Qingfeng Li, who graduated from Laramie High School this spring, has won the national Trig-Stars contest, a competition that tests high schoolers on trigonometry.
Li was one of 36 state winners to enter into the competition that’s run by the National Society of Professional Surveyors.
Li earned $2,000 for his victory. Laramie High School math teacher Paul Street, who serves as the sponsoring teacher at LHS, also earned $1,000 for Li’s score.
Austin Mazenko of Greenwood Village, Colorado, placed second in this year’s competition while Henry Hein of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, placed third. Mazenko had placed first in last year’s competition.
“Qingfeng is kind of a legend among his peers,” said Street, who teaches the upper-level math classes at LHS “He could have started UW as a junior.”
In fact, by the time Li finished high school, he had completed seven UW classes with a 4.0.
Li had maxed out on LHS’s math classes in seventh grade. That’s the year he took the AP Calculus AB class with Street.
“His feet barely touched the floor when he was in seventh grade,” Street said.
While sometimes having an underclassman test into the AP Calculus class can happen, having a seventh grader wasn’t a common experience for Street.
“That’s really unusual, as young as he was,” Street said. “That was mighty young.”
When it came time for Li to take the AP test that year, he took the test for the AP Calculus BC, which covers material not included in the class he took with Street. Still, Li got a 5.
As an eighth-grader in 2015, Qingfeng Li became the first student to win the Wyoming State Mathcounts competition at the University of Wyoming three years in a row.
Street said he typically has students complete the Trig-Star test in class as an assignment.
“I usually try to do them, but there’s no way I could get them done in less than an hour. They’re challenging,” Street said.
When the school has a student enter the competition, Street formally administers the test as well.
The Trig-Star test has an hour time limit. Each state’s winner is given a second test — this time a little harder — to be submitted into the national competition.
When Li took the national exam this spring, he was done with about 15 minutes to spare.
“I knew that when he finished that early, they were going to be all right,” Street said. “He has remarkable processing speed. He has that ability to see through the problem. He’s just so efficient when he goes to work. He just doesn’t make silly mistakes very often. I’m not sure if he could explain how it works, but there’s some gifts there.”
Li was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, he’s currently choosing to take a gap year, and his spot at MIT is will still be available to him in fall 2020.
“Math really isn’t his primary interest,” Street said. “Really, his interests are in computer programming and artificial intelligence.”
Those subjects were Li’s initial plan for a focus at MIT. But after becoming “really excited and turned on by the mock trial class” taught at LHS, Li’s now considering other career options as well.
The Trig-Star competition aims to show “students the practical uses for math while encouraging them to explore exciting careers in the surveying profession.”
“I just think it’s so cool to see a Laramie High School student excel on the national stage,” Street said. “I think all of us at Laramie High School, and in the community as well, take great pride in having a school system and kids that can do so well in such a big pond.”