LaGuardia Community College Students Take Second Place in a National Mathematics Competition

Long Island City, NY—A team of 17 LaGuardia Community College students competing in a national mathematics contest for two-year colleges, earned the College second place in the northeast region.

In the first round of the Student Mathematics League (SML) contest, which attracted 191 students from northeast institutions, Ben Huang, a computer science major, and Yifei Shen, an accounting major, placed second and sixth, respectively.  LaGuardia’s other top winners were Yadav Shrestha, a programming and systems major; Zhenjin Wang, a computer science major; and Seung Hwan Oh, a liberal arts/math and science major.

The final round will be held in February, and according to Professor Yelena Baishanski, the College expects to be well represented.  “Several students who were unable to participate in October are looking forward to the second round, while the early competitors are eager for the chance to surpass themselves” she said, adding that the student with the highest score nationally from the two tests will receive a $3,000 scholarship that will go toward his or her studies at a four-year college.

“At LaGuardia, the Mathematics Department exposes our students to the wonders of mathematics and challenges them to tackle advanced work,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College.  “The students’ performance in this highly competitive contest is the result of their hard work and the commitment of our faculty who dare them to take on those challenges.”

One of the ways the department promotes mathematics is through the establishment of a Student Math Society, which conducts monthly contests with fun problems.  Monthly winners are awarded $50.

“We also plan to offer more opportunities for student research projects and presentations, to help more students pursue studies and obtain scholarships in Mathematics,” said Professor Shenglan Yuan, faculty leader of the Student Math Society. “Our aim is to generate a community of math enthusiasts at LaGuardia.”

According to professor Reem Jaafar, while the SML competition problems do not require mathematical knowledge beyond the level of pre-calculus, they do require thoughtful analysis. 

“I found the last few problems got a little tricky,” said Yifei, who is hoping to become a college math tutor. 

Although Ben came in second in the competition, he said he was a bit disappointed with his standing.  Because of the one-hour time limit, he said he had to rush through some of the 20 problems and made some careless mistakes.

For Ben, this is the latest mathematics contest where he landed on top.  Last May, he was the third-place winner in a math competition for City of University of New York (CUNY) students.  Among the 120 entrants, he was the only community college student among the prizewinners.  

Both contenders said they are looking forward to the next round.  “We will try our best,” said Ben.

The Student Mathematics League contest was organized by the American Student Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges, which is the only organization exclusively devoted to providing a national forum for the improvement of mathematics instruction in the first two years of college.  AMATYC has approximately 2,500 individual members and more than 100 institutional members in the United States and Canada.

SML, which was founded in 1970 by Nassau Community College, has grown to include 120 colleges in more than 20 states.  Currently, over 3,000 community college students participate in the event nationwide.

Other CUNY colleges that participated in the national competition were Queensborough Community College, which came in eighth place, and Borough of Manhattan Community College, which came in thirteenth place.

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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit to learn more.