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Winning Gold in China

To say that Victoria Xia is good at math is an understatement. Victoria, sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, was awarded a gold medal on Aug. 3 at the 2011 China Girls Mathematical Olympiad (CGMO) held in Shenzhen, China, where 188 girls competed.

To people who examine logic problems – and solve them – Victoria’s prowess is enviable. To people who have yet to figure out how long it takes for two trains coming from different directions at different speeds to pass one another, Victoria’s achievement is extraordinary.
The daughter of computer programmers Frances Shi and Bo Xia of Vienna, Victoria has practiced mathematic problem-solving since starting school. For her love of math, she credits her father.

“He’s the one who started me off on it when I was really little,” said Victoria, who has been in Fairfax County’s Gifted and Talented programs since the third grade. “Math, problem solving-wise, stems from logic puzzles. I think they’re what got me interested in math. They’re more interesting than computational math.”

Victoria has always been active in school math programs and owes a lot of her skills to her teachers and coaches. “Being good at it has to start from a love of math because if you’re forced into it, I don’t know how likely you are to last.”

Even super-mathematicians like Victoria go through a period of disinterest. Somewhere in fifth grade, Victoria decided she no longer “liked” math.

“Even though I stopped liking it, I was good at it, so I continued. I think, at that point, I would have stopped if I weren’t good at it.”

THE TEAM'S EIGHT high school students were chosen from the top ranks of the female finalists in the 2011 USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO). The finalists were divided into two teams for the CGMO competition.

Victoria took the first of the qualifying exams last February. She advanced to the next level, taking the second level exam in March. In May, she took the final exam that sent her to the MAA Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program at the University of Nebraska in June. There, Victoria trained with other qualifiers from which the eight-member umbrella team was selected.

The 15-year-old math whiz has hobbies besides problem-solving. She’s on the Thomas Jefferson tennis team, and does what most other teens her age do: play around on the computer. Unlike most other teens, though, Victoria said she is trying to get herself to read programming books. Right now, she believes she might major in computer programming in college.

“The way I see it, I feel that math is a really good foundation. With math, you can stem off into a lot of things. Programming and math are really very tied together in the way you approach logical thinking.”

Victoria’s older sister, Cassandra is a senior at MIT. “She’s the smart one,” said Victoria

THE CGMO, founded in 2002, began as a regional competition for teams of female students from China and other eastern Asian countries and Russia. Later on, invitations were extended to other countries, including the United States, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The U.S. sent its first team in 2007.

The U.S. girls’ team was sponsored by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). MSRI and MAA funded the trip for the participating girls and two coaches. The U.S. team left the country on July 27, getting to Shenzhen a few days prior to the competition to adjust for jet lag. The teams were welcomed on July 30, and opening ceremonies took place on July 31. The girls tested for four hours a day for two days. The Olympiad closed on Aug. 3.

That period of not liking math is long over, Victoria said. “I’m just glad to say I really like math now.”

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