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May 2, 2014
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

SRU students earn math modeling rank

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Five teams of Slippery Rock University students have calculated a winning formula, earning two meritorious, one honorable mention and two successful participant rankings in the 2014 Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

Only 9 percent of the 6,755 international teams that competed were judged smeritorious.

This year, teams of three students were required to use mathematics, physics and computer science principals to find solutions to applied mathematics questions about coaching legends and driving patterns.

"The showing by this year's teams is astounding but not unexpected," said Robert Vallin, SRU professor of mathematics and adviser. "Math, physics and computer science have been able to generate a lot enthusiasm for this contest, so fielding five teams was no surprise."

"Nor were we surprised to earn two meritorious and an honorable mention," Vallin said. "These students know what they are doing."

SRU's team results and members are:

•Meritorious; Ellis Neilly, a physics major from Pittsburgh; Samuel Lotz, a biology major from Prospect; and Daniel Arnett, a computer science from Butler

•Meritorious; Alexander Maben, a mathematics major from Limestone, N.Y; Eric Corrado, a computer science major from Cranberry; and Robert Arblaster, a computational physics major from New Castle

•Honorable mention; Kevin Weigle, a physics major from East Palestine, Ohio; Jordan Ewing, a physics major from Warren; and Dustin Klingensmith, a physics major from Evans City

•Successful participant; Tyler Dunbar, a physics major from Butler; Matthew Scott, a physics major from Hermitage; and Brittany Drew, a physics major from Cranberry

•Successful participant; Danielle Faggioli, a secondary education major from Pittsburgh; James Yarbrough, a mathematics major from Pittsburgh; and Kalene Ireland, a mathematics major from Prospect

Rich Marchand, SRU mathematics professor, organized the SRU teams, while Vallin and Athula Herat, professor of physics, were coaches.

More than 20,000 students competed, including participants from Canada, China, Japan, South Africa, England and Spain. Vallin said 31 percent of teams received honorable mentions, 57 percent successful participant.

Of the 6,755 teams, 391 were from the U.S. and 6,364 teams were from outside the U.S.

Vallin reported SRU students outperformed their peers at several prestigious schools.

"We outshone teams from Penn, MIT, Harvard, Harvey Mudd and Cal Tech," he said.

The modeling competition, offered in the U.S. annually, requires students to solve one of two, open-ended, real-world problems. It is distinguished from other math competitions by a focus on research, teamwork and short time frame for solving difficult problems.

Problem A explored the keep-right-except-to-pass rule for driving. States often require drivers on multiple-lane freeways to drive in the right-most lane unless they are passing another vehicle, in which they move one lane to the left, pass and return to their former travel lane.

Students were required to build and analyze a mathematical model to analyze the performance of this rule in light and heavy traffic.

Problem B required students to build a mathematical model for choosing the best college coaches, past or present. Teams presented models for their top five coaches in three different sports and wrote a short Sports Illustrated-style article to present their findings.

The competition took place in February. Vallin said volunteers triaged the papers and decided which ones move to the next level. There was a meeting in Colorado to pick the winners.

According to Vallin, participation is a valuable experience for undergraduates.

"A good showing can open many doors to jobs," he said. "I have heard stories about students who perform very well having employers call them asking about jobs. Aside from that, it is a great resume boost."

The Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, a non-profit organization working to improve mathematics education, offers the annual modeling competition.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.