Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Mathematics Education

Major Advisor

Thomas C. DeFranco, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Stuart J. Sidney, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Hariharan Swaminathan, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Mary P. Truxaw, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Charles I. Vinsonhaler, Ph.D.

Field of Study

Curriculum and Instruction


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition is an intercollegiate mathematics competition for undergraduate college and university students in the United States and Canada and is regarded as the most prestigious and challenging mathematics competition in North America (Alexanderson, 2004; Grossman, 2002; Reznick, 1994; Schoenfeld, 1985). Students who earn the five highest scores on the examination are named Putnam Fellows and to date, despite the thousands of students who have taken the Putnam Examination, only 280 individuals have won the Putnam Competition. Clearly, based on their performance being named a Putnam Fellow is a remarkable achievement. In addition, Putnam Fellows go on to graduate school and have extraordinary careers in mathematics or mathematics-related fields. Therefore, understanding the factors and characteristics that contribute to their success is important for students interested in STEM-related fields.

The participants were 25 males who attended eight different colleges and universities in North America at the time they were named Putnam Fellows and won the Putnam Competition four, three, or two times. An 18-item questionnaire, adapted form the Walberg Educational Productivity Model, was used as a framework to investigate the personal and the formal educational experiences as well as the role the affective domain played in their development as Putnam Fellows. Further, research (DeFranco, 1996; Schoenfeld, 1992) on the characteristics of expert problem solvers was used to understand those elements of the cognitive domain that contributed to their success.

Data was collected through audio-recorded interviews conducted over the telephone or through Skype, and through written e-mail responses. The interview data was coded according to the coding category it represented and then sorted to identify existing themes and patterns for within-case and cross-case analyses.

The results indicated that four subcategories of personal experiences, four subcategories of formal educational experiences, seven subcategories involving the affective domain, and three subcategories of the cognitive domain all played an important role in the development of Putnam Fellows. Future research should include a thorough examination of female Putnam winners as well as the problem-solving strategies used by Putnam Fellows.