WCU team competes in first-ever Shenandoah Valley Math Modeling Challenge

A team of three Western Carolina University math students earned meritorious honors ― and were a judges’ favorite ― in the inaugural Shenandoah Valley Math Modeling Challenge held at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.

The interdisciplinary competition presented teams with two real-world problems to solve in 24 hours, utilizing mathematical reasoning in oral and written presentations.

The WCU team consisted of juniors Keaton Foster and Adam Gropp and senior Aaron Moose. Faculty sponsor was Julia Barnes, professor of math and computer sciences. Other participating schools included VMI, Emory & Henry College, and Appalachian State University.

The first problem focused on how to conduct a successful long-term resettlement of thousands of refugees arriving daily in Europe, distributing them equitably among the 28 European Union nations. The second problem was a follow-up to the first: how to handle refugee camps, in terms of logistics, security and cost.

There were no right or wrong answers, only best possible outcomes based on research, analytics and applied reasoning, Barnes said. Teams were judged by a panel to determine how well they used math to theoretically solve the problems in creative ways, and also ranked as “outstanding,” “meritorious,” “successful participant,” or simply “participant,” after a review of team-prepared papers and a spoken summary.

Meritorious honors went to WCU and a majority of the panel considered the WCU team’s written presentation as being the best paper.

“Creating a hypothetical solution to these real-world problems using mathematics was a long process, although it was exciting to see how our solution could be implemented to save and preserve the lives of people who are suffering,” said Foster of the team’s experience.

From left, the successful WCU math modeling challenge team of Adam Gropp, Keaton Foster and Aaron Moose stand in the shadow of the George Washington statue on the VMI campus.

From left, the successful WCU math modeling challenge team of Adam Gropp, Keaton Foster and Aaron Moose stand in the shadow of the George Washington statue on the VMI campus.

The event, held in September, was organized by Jessica Libertini and Karen Bliss, both VMI assistant professors of applied mathematics with experience in leading collegiate mathematical modeling competitions. The competition was based on a model used by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications. According to the math consortium, such collegiate-level events are growing and flourishing, nationally and internationally. The competitions are designed to develop and advance interdisciplinary problem-solving skills, as well as competence in written communication.

“There was a real value to students presenting their results, seeing other group’s solutions, and getting immediate feedback,” Barnes said. “Our students found it interesting to see how other people had attacked the same problem. They also noticed that the students from VMI had more of a military mindset, which made them solve the problem from a very different perspective.”

To learn more about WCU’s participation in math modeling challenge competition, contact Barnes at jbarnes@email.wcu.edu.