Since he was a freshman, Petch Chueluecha, ‘21, has attended the Putnam Mathematics Competition. This year, he ranked 51st out of 4,299 students. (Courtesy of Petch Chueluecha)

1 in 6,953: Petch Chueluecha pursues passion for mathematics


After winning a math competition at just five years old, Thailand native Petch Chueluecha, ‘21, and his parents realized he had a special talent. 

His parents began to help him develop his skills even further by buying him a number of textbooks. Chueluecha said that he would practice math every day and that his parents always supported him. 

The turning point in his competing career occurred during fifth grade, when he attended a competition in India after being selected to represent his country.

Although Chueluecha initially planned to be a doctor, he realized that his passion for helping people did not only have to happen by pursuing medicine.

Hearing from other professionals in India helped him continue dedicating his time to math after learning to love the subject.

“I got the chance to meet a lot of professors, and they encouraged me to keep going,” Chueluecha said. “I realized I could be a teacher to help students.”

After receiving a scholarship to study at Lehigh from the Thai government, Chueluecha learned about the Putnam Mathematics Competition. This year, he ranked 51st out of 4,299 students who entered the competition. 

According to Steve Weintraub, a professor in the mathematics department, the Putnam Competition is a highly rigorous competition for undergraduates and has been around for over 100 years.

“It is an extremely tough exam,” Weintraub said. “Almost half the people who take the exam get a 0.”

The six hour exam is composed of 12 questions and the level of difficulty increases each question. 

Chueluecha, who has attended the competition since his freshman year, said there is diversity in undergraduates taking the exam; freshmen up to seniors are in the same room.

Eric Wolf, ‘20, another competitor, saidthat the way teams work for the competition is “unusual,” in that each competitor works independently. 

At Lehigh, Weintraub teaches MATH 201- Problem Solving, which is used as preparation for the competition. Weintraub has taught the course since 2001 and has used previous exams to help students.

Weintraub said before taking the class, Chueluecha was well prepared for the competition. He said Petch not only has a strong grasp of the material, but is also a hard worker. 

“Petch is a terrific student,” Weintraub said. “One of the courses I have Petch in is MATH 428, a grad level course and he is the star of the course.”

One of the things Chueluecha enjoyed about this course is the fact that students are able to exchange knowledge and help each other in learning different ways of approaching math problems. Not only did he prepare for the exam through the class, but he would solve math problems every day as well as review previous exams.

 “Petch has always struck me as being very mathematically talented during the classes I’ve had with him,” Wolf said. “His performance on this most recent Putnam exam is highly impressive, especially since only mathematically-minded students attempt the exam in the first place.”

Chueluecha said while he has had many successes in math competitions, life has also been filled with its share of failures.

He did not expect to rank 51st in the competition.

“Everything is not that easy,” Chueluecha said. “There were many times that I wanted to give up because it was hard, but eventually I made it.”

Chueluecha said he wants to continue going to competitions and solving math problems in order to challenge himself and improve. He hopes to further his studies in math and earn a doctorate so that he can return to Thailand and become a professor.

Apart from academics, Chueluecha is also involved in the Thai Student Association and the Asian Students Association. He is the president of the Thai club, the vice president of the Math Club and has participated in the Choral Union in several Lehigh Choral Arts concerts.

“Math is hard, but it’s fun if you open your mind,” Chueluecha said. “I would encourage people to try math, because it’s essential, and as long as you put in work, you will get something back.”

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