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Westford Academy Math Team Places Second in Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

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Participation in a prestigious national math competition has added up to a second-place finish for four local high school students. The group of 11th and 12th-graders from Westford Academy took home a prize of $15,000 in college scholarships in the Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge.

 Nihar Sheth, Harshal Sheth, Kartik Singh and Adithya Vellal were among 5,100 students – working in 1,100 teams – participating in the Challenge, which involved using mathematical modeling to recommend solutions for the future growth and sustainability of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). A total of $150,000 was up for grabs, divided among the finalist teams and top performers nationally.

The Westford students were runners up in delivering what was found by a judging panel of more than 220 professional mathematicians to be an outstanding mathematical solution to how the NPS can flourish in spite of global change factors expected to affect resources and visits at its 417 national sites country-wide. The students presented their findings at Moody’s Corporation headquarters on Monday in the pinnacle contest event along with five other finalist teams.

Organized by the Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and sponsored by The Moody’s Foundation, M3Challenge is designed to spotlight the relevancy and power of mathematics in solving real-world issues, as well as motivate students to consider further education and careers in math and science. Participants were given 14 consecutive hours during the last weekend of February to study the issue in question, collect data and devise models before uploading their solutions online.

“For three out of the four members of our team, it was our first time doing this competition. We had no experience with math modeling before,” said Harshal Sheth from the winning team, which was coached by Lisa Gartner, a math teacher at Westford Academy. “Through competing in M3 Challenge, I’ve learned that I can make an impact and solve a real world problem. That was really valuable and I hope to continue that in the future.”

“It’s exciting to see the breadth of creative ideas that come out of these teams applying their math modeling skills to the very types of management challenges we in the National Park Service are working on,” said Amanda Babson, Coastal Climate Adaptation Coordinator for the Northeast Region of the National Park Service, who was an honorary judge and luncheon speaker at the final event. “These students have a thoughtful understanding of the challenges of preserving park resources from sea level rise and climate change. I am truly inspired by this future generation.”

First place winners in the competition are Albert Cao, Andrew Hwang, Deepak Moparthi, Joshua Yoon and Haoyang Yu from Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL, who split a $20,000 scholarship prize. Third place winners are Daniel Bodea, Jamie Wang, Anshul Tusnial, Akhil Vaidya and Alex Hammond of Johns Creek High School in Alpharetta, GA, who shared $10,000 in scholarship funds. Finalist teams from North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, NC; High Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ; and Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD, received team scholarship prizes of $5,000 each. (See link below for a full list of winners).

“We pose big messy problems about real issues that students may not know much about and that require them to make sense of it all by quantifying and organizing data, using skills they learned in math class – with the goal of solving something they never related to mathbefore,” said Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge Project Director at SIAM. ­­­­“If students participate in this contest, see its value, get excited about what is possible when they have math skills, and realize the type of cool work and impact they might be able to have in their communities and even the larger world, then we have succeeded in our mission.”

In addition to Babson, members of the final judging panel included professional mathematicians Karen Bliss (Virginia Military Institute), Kelly Black (University of Georgia, Athens), Dan Connors (IBM) and Honorary Judge Christopher Bergman, Associate Analyst, Moody’s Investor Services.  Bergman himself was a M3 Challenge finalist in 2009 and stood before a judge panel much like the one he was part of this year.

Prior to Monday’s judging round, the more than 1,100 student submissions were assessed by 228 judges from across the country, who then narrowed down the entries to six finalists, six semi-finalists and 78 honorable mentions. In total, about eight percent of entrants were distinguished with scholarship prizes.

For more information about the Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge, visit m3challenge.siam.org.

To access the challenge problem, visit https://m3challenge.siam.org/practice-problems/2017-challenge-problem-sea-shining-sea-looking-ahead-national-park-service

View the 2017 winning solutions and full list of winning teams here: https://m3challenge.siam.org/archives/2017/winning-solutions

 View video highlights of the final event here: https://youtu.be/wQFa3Tg1fmQ