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Nicholas Pasetto, 11, left, won the calculus 1 category and 12-year-old Gavin Glenn, right, took third place in the precalculus category at the inaugural HWY 78 Math Fields Day event on March 7 at Palomar College. Photo by Kirk Mattu
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11-year-old college student wins local math competition

SAN MARCOS — An 11-year-old college student took home top honors in the region’s newest math competition for college students hosted at Palomar College on March 7.

Nicholas Pasetto, a student at both Elite Academic Academy and Palomar College, won the inaugural  HWY 78 Math Fields Day calculus I category. The contest awarded nine of the more than 80 undergraduate participants with the highest scores in the competition’s written exams between two categories—calculus I, and precalculus and below.

Pasetto’s win highlights what the competition’s organizer Luis Guerrero, assistant professor at Palomar College, hopes participants will take away from the event.

“They might say that this is only for a certain class of people or students, and it’s not that,” Guerrero said. “It’s not gender-based, age-based, race-based. Your capability and potential for math are wide open, as long as you nurture the talent you might have.”

The math competition was funded through a $3,000 grant by the North County Higher Education Alliance. The alliance unifies the region’s three higher education institutions—MiraCosta College, Palomar College and the University of California, San Marcos—and pools together resources to amplify their collective projects.

The grant from NCHEA allowed Guerrero and his collaborating organizers to market the event to students with incentives of a free event t-shirt and catered lunch, in addition to funding the competition.

The math competition also featured talks regarding the applications of mathematics from college professors Shahed Sharif, of CSUSM, and Zika Perovic, of MiraCosta. Participants also viewed a film called “Fractal Explorations,” a cinematic display of complex patterns comprised of simple algebraic equations, in Palomar College’s Planetarium.

Kacie McBarron, a 24-year-old senior at CSUSM, placed second in the precalculus category and thought the fractal movie was “very cool.” McBarron said she was surprised by her placement in the competition, but the event had her excited about a career in mathematics.

“I want to be a high school math teacher, so it’s definitely going to inspire me to try to get high school students to come to this in the near future or influence more fun math stuff,” McBarron said.

While the competition was geared towards undergraduate students in North County, Guerrero said that high school students were also invited to attend the event as an opportunity to network and see the available avenues to higher education. Guerrero aligned the competition with the Greater San Diego Mathematics Council, attending its annual conference in February to market the event to K-12 educators.

The competition marketing garnered 14 high school participants ranging from attendance at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos to Great Oak High School in Temecula.

The two categories for the test, calculus I and precalculus and below, were selected to garner a higher pool of participants rather than focusing on higher intensive math courses and the “cream of the cream of people who’ve taken Calc I and above,” Guerrero said.

Twelve-year-old Gavin Glenn, who attends Davidson Academy, placed third in the competition’s precalculus category and was surprised by his placement in a competition full of college students.

“I like math a lot, I don’t want to brag but it comes easy,” Glenn said. “It wasn’t a national competition, it was a local competition and I thought that was a really cool aspect to it because all the other math competitions are national and you’re not going to get top five or top 1%, that’s really hard to do.”

Shannon Glenn, Gavin’s mother, was not overly surprised by his placement in the competition, based on his past experiences, and that these types of competitions are exciting for students to see math beyond the classroom.

“Math can be fun and that’s what I think learning needs to be,” she said.

Outside of networking, Guerrero said the ultimate goal of the math competition is to make math less intimidating and create an exciting event for students to experience math in a healthy way through the competition.

“Not everyone is going to get the top prize but at least they can experience math in a non-classroom, graded, stressful situation. It’s just math for fun’s sake.”