On March 5, Rowland Hall eighth grader Sophie Zheng learned that she had earned an inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award for her January 30 performance on the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) 10 exam, an optional test designed to promote the development and enhancement of problem-solving skills for students in tenth grade and below.
The inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award was awarded to only 149 young women out of 36,000 AMC 10 competitors across the United States.
Named after the late Maryam Mirzakhani—an International Mathematical Olympiad gold medalist and the first woman honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics—this prize was given to only 149 young women out of 36,000 AMC 10 competitors across the United States. Sophie was one of six top-scoring female students in the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Intermountain Section, which covers Utah and part of Idaho.
Earning the Mirzakhani award feels extra special to Sophie, who grew up around the campus of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, when Mirzakhani was a faculty member at neighboring Princeton University.
“Winning the award makes me feel like I’ve truly met her now,” said Sophie.
In addition to earning her the Mirzakhani award, Sophie’s score on this year’s AMC 10 also qualified her for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), the next level of AMC competition. Sophie was one of four Rowland Hall students, and the youngest, who took the AIME this year. Upper School math teacher Adella Croft, who proctors AMC exams at the school, wasn’t surprised to learn of Sophie’s accomplishments. She believes that anyone who watches her work can see her passion.
“One of the things that I think characterizes Sophie is just the sheer joy she takes in doing mathematics,” Adella said. “She has so much fun with it; she makes it look effortless.”
I enjoy the exhilarating moment when an equation starts fitting together into a sudden revelation.—Sophie Zheng
This may, in part, be tied to how mathematics knits together Sophie’s love for both the creative and the analytical.
“I have always seen myself as an artist, taking on piano, drawing, and origami, but now math is a new aspect incorporated into my life,” she explained. “I enjoy the exhilarating moment when an equation starts fitting together into a sudden revelation. I find math hidden in nature’s beauty: recursion in the trees, the curve of bird wings. These intricate mathematical patterns can also bring a whole new inspiration and style when creating art and origami.”
Her passion for mathematics at such a young age both underscores Sophie’s promise in the field and serves as an inspirational example of girls’ strength in STEM. The MAA hopes that publicizing such examples will encourage more girls to get involved with opportunities like competitive exams. Here at Rowland Hall, Sophie is already doing her part to encourage others in math—she’s a charismatic leader who happily mentors peers in class and at Math Club meetings, Adella said. Sophie added that this support works both ways: Rowland Hall offers a welcome and hardworking family that has supported her journey—one that she hopes will echo Maryam Mirzakhani’s.
“I hope in the future to not only be recognized among females, but in the whole community of competition math, as she was,” Sophie said.
We can’t wait to see what else you achieve, Sophie. Congratulations on this exciting and impressive accomplishment!