Conestoga High Schoolers Take World by Storm in Math Modeling Challenge

Conestoga students, from the left, James Johnson, Vincent Yao, Evan Lu, Daniel Tu, Evelyn YuConestoga students, from the left, James Johnson, Vincent Yao, Evan Lu, Daniel Tu, Evelyn Yu (Submitted Image)

BERWYN, PA — For 14 straight hours in early March, a small group of Conestoga High School students came together to participate in an international online math modeling competition. A combination of math smarts and creative thinking has added up to a spot in the finals for the team, whose submission was selected as one of the best solutions to questions around the predicted growth of e-bike use and its impact on society.

The students – James Johnson, Evan Lu, Daniel Tu, Vincent Yao, and Evelyn Yu of Berwyn-based Conestoga High School – make up one of the eight finalist teams in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3 Challenge), a unique competition that drew nearly 3,000 11th and 12th graders in the U.S. and sixth form students in the U.K. this year. The team, whose work underwent intense scrutiny by judges in the first two rounds of assessment, has one last hurdle on April 24, when they present their findings to a panel of professional mathematicians for final validation.

Using mathematical modeling, students had to come up with solutions to real-world questions: How many e-bikes will be sold in the next two years? Of the many factors that contribute to e-bike use and sales growth, which are most significant? For a given country or region, can we quantify the impact that e-bike use has on carbon emissions, traffic congestion, or other key factors? A total of 650 teams submitted papers detailing their recommendations. Roughly 45% of those submissions included technical computing to support and enhance their solutions, and those coding skills make them eligible for additional scholarship prizes.

“News feeds, magazines, and everyday discussions seem to be filled with talk of ‘the future of the automobile,'” says M3 Challenge judge and lead problem developer Neil Nicholson, University of Notre Dame. “In the past couple years, though, the rise in popularity of smaller electric personal transportation devices has somewhat changed the conversation. While these changes can be meaningful at the individual level, they also are shaping larger-scale policy-related questions. It is really interesting to see how the modelers attacked these questions, because understanding how the past influences the future will surely provide insight into these big real-world issues.”

Now in its 18th year, M3 Challenge is a program of the Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and is sponsored by MathWorks. It spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and motivates students to consider further education and careers in applied math, computational and data sciences, and technical computing. Winning teams will be awarded a share of $100,000 in scholarships, with the champion team receiving $20,000 in 2023.

In addition to Conestoga High School, the other finalist teams hail from schools in Alexandria, Virginia; Gainesville, Florida; Houston, Texas; Lincolnshire, Illinois; Lincroft, New Jersey; London, England; and Mason, Ohio.

“One of the greatest rewards as a teacher is to see your students find a passion and pursue it beyond the four walls of the classroom,” says Conestoga teacher-coach Allison Youndt. “This team has a passion for mathematics and statistics, not just for the sake of doing the math, but to apply it to the world around them. The team blended their current knowledge of modeling with new approaches that they were willing to test out. Going beyond what is known and comfortable is the signature of a lifelong learner. This team is comprised of five lifelong learners and participating in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge is one step in their journey. Here at Conestoga High School, we couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments!”

Team member Evan Lu found M3 Challenge to be a one-of-a-kind math experience that fulfilled him intellectually and socially. “Who would have thought that a 14-hour math modeling marathon could be so fun? We went through a mathematical boot camp together and survived to tell the tale, forever bound by the shared experience of pushing ourselves beyond our limits. We emerged with a newfound appreciation for the power of mathematics and an understanding of real-world modeling methods. Through hours of brainstorming, analyzing data, and refining our models, we realized the importance of collaboration, perseverance, and creative thinking. And let’s not forget the inside jokes and memories we created along the way – who says math can’t be funny? Thank you, M3 Challenge, for the opportunity of a lifetime!”

For more information about M3 Challenge, visit m3challenge.siam.org.

To access this year’s challenge problem, visit https://m3challenge.siam.org/practice-problems/2023-problem-ride-wind-without-getting-winded-growth-e-bike-use.

To see the full list of finalist, semi-finalist, and honorable mention teams, visit https://m3challenge.siam.org/node/608.

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