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Mathematics Modeling Teams Excel in COMAP Modeling Contest

Three teams of IUP undergraduates participated in the COMAP Mathematical Contest in Modeling, with one team scoring in the top 10 percent of all participants and the other scoring in the top 42 percent.

The Mathematical Contest in Modeling is an annual international competition, with 6755 teams participating this year from 18 countries. Teams of up to three undergraduate students spend an intense four-day weekend at their home institution, working on an open-ended realistic mathematical problem.

The team of Mathematics and Economics double major Ashleigh Craig (Hollidaysburg, Pa.), Geology and Computer Science double major Daniel O’Hara (Ebensberg, Pa.), and Mathematics major Theresa Scarnati (Erie, Pa.) worked on a model to analyze the performance of the “Keep Right Except to Pass Rule” in light and heavy traffic. The team analyzed throughput versus safety, the role of speed limits, and other factors in analyzing this model. The team of Craig, O’Hara, and Scarnati were declared “Meritorious Winners,” placing their work in the top 10 percent of all entrants.

O'Hara, Scarnati, and Craig work on MCMAshleigh noted that “It was pretty intense. You only have four days to do all the research, create and test the model, and write up a report.” Theresa added that “the Mathematics Department faculty members were great. They kept us fueled with food and snacks throughout the weekend. The students also made use of the computing facilities of the Mathematics Department. 

The team of Craig, O’Hara, and Scarnati used a combination of partial differential equations, discrete simulation in MATLAB, and a technique known as “time stepping” in their analysis. Ashleigh and Theresa noted that they learned about time stepping in John Chrispell’s Numerical Methods class.

Newcome and SmithThe team of Mathematics and Physics double major Ross Newcome (Reading, Pa.), Mathematics major Sean Smith (Annandale, Va.), and Computer Science major Michael Taylor (Waynesboro, Pa.) also worked on the traffic model, earning a “Successful” designation for their modeling of the problem. Newcome, Smith, and Taylor wrote a rules-based discrete simulation model and a risk analysis discrete simulation model in Java.

Huidong Zhang, Zhen Yang, and Yifei HuA team of exchange students from China majoring in Finance, Yifei Hu, Zhen Yang, and Huidong Zhang, worked to create a mathematical model to analyze and declare the “best all-time college coach,” male or female, for the past century. The team of Hu, Yang, and Zhang used three operations research models of increasing complexity to refine their choice of best coach of the century—the simplex method, a combination of Data Envelopment Analysis and Grey Relational Analysis, and then they added economic and life expectancy indices. Hu, Yang, and Zhang earned an “Honorable Mention” for their model, placing their work in the top 42 percent of all entrants. 

It was Hu, Yang, and Zhang who initiated IUP’s participation in the competition. Ed Donley of the Mathematics Department, who served as one of the advisers for the students, said, “Yifei knew of the COMAP modeling competition because it is very popular in China. He stopped by my office and asked if I would sponsor their team in the competition. I was familiar with the COMAP modeling contest, but IUP has never participated. I was enthusiastic about giving students an authentic applied mathematics experience—working as a team on a complex mathematical problem that does not have one ‘correct’ solution. I enlisted Dr. John Chrispell to work with me to assemble and orient the teams.”  

Chrispell added, “I teach the operations research course sequence, so I know most of our students’ mathematics and programming capabilities. We recruited our best students with a breadth of mathematics, science, and computer science backgrounds for the competition.”

Donley and Chrispell hope to make this an annual event in the Mathematics Department. Ed commented, “I have already had some sophomores come up and ask me if we can participate next year. So, the pump is primed.”

COMAP (Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications), is an award-winning, nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve mathematics education for students of all ages. In each year since 1984, COMAP has sponsored the Mathematical Contest in Modeling for undergraduate students.  

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