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Wooster excels at math and scientific modeling competition

Ben Taylor

Staff Writer

A group of Wooster students that competed in an annual mathematical and scientific modeling competition  after finished in the top 45 percent of the prestigious competition. Both teams placed well at the international event held in February against thousands of teams from schools like Harvard and Princeton. The teams gained honorable mention status and outperformed teams from a variety of prestigious schools (Cornell being just one example) along the way.

The teams, both composed of three students, each worked on a different problem over the course of a 96-hour time period. Amanda Steinhebel ’15, Joseph Smith ’15 and Xiaomeng Ye ’15 worked on an MCM (Mathematical Contest in Modeling) problem. The question required that the members develop a model for a brownie pan that would allow an even distribution of heat while also maximizing the available oven space.

The group chose between two options for their task. The problem they picked, said Steinhebel, demanded a great deal of ingenuity from the team members: “The [problem] that we ended up choosing, that seemed more creative [and involved] thinking-outside-of-the-box type solutions, and the other one seemed a lot more straightforward and, frankly, a little more boring.” Steinhebel notes that some of the other teams were likely intimidated by the creativity of the question and proceeded to opt for its simpler counterpart instead.

At the same time that Steinhebel’s team was working on this problem, Tyler Poppenwimer ’14, Norman Chamusah ’14 and Hunter Vanhorn ’14 were all completing an ICM (Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling) question for which they had to design a computer program that could accurately predict the future state of a number of Earth’s ecosystems. This team couldn’t choose their challenge and were not given all the required data up front. They had a scant 96 hours from the time the problem was released at 8 p.m. on January 31 to research, answer the question and write about their process, which was no small task.

“It was so difficult to find because we were looking at different variables” said Chamusah. The sources they were using to find the relevant statistics did not always line up with one another. Ultimately, they had to decide which sources they trusted the most and go from there, creating a model which was able to predict all the variables accurately.

The event itself was grueling. On top of answering the problems, both teams had to write a 20 page paper describing the process they had used to come to their solution, all of this while still managing their regular routines. Chamusah notes that most members of his team were only able to sleep between four and five hours a night.

Some of the schools let their students miss class to work on the problems, but Wooster students didn’t have that advantage.

“At the end of the day we are here to go to school and this is just an extracurricular project,” noted Steinhebel, who even had to take a break for a Scot band concert in the midst of everything else.

While that may be the case, the competition is certainly in line with Wooster’s academic goals. “The MCM/ICM competition is a great experience for the students and right in line with the College of Wooster’s mission of independent minds working together, undergraduate research and being leaders in an interdependent global community, and we should be proud of what these six talented students accomplished,” said Mathematics Professor Robert Wooster, and he is most certainly right. These students ought to be applauded for their hard work and how well they have represented the College through it.

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