Seabury Hall 8th-grader secures individual title at MathCounts

A Seabury Hall 8th-grader, who is currently taking Advanced Placement calculus with high school seniors, captured the individual title at the state MathCounts competition Saturday on Oahu.

Jesse Doan, 13, placed first in both the written test and countdown or game-show portion of the event and will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national MathCounts contest May 9 to 12.

He will be part of the Hawaii team, made of the top performers at the state competition. Last year, Doan was a member of the Hawaii team that competed at the nationals.

“I think I gained confidence when I went to nationals last year,” said Doan, a Kahului resident.

As the scoring leader of the team this year, Doan believes that the Hawaii team won’t just be a steppingstone for others but has a chance to place high.

“I know what to do to excel,” said Doan, whose Seabury team placed second in the state competition.

The other members of the Seabury team that finished behind Washington Middle School were 7th-graders Shelby Ferrier, Melia Fong and Nikita Roque. Iolani and Punahou schools finished behind them, third and fourth respectively.

“Seabury Hall’s second-place finish in the team competition is quite impressive since Jesse is the only 8th-grader,” said Seabury Hall math coach Steve Vurno. “Most other teams had exclusively 8th-graders.”

Doan will be a difficult member of the team to replace, though. He is currently enrolled in Seabury’s highest level high school math course, AP calculus, normally taken by seniors.

“It’s challenging,” he said of the course.

Since he will have completed the best Seabury can offer in math, Doan said he is considering taking online math courses in subjects such as numbers theory and probability.

“I think I need to strengthen myself” in those areas, said Doan, who plans to seek a career in mathematics.

When asked if math has always come easily to him, Doan’s reply was: “I wouldn’t say it is easy. It can be challenging at times.”

It’s the challenging problems that draw his interest; he believes that he can learn a lot by solving them. Word problems are the most challenging.

“Most people know how to do the math,” Doan said. “Word problems make you think because the math isn’t that hard. It’s thinking how to solve it.”

Doan sees mathematics as a logical number-crunching exercise but with its creative aspects.

“I see it as both,” he said. “I still have much to learn and much to be creative and to think about.”

While some may pull out their hair trying to figure out percentages, Doan sprinkled the word “fun” throughout the interview to describe his math activities.

“Math is fun,” he said. “It’s also a great learning experience.”

The Seabury student currently is trying to extend the learning and fun through his 8th-grade project.

Wanting to create more interest in math, he is organizing a math contest to complement MathMatters, a contest for elementary school students. The date is set for April 13.

He is doing this as part of his yearlong 8th-grade project, which involves writing an annotated research paper; creating a product from the research, which could range from writing music to building a structure; and culminating in a 10-to-13-minute oral presentation to their student peers, said Jacqueline Peterka, middle school head at Seabury Hall.

Doan has made contact with teachers and has sent out registration forms.

Although being such an advanced student in math, Doan would not fit in with the nerdy gang on “The Big Bang Theory.”

“He’s sweet, He’s funny. He’s just a regular kid, and he’s brilliant . . . the whole package,” said Peterka.

* Lee Imada can be reached at