L. to r.: Amber Warren, Jonathan Nagy and Aaron Springer celebrate their efforts in the international math modeling contest. Photo by Jim Bishop

Students Fare Well in Math Contest

A three-member team of Eastern Mennonite University students who spent a grueling weekend working on a “math modeling” problem was rewarded with a “meritorious” rating in an international contest.

The paper submitted by EMU sophomores Jonathan Nagy, Lancaster, Pa.; Aaron Springer, Minier, Ill.; and Amber Warren, Amelia, Va., placed in the top 15 percent of solutions submitted by student participants from 2,775 teams around the world. Participants came from 13 high school teams (1%), 347 U.S. teams (12%) and 2,428 foreign teams (88%). The award categories were Outstanding, Finalist, Meritorious, Honorable Mention and Successful Participant.

The EMU trio worked nonstop from 8 p.m. Feb. 11 to 8 p.m. Feb. 14 to meet the postmark deadline. They spent a total of 96 hours discussing the problem, formulating a mathematical model, composing a computer program and writing a 16-page solution.

The problem? Determine the shape of a snowboard course (currently known as a “halfpipe”) to maximize the production of “vertical air” by a skilled snowboarder. “Vertical air” is the maximum vertical distance above the edge of the halfpipe. Tailor the shape to optimize other possible requirements, such as maximum twist in the air. What tradeoffs may be required to develop a “practical” course?

The annual contest is sponsored by the Consortium of Mathematics and Its Applications, based in Lexington, Mass. EMU participates in the contest every other year when the applied math class, taught by Leah Boyer, associate professor of physics, is offered.  Dr. Boyer was faculty adviser to the students but was not permitted to discuss the problem with them.

“This was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in school, but once finished, we had a feeling of accomplishment,” said Aaron Springer. “The problem solving is applicable to whatever career we end up pursuing.”

“This is a notable achievement for these students,” said Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer, chair of EMU’s mathematical sciences department. “Equally impressive is that the last time EMU participated in this contest, two years ago, a team consisting of Briana Gascho, Dustin Good and Annette Lolchoki also achieved the meritorious rating, rather remarkable considering the high level of participation and intense competition.”