For the fifth time in as many years, a Wake Forest University math team has taken top honors in an international math competition. The 2003 team – none of them math majors – created a solution for the best way to handle baggage security claims at airports.
The annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling gives undergraduate students the opportunity to compete in a team setting using applied mathematics to solve open-ended “real world” problems. Approximately 700 teams from colleges and universities around the world competed in the contest. Each three-member team chose one of three problems to solve. The top five solutions for each problem receive the Outstanding Award, the competition’s highest honor.
The Wake Forest team was comprised of Dana Lindemann, a senior physics major from Pleasantville, N.Y.; Robert Haining, a junior computer science major from Atlanta; and Neal Richardson, a junior political science major from Chester, Va. Assistant Professor of Mathematics Hugh Howards coached the team. He says Wake Forest’s commitment to a well-rounded liberal arts education gives its students the edge in this competition.
“To win the competition you have to solve an open-ended problem, you have to make an argument and support it, and that is where our teams excel,” Howards says. “They are well-rounded enough to not only solve the problem, but also to explain it clearly. Our students are perfect for this competition.”
The problems are posted online at 8 p.m. on a Thursday and the team had until Monday at 8 p.m. to submit its paper. Lindemann said the win was a joint effort.
“We weren’t incredibly experienced with math modeling, but that is actually an advantage in this competition,” she said. “We discussed the problems in layman’s terms so our solution was fun to read. The competition is really about critical thinking.”
The 19th annual contest is sponsored by COMAP Inc., a nonprofit organization that produces math-teaching materials. The contest is also sponsored by the National Security Agency.