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WIU Places in Top Half of Competitive Putnam Exam

March 8, 2023

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MACOMB, IL – Two Western Illinois University Centennial Honors College students recently completed the difficult William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, along with peers from 456 institutions across the nation.

Noah Seys, a junior electrical engineering major, and math and Spanish minor, of Orion, placed 864th among 3,415 students. He finished with a score of 10 out of 120. The median score among competing students was between 0-1.

Caleb Engebrecht, a senior mechanical engineering and mathematics double major and physics minor, of Milan, IL, received a score of 1.

The two students were coached in preparation for the exam by Associate Professor of Mathematics Susan Brooks and both have served as learning assistants under Brooks and College of Arts and Sciences Assistant Dean James Rabchuk.

Brooks said because she has worked with Seys and Engebrecht previously, she knew first-hand what they were capable of academically.

"Currently, they both serve as learning assistants within my Calculus II course," Brooks said. "Both of them earned points on the notoriously difficult Putnam exam, which is a feat on its own, as the national median score is between 0 and 1. Because of their outstanding performance on the exam, Western Illinois University ranked 179th out of the 456 institutions nationwide."

Seys said he decided to take the exam because of his passion for mathematics, which began developing when he was 6 years old.

"I remember punching digits into a calculator just to see what would happen when I pressed 'Enter,'" he said. "I will never forget the time when I was playing with my small number-crunching device and then ran around in joy once I finally figured out how multiplication works. To me, it felt like I had solved a big mystery."

Seys said shyness in high school kept him from pursuing some of the available opportunities.

"Coming into Western, I promised myself that I wouldn't let such fears continue to tell me to pass up good opportunities, and, as a result, Dr. (Susan) Brooks and I worked together last semester to make the Putnam exam available at Western. Soon enough, on Dec. 3, 2022, at 9 a.m., I sat down in Riverfront 212 (on the Quad Cities campus) and took the exam that my passion had led me to. Overall, I'm glad I seized the opportunity to take the challenging Putnam exam. Although I scored well for a second-year student in college, I'm more proud of the fact that I decided to let my passion guide me instead of worrying about what other people may think. That, to me, has been the biggest reward from taking this exam."

Engebrecht said Brooks informed him that the exam could be taken on the Quad Cities campus this year.

"To prepare for the exam, I studied the exams from previous years and tried to solve the questions on them the best that I could," he said. "It was a very challenging but fun event, and a great learning experience. I am very happy that I was able to represent WIU in this way and help contribute to Western's ranking."

For more information about the Honors College at WIU, visit

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