Mendel Friedman, 20, a student at the Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, recently placed 22nd out of 4,400 contenders in the William Lowell Putnam competition, a prestigious national math contest. It was the highest ranking of any contestant from a New York college.
Mendel Friedman’s academic prowess could have landed him at any Ivy League college of his choice.
But this “gifted prodigy” — as one of his teachers describes him — chose a small, religious school in Queens to hone both his academics and his faith.
After graduating high school with an immaculate report card and near-perfect SAT scores,
the 20-year-old chose the Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills because of its promise for individual attention and focus on Judaic studies.
He recently finished among the top ranks in one of the most competitive undergraduate math contests in the nation.
“I like to develop a lot of areas which I think help me as a thinker and a problem solver,” said Friedman, who is set to graduate in January after 2 1/2 years of undergraduate study.
Friedman recently found out he finished 22nd out of some 4,4000 contenders in the William Lowell Putnam competition, a prestigious national math contest. It was the highest ranking of any contestant from a New York college.
Friedman said he always had an appetite for knowledge. He taught himself basic calculus by the end of elementary school, and more recently learned Russian on his own so he could enjoy works by Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. He also speaks fluent French, Hebrew and Yiddish.
The Chicago native, who now lives in a dorm just off campus, credits his discipline, particularly in math, to his devout Jewish faith.
Lander has an enrollment of about 300 students and is a division of Touro College. Dean Moshe Sokol said it seeks students like Friedman who are able to invest time in both academic and Orthodox Jewish studies.
Friedman said he believes the two are related.
“They both stem from a very deep passion of mine,” he said.
That passion, said his teacher Oleg Friedman (no relation), was clear from their first class together.
When he would give lectures geared toward Mendel’s level, “I lost the whole rest of the class,” he said.
He and mathematics chair Moshe Snow took Mendel under their wings and gave him independent research to do in the fields of functional mathematics and quantum mechanics.
But it’s not all work and no play, Mendel Friedman said
“I do have friends, too,” he joked.
Friedman is a basektball and baseball fan, and when asked if he uses his math skills to figure out shot angles, he said:
“Sports are a way to relax.”
“You can’t always be caught up in academia,” he added.
By Joe Parziale / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS