Column

Humans of Saint Francis: Medha Mahanta

by Kasper Halevy (’24) and Will Li (’23) | February 14, 2022

Photo by Ava Hennen (’22)

Medha Mahanta (’24) began her mathematical journey in middle school with the local MATHCOUNTS and Math League competitions as a fun pastime. Little did she know, math would later become deeply integrated into her everyday life. As a board member of both the Math Team and the Programming Club, Mahanta devotes herself to prestigious national competitions in math and computer science.

Her passion would soon be transformed into success. Despite preparing for competitions without the help of an extracurricular academy, Mahanta progressed to the statewide round of MATHCOUNTS in eighth grade and qualified for the renowned American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) while only a freshman. 

Out of all the competitions she has attended, Mahanta’s favorites are the Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard-MIT Math Tournaments (HMMT), especially their team-based rounds. “HMMT was my first college math contest, and I had never worked in a team before in contests,” she said. She also enjoys the tournament “Power Rounds,” where teams answer a series of questions that steer them toward proving a property within an “interesting field” of mathematics.

Mahanta likewise excels in programming competitions. She earned a perfect score on the Bronze Round of the United States Computing Olympiad (USACO) and thus a promotion to the Silver Round, just two steps below the most prestigious Platinum Round. “There are multiple test cases that your code has to pass. It has to fit within time constraints and memory constraints, and each contest has three problems you have to solve in four hours,” Mahanta explained.  

Now, she is organizing the annual Lancer Hackathon, an all-day event on March 5 that will include activities like coding workshops and panels.

STEM aside, Mahanta also plays competitive table tennis. Since sixth grade, she has won multiple local tournaments and qualified for the U.S. National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas, earning a bronze medal in one of the events. 

Despite her success, serving as a double board member does pose its challenges. “In ninth grade, I applied to be a [Programming Club] board member just for the fun of it. At the time, I was just two months into freshman [year],” she explained. “I got a board position, and I didn’t think I was qualified for it because I had never spoken in front of so many people before, especially people older than me. It was impostor syndrome.”

“But then I realized, they accepted me for a reason; they thought I would be able to do it all right,” she continued. “So after a few presentations, I got the hang of speaking.” 

With her leadership, Mahanta also hopes to inspire future Lancers: “I want students, especially girls, to feel empowered that they can do math, that they can do ComProg, because there aren’t a lot of girls in either of those clubs, especially in board positions.” 

“One thing I’ll take away [from math and programming] is how much practice can play a role in how well you do,” she added. “No matter where you start, no matter your initial skill level, if you’re just determined, if you have the drive for it, you can achieve your goals.” 

“Even if you have the slightest interest in something, just go and do it.” 

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