PhDs judge high school math contest

PhDs judge high school math contest

April 8, 2009

Students tackle 2009 stimulus package

During an extensive judging process over the past month, 36 professional applied mathematicians read, evaluated, and debated the 389 solution papers submitted to Moody's Mega Math Challenge 2009, eventually eliminating all but the best papers. Nearly 400 teams of three to five 11th and 12th graders responded to this year's problem, "$787 Billion: Will the Stimulus Act Stimulate the U.S. Economy?" Participating high school students from Maine to Washington D.C. were asked to mathematically assess the parts of the stimulus package most likely to produce the greatest improvements in employment and the time frame over which this effect would take place. They had to quantify their findings using mathematical modeling and quantitative analysis techniques, develop and defend their models, and justify their conclusions.

The students weren't the only ones responding to a challenge--the judges were faced with one of their own: how to decide which teams would get a share of up to $80,000 in scholarship prizes. Mathematics professionals at three triage sites-- Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida; Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland; and Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts--evaluated all of the solution papers submitted on Challenge weekend, March 7-8. The best 66 papers (just 17% of all submissions) advanced to the contention round, where this past weekend they were judged by a panel of 13 Ph.D. mathematicians at the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After two full days of deliberation, the judges arrived at and tentatively ranked the top 23 papers.

"The quality of the papers was excellent," said Ben Fusaro, M3 Challenge consultant and Head Judge. "The judges thought the solutions were exceptional considering that the authors are high school juniors and seniors."

The third and final phase of judging involves presentations by the top six teams at the Moody's Corporation headquarters in Manhattan. These presentations will take place on May 5, immediately followed by a ceremony where scholarship prizes of $2,500 to $20,000 will be awarded. The Moody's Foundation initiated and provides funding for the Challenge; SIAM organizes and administers the contest.

"That teams were able to make so much progress on this exceptionally daunting problem and in just 14 hours is a testament to the quality of our high school students and their teachers," said Lee Seitelman, M3 Challenge consultant and Director of Judges for this year's Challenge. "This is especially true given that the brightest minds in our country are grappling over these same issues at this very moment."

The 36 judges involved in this year's M3 Challenge are professional Ph.D.-level applied mathematicians who come from colleges, universities, and several corporations. A complete list of judges and their affiliations is listed below.

Homer Austin, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage)
Kelly Black, Union College, Schenectady, NY (triage & contention) 
Steve Blumsack, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage)
Karen Bolinger, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, PA (contention) 
David Carhart, Bentley University, Waltham, MA (lead judge, triage) 
Nathan Carter, Bentley University, Waltham, MA (triage) 
Jim Case, Consultant, Baltimore, MD (contention)
Donald Cathcart, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage & contention)
Peter Ciccarelli, Bentley University, Waltham, MA (triage)
Nick Cogan, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Ben Fusaro, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (lead judge, triage & contention)
Bruno Guerrieri, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Steve Hetzler, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage)
Veera Holdai, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage) 
Rudy Horne , Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Alec Kercheval, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Salam Khan, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage)
Lucia Kimball, Bentley University, Waltham, MA (triage) 
Kurt Ludwick, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage) 
Mike Mesterton-Gibbons, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Mohammed Moazzam, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage)
Warren Nichols, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Giray Okten , Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage)
Suleyman Olgar , Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Warren Page, New York City College of Technology, CUNY, Brooklyn, NY (contention)
David Parker, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage & contention) 
Henry Ricardo, Medgar Evers College, CUNY, Brooklyn, NY (contention)
Catherine Ricardo, Iona College, New Rochelle, NY (contention data manager) 
Sanford Safron, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage) 
Lee Seitelman, United Technologies, retired, Glastonbury, CT (triage & contention) 
Kathleen Shannon, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (lead judge, triage & contention) 
David Sprecher, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA (triage & contention) 
Sonya Stephens, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL (triage)
Harry Suber, NorthCoast Asset Management, Salisbury, MD (contention) 
Robert Tardiff, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage & contention)
Barbara Wainwright, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD (triage)

To see if your local high school participated in the M3 Challenge go to /pdf/2009_partic.pdf.


About the Challenge

Moody's Mega Math Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool, as a viable and exciting profession, and as a vital contributor to advances in an increasingly technical society. Scholarship prizes total $80,000 in 2009. The Challenge is entirely Internet-based and there are no entrance or participation fees. High schools from Maine to Washington, D.C. may enter up to two teams of three to five students each. Students choose which day they wish to work on Challenge weekend and have 14 hours to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on real-world issues. Teams can work from any location they choose and can use any free and publicly available resources, but they may not discuss any aspect of the problem with, or seek help from, their coach or anyone other than their teammates.

Awards and Recognition: 2009 ASAE Associations Advance America (AAA) Award,2008 Excellence Award, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP)

About the Sponsor

The Moody's Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to supporting a variety of nonprofit education, health and human services, civic, and arts and culture programs. Established by Moody's Corporation in 2001, the Foundation's primary area of giving is secondary and higher education with a focus on mathematics, economics and finance. Further information is available at

Moody's Corporation (NYSE: MCO), an essential component of the global capital markets, provides credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to stable, transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody's Corporation is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service and Moody's Analytics, encompassing Moody's non-ratings businesses. With revenues of $2.3 billion in 2007, Moody's employs approximately 3,600 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 27 countries. Further information is available at

About the Organizer

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is an international society of over 12,000 individual members. These include applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners from 85 countries in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes nearly 500 academic and corporate institutional members, serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and prestigious peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics. SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at

Related Videos

  • Using Algebra and Geometry in the Real World

  • Careers in STEM : Why They’re Important

  • Communicating Complex Topics to the Public