'Model Students' Compete in International Math Competition

Fueled by caffeine, sugar and the will to succeed, nine of Asbury’s math students spent last weekend researching and developing mathematical models for an international contest sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP). An annual Math Department tradition, the Mathematical Contest in Modeling provides students with fun, fellowship and invaluable collaborative research experience.

Asbury University math students
Senior Samantha Penwell, senior Cali Thomas and junior Brent Hall joined classmates to complete a mathematical research paper in one weekend.

For math modelers, the problems are tough, and the deadlines are tougher, but Asbury mathematics professor Dr. David Coulliette says the payoff is big.

“I’m amazed at the positive feedback from our alumni who say this contest gave them, in a microcosm, all the skills they see in their work environment,” he said. “The technical writing, scientific presentations, professional speaking and just learning to work together make this a very valuable experience.”

According to COMAP’s website, the contest “challenges teams of students to clarify, analyze, and propose solutions to open-ended problems,” drawing entries from more than 500 institutions around the world.

This year, Asbury’s students are divided into three teams, as follows:

  • Team 1:  Cali Thomas ’14, Brent Hall ’15, Samantha Penwell ’14
  • Team 2:  Jared Cook ’14, Stephanie Chen ’16, Todd Yoder ’16
  • Team 3:  Justin Westlund ’14, Wesley Gaus ’14,  Rebecca Gaul ’14

Student research assistants also provided the math modeling teams with research support. These students included the following:

Mary Stricklin ’15, Halee Beazley ’16, Harold Brabon ’16, Cierla McGuire ’16, Rachel Boesing ’17, Connor Belcher ’15, Tyler Messner ’15, Brandon Ray ’16, Carl Durcholz ’14, Abby Wells ’15, Tim Eastridge ’15 and Joo Won Jun ’16.

To compete, the teams downloaded a set of three problems at 8 p.m. last Thursday. This year’s problems included creating models to study the performance of the “keep-right-except to pass” traffic rule, to determine the “best all-time college coach” for Sports Illustrated, and to predict a researcher’s influence in academia

Each team chose one problem for which they completed extensive research, developed a working model and described their findings in a research paper. The completed paper was due by 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb 10. According to Coulliette, competition results will most likely be available in April.

Asbury senior Rebecca Gaul, who has competed in math modeling for four years, says that, in addition to fostering collaborative research skills, math modeling can be an asset to students applying for jobs.

“It’s a great point on a resume,” Gaul said. “And even in interviews, when people are like, ‘What in the world is math modeling?’ you can talk about this international competition you were part of.”

In her last year of math modeling, Gaul says she will miss the camaraderie and fun, but she looks forward to using what she has learned after graduation.

“It’s bittersweet, because I’ve really enjoyed doing math modeling,” she said. “I worked hard to make sure I could do it this year, even though I’m student teaching. But the sweet part is that, because I’m graduating, I actually get to move on to the real world and take what I’ve learned here and apply it.”

--by Joel Sams '15

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