Florida Students’ Win in National Math Competition Equals Good News Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Florida Students’ Win in National Math Competition Equals Good News Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Second Florida team places in top six among thousands of students

April 28, 2020

Philadelphia, PA — Participation in an intensive online, math competition has added up to a first-place win for a group of Florida high school students.

The team of five 11th and 12th graders from Pine View School in Osprey took home the top prize of $20,000 in college scholarships after being chosen from thousands of high school juniors and seniors across the U.S. as the winners of this year’s MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a prestigious competition that demonstrates the importance of math in everyday life.

Kristoffer Selberg, Michael Gutierrez, Pragnya Govindu, Nicholas Butakow and Christiana Guan were among 3,500 students — working in 760 teams — who participated in this year’s Challenge.

A second team from Pine View School placed in the top six of the competition, landing team finalists — Jack Gallahan, Alexander Douglas, Vinay Konuru, Danny McDonald and Julia Kourelakos — a scholarship prize of $5,000.

Now in its 15th year, the 2020 M3 Challenge saw students spend 14 consecutive hours between February 28-March 2 using mathematical modeling tools to solve a real-world problem by collecting data and creating models, and submitting their solutions online.  This year’s problem, developed with help from industry association North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), asked students to recommend solutions for the trucking industry’s transition from diesel to electric power.

Nine teams from across the country were selected as winners by a national panel of Ph.D.-level mathematicians. The competition final event — traditionally held in New York City in late April — was derailed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so final judging was done virtually this year. Top teams were also given the option to submit a video presentation of their findings – in lieu of the usual in-person presentations – for an additional communication award opportunity. A total of $107,500 was up for grabs, divided among the finalist teams and top performers nationally.

A program of Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and sponsored by MathWorks, a leading developer of mathematical computing software for engineers and scientists, M3 Challenge is designed to spotlight the relevancy and power of mathematics in solving real-world issues, as well as motivate students to consider further education and careers in applied mathematics, computational science, and technical computing.

“It is extremely rare that we would have two teams from the same high school rank in our top six overall teams, like we saw this year,” said Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge Program Director at SIAM. “The fact that both of Pine View School’s teams landed as finalists shows the hard work these 10 students must have put in preparing for this year’s challenge. Every year we put together and promote tons of free math modeling resources for student and coach use; it’s so fulfilling to see when teams put these resources to use and it pays off for them with an outcome like this. Their teachers, parents, and entire communities should be very proud.”

Runners-Up in the competition are Memphis, Tennessee-based White Station High School students Kevin Luo, Jonathan Zhang, Krishna Dasari, Andrew Chen and Kevin Cao, who split a $15,000 scholarship prize. Third place winners are Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Adlai E. Stevenson High School students Philena Liu, Joshua Tsai, Praneet Rathi, Sai Merneedi and Brandon Lu, who shared $10,000 in scholarship funds. In addition to the second team from Pine View School, finalist teams from Columbus North High School in Columbus, Indiana and Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota also received team scholarship prizes of $5,000 each. (See link below for a full list of winners).

The winners were announced following a rigorous, six-week-long, three-round blind judging process engaging 149 applied mathematicians.

Additional recognitions and scholarships were also given, including the Technical Computing Winner prize of $3,000 to Silver Spring, Maryland-based Montgomery Blair High School; Technical Computing Runner-Up prize of $2,000 to Fullerton, California-based Troy High School; and Technical Computing Third Place prize of $1,000 to Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Huron High School. These supplementary awards recognize and reward students for their outstanding use of programming to analyze, design, and conceive a solution.

“I think we had imposter syndrome; after racing to get [our solution paper] done, we figured other teams would have better ideas than us and that we wouldn’t even get past the triage round of judging,” said Michael Gutierrez from the champion team, which was coached by Mark Mattia, a mathematics teacher at Pine View School. “We had done a bunch of practices and felt like the solution we submitted was strong – just not a lot of confidence going up against the nation. Thank you to MathWorks and SIAM for making the competition happen; it was really fun, from initial prep work through to the actual competition.” 

“To have two teams in the top six is very rewarding and now to hear that one of our teams is first place has certainly made our day,” said Coach Mattia. “I could not be happier for my students. This is something they will remember forever. They worked hard and were highly motivated to learn the programming skills and new methods of modeling. On behalf of the Pine View School and all the students, we thank SIAM, MathWorks and the Pine View administration and community for all the support provided.”

“We pose big problems about real issues that many students may not know much about. They need to quantify and organize data and use skills they’ve learned in math class but may have never related to something real or thought they could use before,” said Montgomery. “Participation in M3 Challenge can change lives — helping students see that math skills can lead to important and valuable work and impactful differences and predictions for their communities and even the world.”

Leaders of the contention judging panel included professional mathematicians Kelly Black, Ph.D., University of Georgia; Karen M. Bliss, Ph.D., Virginia Military Institute; Chris Musco, Ph.D., New York University; Candice Price, Ph.D., Smith College; and Ted Wendt, Ph.D., Carroll College.

In total, 760 student team submissions were assessed. The entries were narrowed down to six finalists, six semi-finalists, and 22 honorable mentions. Three Technical Computing awards, plus one Technical Computing honorable mention award, were overlaid on top of any other distinction. In total, about five percent of entrants were distinguished with scholarship prizes.

For more information about MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, visit m3challenge.siam.org.  

View the 2020 winning solution papers and full list of winning teams here: https://m3challenge.siam.org/archives/2020/winning-solutions

View the videos submitted by Finalist teams for consideration of the Outstanding Communication of Results Award here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLf_ipOSbWC86dNdRO-JUsrKjYO8wUyztH

About Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an international society of more than 14,000 individual, academic and corporate members from 90+ countries. SIAM helps build cooperation between mathematics and the worlds of science and technology to solve real-world problems through publications, conferences, and communities like chapters, sections and activity groups. Learn more at siam.org.


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