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Statistics students among top winners of 2016 Mathematical Contest in Modeling

May 3, 2016

Winners of the 2016 Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

Winners of the 2016 Mathematical Contest in Modeling.
From left to right, Nathan Wycoff, Zheng Wang, and Brennen Woodruff are among top winners in the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications’ 2016 Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

Three Virginia Tech College of Science students have been named as winners in the 2016 Mathematical Contest in Modeling, an international competition hosted by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications.  

The team also was awarded a combined $10,000 scholarship for their winning solution.

The undergraduate team consists of Zheng Wang of Burke, Virginia, and a senior with dual majors in the Department of Statistics and the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics program; and Brennen Woodruff of Leesburg, Virginia, and Nathan Wycoff of Herndon, Virginia, both seniors in statistics.

More than 7,400 teams from 13 countries participated in the 32nd annual international competition, picking among three problems. Thirteen teams, including Virginia Tech, were selected as Outstanding Winners, the top rank for the online competition. The winning Virginia Tech team selected a problem that focused on modeling an investment strategy for a fictional, nonprofit philanthropic group dedicated to providing scholarships, using a large set of data with roughly 100 variables and information missing as a starting point. The contest ran from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, with teams learning of their placement in April.

“We were given data on more 2,900 colleges and universities, then asked to provide a model that distributes $500 million during a five-year period, or $100 million per year, to any subset of the colleges and universities by maximizing return on investment.,” said Woodruff. “Thus, we were met with the task of calculating our own metric for return on investment then maximizing that metric based on a simulation that disperses the funds throughout those colleges and universities.”

The $10,000 scholarship, sponsored by fund management company Two Sigma Investments, will be split among Wang, Woodruff, and Wycoff. In this inaugural year for the data modeling problem, organizers of the Mathematical Contest in Modeling said teams “submitted amazingly sophisticated and insightful solutions, among which the judges were well-challenged to identify the top papers.”

Each year the Virginia Tech Department of Mathematics, also part of the College of Science, encourages undergraduates to participate in the competition to develop skills in mathematical modeling and team problem solving. Eight teams in all from Virginia Tech participated in the competition, with honorable mentions for three.

This year’s teams were advised by Henning Mortveit, an associate professor of mathematics and a senior research associate with the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech; Lizette Zietsman, an associate professor of mathematics; John Rossi, a professor of mathematics; and Mark Embree, professor of mathematics and director of the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics program, part of the College of Science’s Academy of Integrated Science.

“This award is a great recognition for our students,” said Embree. “Given the thousands of teams that participate in the Mathematical Contest in Modeling from around the world, it takes special ingenuity and mathematical flair to stand out.  Beyond its great technical expertise, this team had a spark that allowed each member to work tenaciously and collaborate generously with one another over the four days of the competition.”

Virginia Tech previously had a College of Science team selected as Outstanding Winners in 2011.

Mathematical Contest in Modeling challenges high school and college undergraduate teams to clarify, analyze, and propose solutions to open-ended problems. In the past, the contest has attracted diverse students and faculty advisors from more than 900 institutions around the world. According to its website, the nonprofit Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications describes itself as an advocate for mathematics education for students of all ages as a tool to investigate and model real issues in our world.

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