Karen Ge of Naperville has run the math competition circuit for six years.
The Naperville North High School junior has advanced from local to regional to national tournaments, become an Illinois state champion at a contest called MathCounts, started a free tutoring organization to help other students succeed at high-level math and even written a book to help young mathletes improve their competitive performance.
Now Ge is hosting her own math competition for students in middle school and younger on Saturday at North Central College in Naperville. North Central math professor Richard Wilders is impressed the free competition has drawn 110 registrants.
"I was thinking they'd be lucky to get 20," Wilders said.
But he's well versed in Karen's mathematical expertise, as he's served as her faculty mentor in a program called Lederman Scholars that gives gifted students college credit while they're still in middle or high school.
When Karen wrote her book, "The Three-Year MathCounts Marathon," Wilders assessed it for a review on the back. And when she came to him with the idea for the tournament, he was ready to help her make it come alive.
"I've found the social aspect of math competitions highly valuable as well as the mathematical aspect," Karen said. "I wanted to bring that joy of meeting other math people to our community."
Called the Aquahouse Tutoring -- North Central College Mathematics Tournament, the event begins at 8:45 a.m. in the Wentz Science Center, 131 S. Loomis St., Naperville. Participants will solve for X, puzzle out geometry and work through word problems on a 30-question test they're given an hour to complete. Then Karen and five fellow tutors will grade their answers, which are not multiple choice, but will always be a 3-digit number from 000 to 999.
The challenge of the free tournament is attracting students who previously participated in the AMC 8, or American Mathematics Competition for students in eighth grade or younger, at North Central, which is one of only a few Illinois colleges that hosts such events, Wilders said.
"It's folks that love math and want to do better at it," Wilders said about Karen's target audience. "You have to be pretty good at this."
While tests are being scored, Wilders will give a talk on mathematicians, both the famous and the lesser-known, to show young mathletes "how many different types of people wind up doing math."
He'll also share with parents the workings of the Lederman Scholars Program, as their children likely have the smarts to participate.
As she's grown up in the competitive math world, Karen said she's made friends and learned the enjoyment of searching for solutions together, in collaborative pursuit. She wants Saturday's competitors to feel the same way.
"What I want them to take away," she said, "is that there exist other math people who are very happy about doing math -- just like you are."