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Moody's Mega Math Challenge

Bastian Gross

German Mathquant
You probably don't immediately think of SIAM in connection with activities at the K-12 level. Our focus as a professional society tends to be on furthering research in our discipline, on application of results in science and industry, and on fostering student activities at the graduate level. Like any professional society, however, we have a keen interest in keeping our discipline healthy, and this requires a stream of talented individuals entering the field. One pre-college activity that SIAM has undertaken is management of a mathematical modeling contest for high school students, sponsored by the Moody's Foundation.

Called the Moody's Mega Math Challenge, the contest focuses on modeling and analysis of real-world problems. Ben Fusaro and Lee Seitelman have coordinated problem creation and judging since the first contest.

The contest introduces junior and senior high school students to applied mathematics by giving them opportunities, working in three- to five-person teams, to tackle real-world problems under time and resource constraints akin to those faced by industrial applied mathematicians. In a single 14-hour session, a participating team downloads the contest problem from the SIAM Web site, develops a mathematical model for its solution, and presents the group's findings in a paper written to be accessible to nontechnical readers. In 2009, the teams submitting the best solutions will share $80,000 in college scholarship prizes. The judges, who follow a rigorous judging process, are professional mathematicians (disclosure: I have judged the contest every year). For the final round of judging, the top six teams travel to Moody's Corporation headquarters in New York City to present their solutions to a panel of judges (again, I have been a member of that panel each year).

The contest has evolved since it was first held in 2006; it began locally (for Moody's), in New York City, and has expanded into a larger geographic area each year. For 2009, the contest area includes all of the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, from Maine to Washington, DC. Continued expansion is planned through 2016, at which time the contest is to be national.

The 2006 contest problem asked the students to develop strategies that would ensure the solvency of the Social Security system for 75 years. In 2007, the students were to create an investment plan, given stock performance data for 16 high-tech companies. This year's teams were to evaluate the efficiency of a corn-to-ethanol strategy for achieving energy independence, and the concomitant effect on global food prices.

Lee Seitelman and Ben Fusaro welcome input from the SIAM community for modeling problems for future contests. Unfortunately, there is not a surfeit of realistic modeling problems that can be studied, "solved," and documented in 14 hours by high school students, using only Internet resources and reference materials! Suggested problems should be sent to Seitelman (lseitelman@aol.com) or Michelle Montgomery (montgomery@siam.org). A $500 honorarium will be awarded to the author of any problem chosen for the contest.

The 2009 contest is scheduled for March 7 and 8!