A team of three students – Shiqing “Licia” He ’14, Ran Wang ’15 and Yuqiao Yuan ’14 – gathered in a seminar room in Beuth House for four straight days last term to develop a mathematical model to predict college coaching legends.
By the end of this math marathon, they had successfully calculated the best five coaches in ice hockey, basketball and football over the past century, earning the distinction of Meritorious Winner in the 30th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling.
Organized by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, the contest challenges undergraduates to clarify, analyze and propose solutions to open-ended problems. They work on a chosen problem for four days on their home campuses.
“This competition is a great test on our critical and independent thinking skills and our quick response under a highly stressful and intensive environment,” said Ran, a double major in math and economics. “It also enhances our understanding of how to apply math knowledge to practical uses.”
This year, 6,755 teams represented institutions from 18 countries. In addition to Union, U.S. teams included such colleges and universities as Colgate, Colorado College, Davidson, Duke, Emory, Harvey Mudd, MIT, Rutgers, Tufts, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
The Meritorious Award places the Union team, with Professor Jue Wang as faculty adviser, in the top 10 percent of all teams.
A second Union team, with Yaqi Gao ’15 (math and economics), Lingzhi Zhang ’16 (computer science and mechanical engineering) and Xuanhan “Eason” Zhao ’15 (math and physics) earned Successful Participant status.
"I’m very proud of our students. The energy of the teams was boundless,” said Wang. “Having been in the contest as a student myself and now as a faculty adviser, I enjoy the process immensely. It reinforces how exciting math is.”
Union has been participating in the math modeling competition since 2008, though this is the first time two teams took part.
In developing their mathematical model, Licia, Ran and Yuqiao were asked to articulate their metrics for assessment and discuss how the model could be applied across both genders and all sports. They also prepared a short article explaining their results in non-technical language.
“It is exciting to see how math is applied to real life and related to other fields,” said Yuqiao, a math major participating for the second straight year. “The different majors in our team brought in diverse thoughts and information when modeling. This contest also makes me realize the importance of teamwork and learning the skills of managing time and working under pressure.”
She and her teammates researched background knowledge on existing models and literature, obtained large datasets from online databases and used R programming to build regression models.
“We learned so many new things at incredible speeds,” observed Licia, a double major in computer science and studio art. “Our level of focus was amazing.”
Reflecting on the two teams’ accomplishments, faculty adviser Wang said, “It’s truly remarkable what our students came up with in such a short time under stressful situations. They were challenged to balance creativity and existing knowledge.”