific professions. 

Jiang's story, which has touched and inspired countless internet users, clearly demonstrates that one's potential does not necessarily depend on one's educational background, and that dreams do come true if one is diligent and persistent.

Jiang's keen understanding of numbers began in junior high school, when she was easily able to solve complex math problems. Most students in China learn advanced math in college.

"I lean toward subjects such as advanced math, as they spark my desire to explore," she said. "I enjoy the step-by-step process of mathematical deductions, and reaching the desired result brings me great joy." 

Jiang said she believes that regardless of which subject she is studying, fashion design or advanced mathematics, interest and effort are both crucial.

The teen, who spends most of her spare time solving math problems, keeps an English dictionary handy, so that language doesn't become a barrier when she's learning from Lawrence C. Evans' book Partial Differential Equations. 

All of Jiang's books are full of notes, as she hopes to attend college someday and further explore her interest in math.

Wang Runqiu, a teacher at the vocational school, recognized Jiang's talent in mathematics and recommended books to her on the subject. He offered her personal guidance and encouraged her to give the Alibaba competition a shot.

Wang, who himself ranked 125th in the preliminary round of the contest, said, "I want to help young people as much as possible, and let them know they can have a different future."

Multiple top universities congratulated Jiang on her success, and some even encouraged her to pursue higher studies at their campus. 

In a post addressed to Jiang on Sina Weibo on Friday, Shanghai-based Donghua University wrote: "Welcome to apply to Donghua University!" Two photos uploaded with the post showed the university's leading position in China in both fashion design and math.

Jiangsu University, based in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, also welcomed Jiang through Weibo. Tongji University in Shanghai said on Weibo: "Every effort will bring its own rewards."

Jiang's story has also received widespread attention on social media. A hashtag item about her, which read "In a life not defined by others, anyone can be a dark horse", garnered more than 16 million views as of Sunday. 

The annual Alibaba math competition, which started in 2018, is open to all math enthusiasts regardless of age and background. Tens of thousands of people from across the globe participate in it every year.

This time, the competition was open to AI, but it failed to enter the finals.

The competition's organizing committee told JSTV.com that questions asked in the preliminary round were equivalent to undergraduate level, while those in the final round would be comparable to doctoral programs. The eight-hour final round is scheduled for Saturday, and all participants will answer online.

This year's competition will select five gold medalists, 10 silver medalists, 20 bronze medalists and 50 excellent award winners. The total prize money is $560,000, according to the competition's website. 

Contact the writers at chenmeiling@chinadaily.com.cn

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