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Math: The Universal Language, Mathematicians in the Oval Office

Reminding everyone of his reverence and commitment to the math and sciences, President Obama filled the Oval Office with brilliant and powerful minds last Monday when he and Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, met with both the astronauts from Apollo 11 and the 2009 Raytheon MathCounts National Champions.
Calling them "genuine American heroes," the President warmly welcomed Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the three crew members of Apollo 11. Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the moon and this meeting commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1969 landing.
President Obama told the crew: "I think on this 40th anniversary, we are, all of us, thankful and grateful to all of you for what you have done and we expect that there is, as we speak, another generation of kids out there who are looking up at the sky and are going to be the next Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin."
President Obama’s remarks are true, and to this point - the MathCounts National Champions were eagerly waiting next door in the West Wing Lobby for their meeting with the President. The National MathCounts Competition is a nationwide middle school math competition. National Champion Bobby Shen along with the first and second place teams were there.
As the astronauts left the Oval Office they crossed paths with the MathCounts Champions in the West Wing Lobby.  Star-struck by the astronauts, the students eagerly introduced themselves and took photos.
(Brother and Sister, Maximilian and Stella Schindler with Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins in the West Wing Lobby. July 20, 2009)
Once in the Oval Office, the MathCounts Champions introduced themselves to the President and presented him with an official MathCounts Handbook signed by both teams. President Obama reminded the students how important their hard work is for themselves and for the good of the nation.
Genuinely interested in the students’ work the President asked what Bobby’s winning problem was, if he used paper and pencil, and how long he had to answer. The problem was: how many 2 x 2 x 2 cubes would have to be added to an 8 x 8 x 8 cube in order to make it a 10 x 10 x 10 cube?" Bobby had 45 seconds to answer it, but he used less than half of that, and he used paper and pencil. The President was impressed. (For curious minds: the correct answer is 61 cubes.)
The MathCounts Champions left the West Wing giddy. While the students didn’t receive a specific assignment, I could tell that after meeting President Obama, Dr. Holdren, and the Apollo 11 crew, they know that they have the support and freedom to do anything.
(Left to Right: Pamela Wickham, Victor Wang, Paul Turney, Steven Chen, Lou DiGioia, Max Schindler, Bobby Shen, President Barack Obama, Yury Aglyamov, Lilly Shen, Jeff Boyd, Stella Schindler, Runpeng Liu, Kimberly Gavaletz. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
My college roommate always told me: Math is the Universal Language – that’s why you should major in it. While I did not become a math major, this meeting reminded me how true this point is. Math allows us to cross boarders and atmospheres without translation. This is critical to the future success of our country and us as a people, thankfully we have a President who understands and supports that. Keep up the good work MathCounts and all of the other young and aspiring mathematicians out there!
First Place Team from Texas:
Coach, Jeff Boyd, First colony Middle School; Yury Aglyamov, 8th Grade, Kealing Middle School (Hobbies: Reading, Carving, Magic, Russian Theater); Steven Chen, 7th Grade, Canyon Vista Middle School (Hobbies: Chess, Swimming, Violin); Bobby Shen, 8th Grade, Individual National Champion, First Colony Middle School (Hobbies: Computer Games, Climbing Stairs) Lilly Shen, 8th Grade, First Colony Middle School (Hobbies: Designing the Impossible)
Second Place Team from Missouri:
Coach, Paul Turney, Ladue Middle School; Runpeng Liu, 8th Grade, Ladue Middle School (Hobbies: Math, tennis, Computers); Mazimilian Schindler, 8th Grade, Ladue Middle School (Hobbies: Computer Games, Math, Tennis, Viola); Stella Schindler, 7th Grade (Hobbies: Lacrosse, Poker, Math, Viola); Victor Wang, 8th Grade (Hobbies: Piano, Violin, Math, Tennis)
Maude Baggetto is a Staff Assistant in the White House Office of Public Engagement