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Newton North junior wins medal in math competition in China

Newton, MA — Christina Chen is always looking for an answer.

The Newton North rising junior didn’t take a break from the search this summer, as she prepared to represent Massachusetts in the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad in China.

After four weeks of training and several days of competition, Chen last month took home a bronze medal.

“It was a really fun, very nice experience,” the 16-year-old said.

Having a keen interest in math, Chen joined the Math Club during her freshman year at Newton North High School.

Liking it so much, she decided to take some major tests, explained team coach Elisse Ghitelman.

“There are different math competitions held around the country, and to even get to the place where you’re even considered, you have to come through three levels of competition. There’s a big competition in the fall that thousands of kids do, and if you do well enough you qualify for the next level,” Ghitelman said, explaining the tests are long and complicated.

“Christina qualified out of that to go to a camp with 56 students from around the country to sort of become better and possibly represent the U.S. for the international math Olympiad,” she said.

In June, Chen went off to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln to spend four weeks perfecting her math skills.

By the end of the session, Chen found out she had been selected for the Olympiad.

“That was very exciting. I had heard of the competition before, but I never thought I’d get to go to the competition,” Chen said.

At the end of July, she and seven other American girls from around the country set off for the Shenzhen competition.

The girls spent a week in China, sightseeing, socializing and competing.

It was a real learning experience for Chen.

“It was my first time and I didn’t know what to expect. I practiced problems, but the real thing is difficult. I was kind of nervous, but now that it’s over it doesn’t seem so scary anymore,” she said.

Chen said the girls spent four hours a day working on four problems – mostly proofs. She said it was hard work.

Despite difficulty, the entire U.S. team took home medals and a memorable experience.

“It was my first time participating in something of this level, and it’s always good to participate in a big thing like this and observe people so you can set some goals for yourself,” she said.

Ghitleman said Chen is a gifted student.

“She’s just very good, very thoughtful and she sees all of the different things you need to see and pulls it together,” she said. “Often with math problems, you look and you’re not sure and you can try 20 different things. She figures out how to do it. She knows a lot and can think very clearly.”

For Chen, who also likes to write and draw, math is about tracking down a solution.

“It requires you to think a lot, and once you get the answer, most of the time it’s really simple and easy to explain,” she said. “It’s elegant. And the path to that elegant answer can be complicated, interesting and require a lot of thought.”

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