Teens explore stimulus act, win math competition

May 7, 2009

Six high school student teams take home big scholarship prizes

Thirty students from four states were awarded team scholarship prizes ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 and were announced as the 2009 Moody's Mega Math Challenge winners this week after presenting their papers that evaluated the stimulus package's effect on employment to a panel of Ph.D.-level applied mathematicians during the final round of judging at the Moody's Corporation headquarters in Manhattan. The top six teams come from schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. In total, 389 teams from high schools in 12 states, from Maine to Washington, D.C., participated in the 2009 Challenge.

The teams overwhelmingly concluded that the stimulus package would work, given enough time. Impressively, the Champion team from High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey, concluded that over the next three years, the stimulus act would create about 3.2 million jobs. Their model determined that tax breaks would produce the greatest increases in employment, approximately one million jobs, with education and infrastructure spending producing about 600,000 and 500,000 jobs respectively. The students also predicted that unemployment would fall to 6.22% by 2012. However, if this estimate were to fall short, a second stimulus package would be needed, focusing on unemployment benefits, food stamps, and aid to state governments.

"This was real data. We were doing the same sort of analysis that economists all over the country were doing using these huge, public data sets, finding out real, relevant, up-to-the-minute conclusions," said Matthew Warshauer, the lone junior from the High Technology High School team. His teammate, Steve Castellano, added, "Working on an applied math problem like this, where you see how everything relates to each other, was much more enjoyable and interesting than your typical science homework."

After giving their 15-minute PowerPoint presentations in which they explained their solutions and justified their conclusions to this year's Challenge problem, "$787 Billion: Will the Stimulus Act Stimulate the Economy?" the top six teams, comprising 30 students dressed neatly in professional attire, answered tough questions from the judging panel before gathering with their teammates and coaches to anxiously await the final results. Many reflected on the 14 hours they spent working on the problem back in early March, while some discussed the ups and downs of their presentations with other teams.

Charlie O'Leary, a member of the second place team from Elk County Catholic High School in Saint Marys, Pennsylvania, noted that although the Challenge was labeled as a math competition it actually incorporated a lot more than that. "It involved social sciences and English and mathematics, and seeing how that applies to real life was interesting."

James Crowley, Executive Director of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, which organizes and administers the competition, was on the panel of judges for the presentations. Judges review papers and select the best ones to go to the final round, but he said it is always amazing to see the presentations from the top six teams. "The presentations are always impressive, and this year's top six teams were especially strong in both their presentations and their ability to field questions from the judges. They were able to grapple with a difficult problem, construct mathematical models, and do thoughtful analysis based on those models. As several of participants noted, they learned a lot about a subject area (the economics of the stimulus package) in a very short amount of time, and were able to work as a team to produce some useful results. Each of these teams is a winner."

Prizes for the 2009 M3 Challenge were awarded as follows:

M3 Challenge Champions, Summa Cum Laude Team prize of $20,000
High Technology High School, Team #58, Lincroft, New Jersey
Coach: Ellen LeBlanc
Students: Steve Castellano, Ethan Dale, Jay Feldman, Dan Mane, Matthew Warshauer

M3 Challenge First Runner Up, Magna Cum Laude Team Prize of $15,000
Elk County Catholic High School, Team #290, Saint Marys, Pennsylvania
Coach: Theodore Hanes
Students: Joshua Catalano, Eric Higgins, Donald Meier, Charles O'Leary, William Yost

M3 Challenge Third Place, Cum Laude Team Prize of $10,000
The Wheeler School, Team #128, Providence, Rhode Island
Coach: George Lewis
Students: Matt Halpern, Brett Musco, Chris Shaw, Karan Takhar, Alex Wheelock

M3 Challenge Fourth Place, Meritorious Team Prize of $7,500
Bergen County Academies, Team #119, Hackensack, New Jersey
Coach: Elizabeth Casarico
Students: Joshua Eiseman, Peter Humanik, Elan Kugelmass, Taesup Lee, Jordan Moldow

M3 Challenge Fifth Place, Exemplary Team Prize of $5,000
West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, Team #57, Plainsboro, New Jersey
Coach: John Cornell
Students: Shir Aharon, Chris Bergman, Moya Chin, Tracie Kong, YunHui Lin

M3 Challenge Sixth Place, First Honorable Mention Team Prize of $2,500
Staples High School, Team #143, Westport, Connecticut
Coach: Gertrude Denton
Students: Kyle Beatty, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman, Naveen Murali, Justin Sherman

Students representing 17 additional schools received Honorable Mention Team Awards of $1,000 per team:

Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology, Team #11, Hackensack, New Jersey
East Greenwich High School, Team #204, East Greenwich, Rhode Island
High Technology High School, Team # 126, Lincroft, New Jersey
Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Team #211, Flemington, New Jersey
J.R. Masterman Demonstration School, Team #92, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kinnelon High School, Team #173, Kinnelon, New Jersey
McQuaid Jesuit, Team #469, Rochester, New York
Montgomery Blair High School, Team #251, Silver Spring, Maryland
Needham High School, Team #410, Needham, Massachusetts
New Canaan High School, Team #322, New Canaan, Connecticut
Shrewsbury High School, Team #228, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
St. Joseph High School, Team #163, Metuchen, New Jersey
Stuyvesant High School, Team #293, New York, New York
Summit High School, Team #222, Summit, New Jersey
The Family Foundation School, Team #239, Hancock, New York
The Lawrenceville School, Team #253, Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Valley Regional High School, Team #6, Deep River, Connecticut

The 2009 Challenge, held on March 7-8, required student teams to evaluate whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will in fact stimulate the economy. The problem called for teams to mathematically assess the elements of the stimulus package that will most likely produce the greatest improvements in employment. They quantified their findings using mathematical modeling and quantitative analysis techniques, developed and defended their models, and justified their conclusions. Teams also had to gauge how quickly elements of the stimulus package are expected to generate results, ascertain how they will know if the package is working, and indicate a confidence level in their predictions. Additionally, they were asked to discuss whether a second stimulus package would be needed, and if so, how large it should be and how it should be structured. Finally, they were challenged to propose other, better ways to stimulate the economy and increase U.S. employment.

The top six winning solutions, photo galleries, and webcasts of the presentations and awards ceremony will be posted to the M3 Challenge website in the next week. To view these, and to find more information on the Challenge, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org.


About the Challenge
Moody's Mega Math Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool, as a viable and exciting profession, and as a vital contributor to advances in an increasingly technical society. Scholarship prizes total $80,000 in 2009. The annual Challenge is entirely Internet-based and there are no entrance or participation fees. High schools from Maine to Washington, D.C. may enter up to two teams of three to five students each. Students choose which day they wish to work on Challenge weekend and have 14 hours to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on real-world issues. Teams can work from any location they choose and can use any free and publicly available resources, but they may not discuss any aspect of the problem with, or seek help from, their coach or anyone other than their teammates. Complete details, sample problems, and archives of previous winners and Challenge events are available at http://m3challenge.siam.org/.

Awards and Recognition: 2009 ASAE Associations Advance America (AAA) Award of Excellence; 2008 Excellence Award, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP)

About the Sponsor
The Moody's Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to supporting a variety of nonprofit education, health and human services, civic, and arts and culture programs. Established by Moody's Corporation in 2001, the Foundation's primary area of giving is secondary and higher education with a focus on mathematics, economics and finance. Further information is available at http://philanthropy.moodys.com/.

Moody's Corporation (NYSE: MCO), an essential component of the global capital markets, provides credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to stable, transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody's Corporation is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service and Moody's Analytics, encompassing Moody's non-ratings businesses. With revenues of $2.3 billion in 2007, Moody's employs approximately 3,600 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 27 countries. Further information is available at http://www.moodys.com/.

About the Organizer
The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is an international society of over 12,000 individual members. These include applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners from 85 countries in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes nearly 500 academic and corporate institutional members, serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and prestigious peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics. SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at www.siam.org.

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