SIAM News Blog

Anticipating the 2023 COMAP Modeling Contests

By Guangming Yao, Kelly Black, Amanda Beecher, Kathleen Kavanagh, and Steve Horton

Are you looking for an opportunity to help your undergraduate students solve real-world problems with applied mathematics and computational methodologies? Consider forming a team and participating in one of the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) international modeling contests — and potentially winning one of six SIAM Awards in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling and Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling.

COMAP’s annual contests promote mathematical modeling and creative problem-solving. Participating students work together in groups to tackle a complex, open-ended problem that does not have one distinct solution. COMAP sponsors several types of contests, including the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) and Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) for high school and undergraduate students, the Middle and High School Mathematical Contests in Modeling, and the International Mathematical Modeling Challenge for middle and high school students. 

Each team must have an advisor, though the responsibilities of this individual are minimal. Nevertheless, working with a team can be a rewarding experience for advisors because it provides them with a rare chance to interact with a small group of students and focus on aspects of problem-solving that are rarely addressed in the classroom. During the competition, teams progress through a full range of interesting activities. For instance, they must decide how to best scale back the problem in question while still capturing the phenomena of interest; conduct a basic analysis of their model and explore its sensitivity and assumptions; and submit a full written report that describes the model, analysis, and results. These contests thus facilitate the type of personal growth that might otherwise occur over a much longer time span.

Students who take part in MCM and ICM gain a level of experience that is atypical for undergraduates. Participants can use—and have used—their involvement as talking points in job interviews; discussing one’s efforts to solve a complex problem in a group setting will certainly interest potential employers. The same is true for graduate school applications. Every student, regardless of whether they win a top contest award, receives this benefit.

Each submitted contest paper is reviewed at least twice by professional mathematicians and/or scientists, and we invite interested SIAM News readers to get involved by volunteering to score student papers. The judgment process directly supports our students and profession, and judges experience the triumph of student successes firsthand.

Figure 1. Students can use these Math Modeling Reference Cards, which are freely available from SIAM, to prepare for contests such as the Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM), Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM), and MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge.

MCM was founded in 1985 and ICM began in 2015. The contests’ current format—which consists of three problems each for MCM and ICM—was first implemented in 2018. MCM and ICM problems address continuous and discrete mathematics, data insights, operations research, network science, sustainability, and policy. Nearly 500 U.S. teams and over 20,000 teams from across the globe compete in the competitions every year. A total of 27,205 teams from more than 1,400 institutions participated in 2022, ultimately providing 80,000+ students with an authentic, real-world modeling marathon experience.

SIAM supports MCM and ICM by recognizing six teams who are ranked as “Outstanding” during judging—one for each problem—with a SIAM Award. Each winning team member receives a complimentary one-year SIAM student membership, and the faculty advisor is sent a certificate that recognizes the team. COMAP also offers a number of other awards for MCM and ICM, including the Ben Fusaro Award, Frank R. Giordano Award, Leonhard Euler Award, Rachel Carson Award, Vilfredo Pareto Award, and several COMAP Scholarship Awards. Organizations such as the American Statistical Association, Mathematical Association of America, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, and American Mathematical Society also sponsor additional prizes.

MCM and ICM are rewarding pathways for SIAM undergraduate members and SIAM student chapters. Two free modeling handbooks—Math Modeling: Getting Started and Getting Solutions [1] and Math Modeling: Computing and Communicating [2], both written by SIAM members who are involved in the MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge—are great starting points for participating student teams. SIAM’s free Math Modeling Reference Cards are another valuable resource (see Figure 1). 

Registration is now open for COMAP’s 2023 international math modeling contests. Participating MCM/ICM teams will tackle the problems over a long weekend from Thursday, February 16 at 5 p.m. EST to Monday, February 20 at 8 p.m. EST with the hope of winning one of the $10,000 COMAP Scholarship Awards.

Learn more online and register by February 16 at 3 p.m. EST. Follow @COMAPMath on Twitter for up-to-date contest information, and visit the COMAP website for free modeling resources and study materials. Encourage your students to form a team and sign up for this highly impactful experience today!

[1] Bliss, K.M., Fowler, K.R., & Galluzzo, B.J. (2014). Math modeling: Getting started and getting solutions. Philadelphia, PA: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
[2] Bliss, K.M., Galluzzo, B.J., Kavanagh, K.R., & Levy, R. (2018). Math modeling: Computing and communicating. Philadelphia, PA: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

  Guangming Yao is an associate professor of mathematics at Clarkson University. She has served as a judge for MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge and the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) for years.  
  Kelly Black is an academic professional at the University of Georgia. He has been involved with MCM for nearly 30 years and is currently the lead judge for “Problem A,” as well as a member of the problem writing committee.  
  Amanda Beecher is an associate professor of mathematics at Ramapo College of New Jersey, where she also serves as the founding department head of the Data Science undergraduate program and program director of the Master of Science in Applied Mathematics program. She is the Director of Undergraduate Contests at COMAP.  
Kathleen Kavanagh is a professor of mathematics at Clarkson University and the Vice President for Education at SIAM.  
  Steve Horton is a professor emeritus and former head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at West Point. 
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