By Denny Truong and Robert Vunabandi
As the last school bell rings, hundreds of Villanova students rush out from classes. Some go home, some ask their teachers for help, and some decide to hang out with friends. In room 18, however, a group of dedicated senior students gathers to pursue their plans to make a difference through participating in a mathematics competition: The M3 Challenge.
Moody’s Mega Math Challenge, or M3 Challenge, is an internet-based national competition sponsored by The Moody’s Foundation and organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). The M3 Challenge poses questions that involve real-life issues; for instance, in the past few years, problems have included calculating the cost and reward of college education, optimizing recycling methods, changing and structuring the meal plan for schools, and maximizing profits in the stock market. These problems are designed to have solutions that combine mathematical modeling, innovative ideas, and effective writing skills, and they are meant to attract those who are fascinated by mathematics, STEM, or any combination of the two. That is why this challenge captured the attention of seniors Sol Choi, Joseph Griffen, Jeffrey Luo, Denny Truong, and Robert Vunabandi.
“The way we got involved in this was actually funny. Last year in English class, Joseph, sitting next to me, said that we should do this math competition called M3 Challenge that he found online but that we needed a team of five. I looked to my right, and there were Sol and Jeffrey. I looked to my left. There were Denny and Joseph. Immediately, we all decided just to go for it,” says Vunabandi.
The competition, only open to high school juniors and seniors, happened on the weekend of February 26th. It was designed so that participants could choose any fourteen hour period on the challenge weekend when they can work on a problem specifically chosen by the M3 panel. As soon as the problem was open, the fourteen hour countdown began, and the teams were responsible for uploading their solutions on the M3 website by the end of those hours. Teams of three students or more could enter the competition by representing their high school. This year, Villanova entered its first representatives in the competition on Saturday, February 27th from 8 AM to 10 PM in the Resource Center, and the team hopes to be among the top five solutions that will be evaluated and selected from a panel of Ph.D.–level professional mathematicians. The problem given was about car-sharing: by what factors can a car-sharing company evaluate whether or not it will be successful in a city? Here is a link to the problem: https://m3challenge.siam.org/monthly-dialogue/2016-challenge-problem-share-and-car-share-alike-modeling-new-approaches-mobility.
This competition is about more than just the prize. For these five students, the competition is about sharing knowledge, being exposed to rigorous training, and collaborating with classmates who come from various parts of the world. With their intellectual curiosity and dedication, under the guidance of Dr. Sun Lee, these five students hope to utilize their prior knowledge to present a solution to a real-life application-based problem.
In the midst of their intense preparation, Griffen realized, “When I think about the four other members that make up my team, it occurs to me that the five of us each hail from a different country. And I think this is truly the spirit of mathematics.” Upon this realization, Griffen elaborated: “There is a certain universality to math that doesn’t exist [in any other field]… in [this] world. Through it, the five of us, who grew up speaking different languages and in completely different cultures, were able to find some common ground, some unity. The problems we are solving in this challenge are of global consequence, and through the universal power of mathematics, I believe they can be solved. This competition reminds me of the common bonds we all share and the necessity that we work together, as the whole of humanity, for the betterment of our world.”