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Watford Students Advance to Finals in Prestigious International Maths Competition

Watford Students Advance to Finals in Prestigious International Maths Competition

Team from Watford Grammar School for Boys will win a portion of ~£75,000 in scholarships in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge.

For 14 straight hours in early March, a small group of Watford Grammar School for Boysstudents came together to participate in an international online maths competition. A combination of maths smarts and creative thinking has added up to a spot in the finals for the team, whose submission was selected as one of the best solutions to the double whammy crises of affordable housing and homelessness with which governments are currently grappling.

The students – Dominic De Jonge, Meyer Louka, Neil Nair, Jakub Skop, and Kshitij Tyagi of Watford-based Watford Grammar School for Boys – make up one of the nine finalist teams in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3 Challenge), a unique competition that drew nearly 3,000 11th and 12th graders in the U.S. and sixth form students in the U.K. this year. The team, whose work underwent intense scrutiny by judges in the first two rounds of assessment, has one last hurdle when they head to New York City on April 29 to present their findings to a panel of professional mathematicians for final validation.

Using mathematical modeling, students had to come up with solutions to real-world questions: How do we solve the intertwined crises of homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing, especially given that they are often exacerbated by unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and economic downturns? Can we predict long-term changes in the housing supply and unhoused population? If so, how can we use this information to devise real, long-term solutions for homelessness?

Now in its 19th year, M3 Challenge is a program of Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and is sponsored by MathWorks. It spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and motivates students to consider further education and careers in applied math, computational and data sciences, and technical computing. Winning teams will be awarded a share of ~£75,000 in scholarships, with the champion team receiving ~£16,000.

A total of 643 teams submitted papers detailing their recommendations. Roughly 45% of those submissions included technical computing to support and enhance their solutions, and those coding skills make them eligible for additional scholarship prizes.

Dr. Karen Bliss, Senior Manager of Education and Outreach at SIAM:

“The cost of housing in the U.S. and the U.K. has increased faster than people’s incomes, making rent or mortgage payments challenging for many,”

“This issue is often due to a shortage of available housing, which has reached crisis levels and has been associated with a significant increase in homelessness in many large cities.” 

Bliss explained:

“Stable housing can ease homelessness and is often an important first step in helping people tackle other challenges like addiction, mental health issues, and unemployment, but increasing the housing supply is slow and requires significant financial investment,”

“There are also other complex issues to consider, such as land restrictions, population growth, financial constraints, and longevity of a housing structure.” 

The team’s coach, mathematics teacher Yachna Tailor, said that:

“The team has worked exceptionally hard preparing for and completing M3 Challenge. They have learned so much, and these skills will be carried on when they go on to university.”

Team member Jakub Skop said that he found M3 Challenge to be an enriching and enjoyable experience that allowed his team to directly relate academic knowledge to real world problems. “Participating in M3 Challenge is one of the best experiences for applying our knowledge to tackle real world problems. You learn to work in group environments, write professional papers, harness complex mathematical models, and think holistically about the world. And most importantly, M3 is really fun and we’ll miss being a part of it next year.”

In addition to Watford Grammar School for Boys, the other finalist teams hail from schools in Alexandria, Virginia; Andover, Massachusetts; Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Elmhurst, Illinois; Gainesville, Florida; Livingston, New Jersey; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and San Diego, California.

To see the full list of finalist, semi-finalist, and honorable mention teams, visit here.

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