25+ Years of Commitment to Colorado Math Excellence

by David Carlson and Dick Gibbs, CMA Co-Founders and Co-Chairs (1996-2023)

September, 2023

Dr. David Carlson
Richard (“Dick”) Gibbs

The Colorado Mathematics Awards (CMA) reception and program was first held on May 3, 1996. Thanks to then Governor Roy Romer, this event was held at the Governor’s Mansion at 8th and Logan Street and the next three years as well. For the next 20 years (2000-2019), CMA was held annually at the nearby historic Grant-Humphreys Mansion. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, CMA was canceled in 2020 and shifted to online the next two years. Certificates, medals, and copies of the printed program were mailed to student honorees each year. CMA returned to the Grant-Humphreys Mansion in 2023.

At the first CMA event in 1996, 40 students from middle school, high school, and undergraduate programs were honored. This year, we celebrated the accomplishments of 54 outstanding students and their teacher/coaches. In 1996, excellence in mathematics was recognized through five competitive national and international examinations: MATHCOUNTS and the American Junior High School and High School Mathematics Examinations (precursors of the AMC 8 and AMC 12 exams) for middle school and high school students, and the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition and Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) for college and university undergraduates. Since then, we’ve added several more competitions, primarily for high school students: the AMC 10 exam, the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), the American Regions Mathematics League (ARML), a team competition, and the USA Junior Mathematical Olympiad and USA Mathematical Olympiad.

Dr. John (“Jack”) Hodges

The origins of the annual CMA event go back to 1990. John (“Jack”) Hodges, then professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado Boulder and David’s Ph.D. dissertation advisor 20 years earlier, played a pivotal role. Professor Hodges had received a letter that spring from Professor Bill Bosch of the University of Northern Colorado, suggesting that each college and university in Colorado offer one (or more) scholarships to students who do well on the AMC 12 exam.

Professor Hodges was an outstanding educator and tireless advocate for acknowledging excellence in mathematics. In 1990, he received the University of Colorado Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Award. Two years later, Dr. Hodges received the first Burton W. Jones Distinguished Teaching Award from the Rocky Mountain Section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

Dr. Hodges sent David a copy of Professor Bosch’s letter for input; David soon responded with a proposal for an annual reception and awards program—including cash awards—to recognize excellence in mathematics and the sciences among students and teachers. The proposal was discussed over the next few years with the Rocky Mountain Section of the MAA, the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and other mathematics educators.

In the spring of 1994, Dick, then professor of Mathematics at Fort Lewis College and Chair of the Committee on the American Mathematics Competitions, contacted David. We worked together over the next several months to form a Steering Committee and raise funds for the first CMA event in 1996. Professor Ernest Cisneros of Metropolitan State College and Ms. Jennifer Vrynios, P.E., URS Consultants, served with us on the first Steering Committee. In addition to various mathematical groups, first CMA funders included CH2M Hill, Coors Brewing Company, and Storage Technology, Inc. 

Through the years, it has been a privilege for Steering Committee members and other supporters of CMA to play a small part in celebrating the accomplishments of these gifted students.