Mental Math: Saint Mary’s Students Receive Meritorious Winner Distinction in International Competition

 This past February six Saint Mary’s students gave up a weekend to compete in the COMAP (the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications) Modeling competition, competing against over 2500 teams from around the world. Divided into two teams, the students participated in the contest that involved solving an open-ended problem. Their dedication paid off and on April 15 the team comprised of Ashley Crish ’11, Emily Gore ’11, and Mary Zahm '10 were awarded the distinction of Meritorious Winner. Gore and Zahm are mathematics majors and Crish is a computational mathematics major. All three students are part of the Dual Degree in Engineering Program at Saint Mary’s. The other team was comprised of Meg Griffin ’11, Grace McClurkin ’11, and Renee Wolbert ’10. They received the Successful Participant distinction.

Bogdan Vajiac, Ashley Crish '11, Mary Zahm '10, and Emily Gore '11
Bogdan Vajiac, Ashley Crish '11, Mary Zahm '10, and
Emily Gore '11

“Our students performed great,” says Bogdan Vajiac, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics. “There are quite a few schools with large engineering or mathematics programs, with students taking quite a few modeling classes that usually perform good in this contest. We are a rather small school. Both teams did a good job and wrote a nice paper. The team that received the Meritorious Winner did an outstanding job on analyzing and presenting a solution to their problem.”

To prepare for the contest the students participated in a six-week math modeling course taught by Vajiac. “The course helped expose us to different mathematical techniques, approaches and strategies for solving various types of problems that might be posed,” says Mary. The teams then had to answer one of two problems in a written report submitted at the end of a four-day period. “I think the competition was a valuable ‘real world’ experience in the sense that there was no one there telling us how to go about solving the problem. There was no one right answer, so we had to forage through the material on the subject, determining what was important to our model, make reasonable assumptions, and produce some plausible results,” explains Mary. “In that sense, I definitely think it was helpful for my future as a practicing engineer, as well as any similar projects that I might encounter in the rest of my courses.”

Working together to solve the problem was also a valuable lesson for the students. “Being able to work together in a team to understand, analyze, research and come up with a solution to a given problem by a deadline is a very important skill to have in engineering and other fields, and the contest gave me experience doing just that,” says Ashley. “Mary, Emily, and I worked very well together and I think that attributed to our success.”

This is the third time that a Saint Mary’s team has received Meritorious Winner distinction, with the last time being in 1998. “I am honored and pleasantly surprised by the award,” says Emily, echoing the responses from her teammates about the win. “We worked very hard on our model and revising our paper to the best of our ability and I am ecstatic that it received such a prestigious distinction.”