Math competition encourages hard work from participants

Math competition encourages hard work from participants

by Rachel GullStaff Writer

Last Friday, when college students all over the country were preparing plans for a fun and relaxing weekend, 33 Simpson students had other plans. These students were participating in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling and the Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling. Their schedule for the weekend was probably not what most college students would call “fun and relaxing.”

The MCM and ICM are hosted each year by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications, a non-profit organization that strives to improve mathematical education for students for all ages. The contests are open internationally to high school students and college undergraduates. This year, about 1,800 teams participated.

In the MCM and ICM, students form teams of three and are given a choice between two or three open-ended problems. Problems from previous years have ranged from sudoku puzzles to hypothetical situations involving kidney transplants and movie stunts.

“I like how they are everyday problems,” sophomore Bobbi Pogge said, “Ours is about health care systems in the U.S., and it is just cool because we are dealing with real-life problems that affect us.”

A team’s chosen problem becomes its main focus all weekend and competitors spend practically all waking hours working on a solution. Once students find a conclusion, their team must write a paper detailing their proposed solution, problems that their team encountered, and what they might have accomplished with more time. These papers are sometimes 30-40 pages long.

Competitors are not given long to complete these papers. This year, problems were posted on COMAP’s Web site at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, and final papers had to be submitted electronically by 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 18. At Simpson, this meant that students didn’t do much else all weekend.

Each team was assigned a classroom in Carver Science Center as a home base during the competition. For researching their problems, teams were each given two laptops and were allowed unlimited access to inanimate resources like books, newspapers, and Web sites but were not allowed to consult any other person for assistance.

During the weekend, Carver was manned 24/7 by a faculty member to ensure that each team had ample time to work. The college provided meals, and students were allowed to request any sorts of snacks that they might enjoy.

These amenities would presumably encourage competitors to stay in Carver non-stop. Instead, students were encouraged to take breaks. They were told to get away for a few hours and take a nap or watch a movie, just to get their minds off the competition.

Simpson first became involved in the ICM and MCM in 1997, and students have participated every year since. Up until this year, COMAP has imposed a limit of only seven teams per school. Last year, out of fourteen teams in Iowa, seven were from Simpson. In fact, Simpson was one of only two schools in the entire U.S. to enter the full seven teams. This year, however, team entries became unlimited, and Simpson’s involvement increased to 11 teams.

Professor of Mathematics Murphy Waggoner is very excited about the students’ enthusiasm.

“Even though the Modeling Contest is not a required part of the curriculum, students recognize the value of it,” Waggoner said. “They often find it the most valuable part of their education.”

Senior Tracy Robson agrees.

“It’s a great experience because it allows you to explore relevant applications for math and ways that you can use your education to solve day-to-day problems,” Robson said.

Not everyone involved in the competition is majoring in math. Waggoner says that some past competitors majored in environmental science, physics, and biology, but she feels that students from all areas of study would find the contest enjoyable.

Sophomore Lynnette Snyder encourages students to get involved.

“I think that everyone should try it,” Snyder said. “The Modeling Contest is a really fun experience, and it looks amazing on a resumé.”