MathWorks Challenge

As sophomores Karn Kaura, Alex Wu and Curtis Ying founded a math modeling club at the Upper School. They started with sports predictions, but soon decided they wanted a greater challenge. 

With the support of their coach, Upper School math teacher Christin Winkler, the trio entered the MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a contest for U.S. high school juniors and seniors and sixth form students in England and Wales. Teams of three to five  students, working in a location of their choice, solve an open-ended, real-world problem in 14 continuous hours over the challenge weekend. During this time they must complete a 20-page presentation of their coding work, application and predictions. The three competed last year as juniors, and this year, as seniors, they returned well-prepared and with an expanded knowledge of different math models. 

Their effort paid off. Of the 655 papers submitted in this year’s M3 Challenge, their team’s paper was judged to be one of three finalists for a Technical Computing Award, giving them the opportunity to present their work—which addresses the housing shortage and homelessness in Seattle and Albuquerque—before a panel of professional applied mathematicians at an in-person event in New York City. 

“What I’ve really taken away from the experience is how collaborative the process has been,” Ying says. “When we were preparing for the competition it was all three of us together, preparing and discussing practice problems along the way, and I think that contributes to how we’ve performed in the competition. Having three minds thinking about a problem is going to almost guarantee a better solution when you collaborate and share ideas.” 

Wu agrees and says competing in math modeling is strikingly different from other competitive math. “I did competition math before, but it was very theoretical; it wasn’t really hands on. [With math modeling] I found out you can start quantifying things and you have confidence about how you can predict future events and you can make a number appear. It seemed like magic to me at first: how can you have so much faith? But these models allow me to see the results of what math can actually bring in the real world.”

It’s that application of math to solve real-world issues that has had an impact on Kaura. “Before I had done these competitions, I had heard what math modeling is but I never really understood why math could be applicable to society in general,” he says. It’s made me interested in pursuing something at that intersection of STEM and the humanities [in college].”

Kaura sees this idea reinforced at Blake. “In a lot of my humanities courses we’re allowed to explore STEM concepts, which is really beneficial to how we see this intersection,” he says. “And in the STEM courses teachers make sure we’re taking some of these concepts that we’re learning in math or chemistry or physics and saying, ‘Why is this actually relevant to the real world and the issues that exist today?’”

The three teammates look forward to presenting their work before a panel of judges who have dedicated their life to math. “We’re really proud to be representing Blake at such a big conference,” Ying says. “We also really want to thank Ms. Winkler for being the advisor to our math modeling club and our coach for the M3 competition. We really appreciate all the support she’s given to us.”