UA Freshman Places in Top Percentage of Prestigious Math Competition

  • May 11th, 2021

UA freshman Jacob Glidewell has been competing in mathematics competitions since eighth grade, constantly trying to push himself to do better and grow in his skill.

young man holds up a red t-shirt that reads, "Math is hard. So is life. Roll tide!"
Jacob Glidewell

This year, he has once again succeeded in his challenge by placing in the top 100 competitors of the Putnam Competition.

The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for undergraduate students in the world. Now in its 81st year, the competition has nearly 1,600 students competing from different institutions around the country.

“Generations of math students have attempted the exam and claimed victory if they scored any points at all since historically, the median score has hovered near zero,” Dr. David Cruz-Uribe, professor and chair of the mathematics department, said. “That Jacob Glidewell scored 40 points, placing in the top 100 in the United States, is an outstanding achievement.”

Glidewell, a mathematics and physics major from Trussville, Alabama, scored a 40 on the Putnam exam, going well beyond this year’s median score of eight. But this doesn’t faze Glidewell — he says that the most important part is competing against himself.

“I was just trying to beat myself and get better,” Glidewell said. “And so now I see it as checking that I’m on the right path and if I’m being the best that I can be.”

Since his first competition in middle school, Glidewell says he’s competed against himself more than the other students in the competitions. He sees this as a way to become more passionate about his craft, driving him to learn more and more after he receives his score.

“I really got into these competitions in middle school, and by eighth and ninth grade, I got to be pretty good at them,” Glidewell said. “And so the competitions just grew my desire to study math at a deeper level.”

“I was just trying to beat myself and get better.”

Glidewell’s standard of excellence extends outside of competitions. Now enrolled in the Accelerated Master’s Program for math, he strives to further his education with the help of his professors and classmates at UA.

“When I visited UA, I met with some of the professors in the math department and we clicked,” Glidewell said. “I felt like it was a good environment for me to join, and I felt like I’d be welcomed and supported.”

“In the history of the department, only three other people have scored more than 25 points,” Cruz-Uribe said. “That Jacob has done so well as a first-year student, when many exam questions require knowledge of advanced mathematics, tells us that we can hope for even greater things in the future.”

This story originally appeared on the College of Arts and Sciences website.


Sara Beth Bolin, College of Arts & Sciences,

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.