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New Jersey Students’ Win in International Math Competition

Livingston, NJ — Participation in an intensive, online international math competition has added up to a first-place win for a group of New Jersey high school students.

The team of five 11th and 12th graders from Livingston High School in Livingston took home the top prize of $22,500 in college scholarships, out of the total $125,000+ being awarded, after being chosen as winners yesterday. Thousands of high school juniors and seniors across the U.S. and sixth form students in the U.K. vied for distinction in this year’s MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a prestigious competition that demonstrates the importance of math in everyday life.

Winners Aditya Desai, Sidhant Srivastava, Leo Stepanewk, Edward Wang, and Charles Yu were among more than 2,400 students, working in 535 teams, who participated in this year’s Challenge.

Now in its 16th year, the 2021 M3 Challenge saw students spend 14 consecutive hours in late February using mathematical modeling to solve a real-world problem by collecting data and creating models, developing insight on the problem, and submitting their solutions online. This year’s competition — which marks the first time M3 Challenge is open to students from England and Wales — asked students to use math modeling to provide solutions to combat the “digital divide” (the gap between those who benefit from adequate access to the internet and those who do not), a global reality magnified by the pandemic and our collective increased dependence on higher levels of bandwidth.

Of the hundreds of participating teams, 10 finalist teams were selected from across the U.S., England and Wales, after having their submissions judged by an international 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 pandemic, so top teams presented live virtually to a panel of judges, followed by a Q&A session, on April 26. The day culminated with a livestreamed awards ceremony.

A program of Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and sponsored by MathWorks, the 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.

“What sets M3 Challenge apart from other math competitions is that it uniquely requires students to use math modeling to represent, analyze, make predictions and provide insight into current world issues,” said Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge Program Director at SIAM. “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.”

Montgomery explained that this year’s competition was taken up a notch by giving students the opportunity to participate in an international competition and compete on the world stage, resulting in added prestige for the winning teams. “Every year without fail, we hear from participating students who refer to their participation in M3 Challenge as a life-changing experience that helped open their eyes to how important, useful, and valuable the application of mathematics can be,” she said.

Runners-Up in the competition are Lincroft, New Jersey-based High Technology High School students Adithya Balachandran, Lasya Balachandran, David Chang, Alexander Postovskiy, and Hazem Zaky, who split a $17,000 scholarship prize. Third place winners are Johns Creek, Georgia-based Johns Creek High School students Jason Bao, Aditya Bora, Mehul Dhoot, Joseph Suharno, and Austin Tsang, who shared $12,000 in scholarship funds. Finalist teams from Julia R Masterman Middle High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and two teams from Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois also received team scholarship prizes of $6,500 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 150 applied mathematicians.

Additional recognitions and scholarships were also given, including the Technical Computing Winner prize of $3,000 to Hillsborough, California-based Nueva School; Technical Computing Runner-Up prize of $2,000 to Rockville, Maryland-based Richard Montgomery High School; and Technical Computing Third Place prize of $1,000 to Osprey, Florida-based Pine View School. These supplementary awards recognize and reward students for their outstanding use of programming to analyze, design, and conceive a solution.

At the conclusion of the team presentations, four teams were recognized for exemplary explanation of their work, using clarity, presence, and polish in their live presentations. Outstanding Communication of Results prizes of $500 each were given to the teams representing King Edwards School from Bath, Somerset, England; Julia R Masterman Middle High School from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Adlai E Stevenson High School from Lincolnshire Illinois; and Nueva School from Hillsborough, California.

“Being named the 2021 champion of M3 Challenge is a true honor for our team, high school, and mentors who have helped us reach this point today,” said Sidhant Srivastava from the champion team, which was coached by Cheryl Coursen, a mathematics teacher at Livingston High School. “The challenge – albeit difficult at times – has served as a valuable learning experience for our team collectively, pushing us to grasp both familiar and new concepts, theories, and technical methods in the realm of mathematical modeling. Going forward, we each plan to pursue a career trajectory related to applied mathematics, and truly believe that M3 Challenge will empower us in the future.”

According to Coach Coursen: “The students came to me in the 2019-2020 school year and asked me to sponsor them. I did anything they needed to make sure they were on track, but they were self-motivated and self-sufficient, and finished in the top 100. This year, the students that had not graduated enlisted a few other students and asked me to sponsor them again, saying they knew what they needed to do to win. They reviewed the past winners’ documents and problems and strategized on how to accomplish the task. Other than teaching them Calculus and Multivariable Calculus, I did nothing. The students pulled it together themselves. I am so very proud of them and thankful to M3 Challenge for encouraging the students to solve this kind of problem. As for the 14-hour-a-thon, I think it’s an excellent tool that amplifies the students’ ability to think on of their feet and solve a problem in a given time restraint. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity!”

The final validation judging panel included professional mathematicians Kelly Black, Ph.D., University of Georgia; Karen M. Bliss, Ph.D., Virginia Military Institute; Katie Kavanagh, Ph.D., Clarkson University; Cleve Moler, Ph.D., MathWorks; Chris Musco, Ph.D., New York University.

In total, 535 student team submissions were assessed. The entries were narrowed down to six finalists, six semi-finalists, and 35 honorable mentions. Three Technical Computing awards, plus four Technical Computing honorable mention award, were overlaid on top of any other distinction earned. In total, about 9.3 percent of entrants were distinguished with scholarship prizes.

View the 2021 winning solution papers and full list of winning teams here: https://m3challenge.siam.org/archives/2021

Watch a short video from yesterday’s presentations and awards ceremony here: https://youtu.be/e5meW_WadYU

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

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