Judging Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

April 4, 2008

Applied mathematicians dedicate their time and expertise to promote math education

Last month more than 250 teams of high school juniors and seniors met in homes, libraries, and coffee shops from New Hampshire to Delaware to come up with their best mathematical solution to a real-world problem: the efficiency and economic impact of corn-based ethanol. Environmental do-gooders? Maybe. But these students had another motive: the chance to win scholarship prizes totaling $65,000 in the third annual Moody's Mega Math Challenge. The Moody's Foundation will award the scholarships later this month to the teams submitting the most creative solutions using applied math techniques to this year's problem, "Energy Independence Meets the Law of Unintended Consequences."

"Each year, we are impressed by the quality of the papers submitted to the M3 Challenge. The fact that high school students can produce such results in just 14 hours is an indication of the great promise of the next generation," said Lee Seitelman, lead consultant and head judge. "This year's teams produced well-written papers discussing the unintended consequences associated with diverting part of the food crop to the production of ethanol for gasoline."

Once the students have done their part, it's time for the judges to take over. Judging for the competition is rigorous, thorough, and meticulous. There are no passing scores, and numerical scores are not assigned. The judges are particularly interested in each team's assumptions, math model, testing methodology, and summary. More than two dozen professional applied mathematicians from academic and industrial institutions throughout the country evaluate the solution papers during an impartial judging process that takes place in three stages in March and early April. First is triage, where each solution paper is read at least twice before being either eliminated or promoted to the second round. Only one-third or fewer of the submitted papers move on to the second round of judging. Here, the judges further calibrate the submissions, arriving at and tentatively ranking the top 11 papers. Generally 10 or more professional, Ph.D.-level applied mathematicians have read the solution papers that reach this phase.

"We are delighted to once again enlist such a talented and committed group of professionals to serve as judges in this year's Challenge," said James Crowley, Executive Director of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). "SIAM has a dedicated community of highly respected volunteers who willingly give of their time and experience to promote and support education and the future of applied mathematics."

Judging culminates in formal presentations by the top six teams at the Moody's Corporation headquarters in Manhattan. During these presentations, held this year on April 30, the judges learn for the first time the identities of the students and the schools they represent. Each team has 20 minutes to present its solution paper, often using PowerPoint presentations and other visual aids, and answer questions from the judges, after which the judges deliberate one last time and rank the teams in the final winning order.

A formal awards ceremony directly follows the presentations. Fran Laserson, President of The Moody's Foundation, and Crowley, along with Ben Fusaro and Seitelman, the two professional applied mathematicians who act as contest consultants, speak about the Challenge and its goals. The winning teams are announced and team prizes ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 are awarded. As many as five additional teams are awarded $1,000 honorable mention prizes.

M3 Challenge judges receive small honorariums for evaluating and scoring papers; it is a modest acknowledgement of their time, service, and contribution to mathematics education and their support of the pipeline of students who choose to pursue careers in applied mathematics. All tolled, with consideration for each paper receiving a minimum of two 20-minute reads, many getting three, four, and five reads, and those continuing through the judging process receiving up to 12 reads, the competition will entail more than 500 judging hours this year alone.

To see a list of 2008 triage judges and their institutions, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org/pdf/triage_judges_08.pdf.

To see a list of 2008 triage survivors by high school name, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org/pdf/triage_surv_hs_08.pdf.

To see the 2008 problem, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org/M3_Challenge_PROBLEM_08.pdf.

For more information on the Challenge, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org.

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About the Challenge
The M3 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 $65,000. The Challenge is entirely Internet-based and there are no entrance or participation fees. Each high school 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. The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) awarded Moody's Corporation a 2008 Excellence Award for Moody's Mega Math Challenge, citing the company's "sophisticated giving program that encourages students to develop a passion for mathematics, economics, and finance." Complete details, sample problems, and archives of previous winners and Challenge events are available at http://m3challenge.siam.org.

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 www.moodys.com.

About the Organizer
The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is an international society of over 11,000 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 more than 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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