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 Hard work plus intelligence adds up to international math awards 



March 26, 2007
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:

Hard work plus intelligence add up to international math awards;

Slippery Rock University team ranks with Harvard, Duke and MIT 


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa - Take teams representing 949 institutions from around the world, give them a tough mathematics problem to solve and what do you get? Well, if you're Slippery Rock University, the answer is having one of your teams win one of only 14 Outstanding Awards presented internationally, another team win a meritorious award, another win an honorable mention and a fourth be recognized for successful participation.

"This is an extraordinary accomplishment. To compete in an international competition and have this type of success is a real testament to the quality of our students and their teachers," said Robert Smith, SRU president.

SRU's teams out-performed every institution in Pennsylvania and most in the world in the 23rd annual Mathematical Contest on Modeling. The international competition, sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications, drew teams from 949 universities in 12 countries. 

The team of Eric Hardin of Leetsdale, Brad Kirkwood of Kittanning and Kevin Sobczak of Wampum, all physics majors, brought home top honors for their mathematical modeling solution for creating an optimal airline-boarding and deboarding procedure for planes with 85 to 800 passengers. Only 14 Outstanding Winners, 1 percent of the competition, were selected. Among the other 14 designees were Harvard, Duke, MIT and three universities in China.

SRU math majors Emily Hendrickson of Conway, Stacey Reynolds of Pittsburgh and physics major Adam Brant of Berlin earned a Meritorious Award in the competition. Math majors Tyler Druschel of Lyndora, Robert Rifenburgh of Greensburg, and Michelle George of Kittanning, earned an Honorable Mention. Physics majors Dustin Hemphill of Butler, Duayne Rieger of Cherry Tree and Scott Rager of Johntown were recognized as Successful Participants.

No other Pennsylvania university received an Outstanding Award, and only one other institution received a Meritorious ranking.

Athula Herat, assistant professor of physics, and Richard Marchand, assistant professor of mathematics, coached the SRU students. 

"It goes to show that given the right opportunity, SRU students can successfully compete with the best in the world," Herat said.

"I'm really proud of our students," Marchand said. "This just shows the talent level that we have here."  

Outstanding solution papers will be published in the UMAP Journal, along with commentary from the authors and judges. 

The on-line modeling competition required teams of up to three students to research, model and submit a solution to one of two problems. Teams received their problems on the evening of Feb. 8 and had just 72 hours to develop the model and write an extensive report. Judges rated solutions on accuracy, clarity and originality.

Problem A required students to develop a model for "fairly" and "simply" determining congressional districts for a state. Problem B required teams to devise and compare procedures for boarding and deboarding airplanes. Problem B also required a two-page executive summary written for an assumed audience of airline executives, gate agents and flight crews.

The SRU team that received the Outstanding Award concluded that the current boarding system used by most airlines, continuously boarding from the rear of the aircraft to the front, is no more efficient than boarding passengers in random order. Students tested several other boarding methods and found that buffered loading systems, in which airlines start boarding at the back of the aircraft but leave a buffer of several rows of seats between each group of passengers being boarded, could decrease the boarding time by 40 percent, Herat said.

Judges congratulated the teams for their excellent work and enthusiasm for mathematical modeling and interdisciplinary problem-solving.

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.

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