Competition Gives Students Real World Application of STEM

Students obtaining high levels of STEM skills are imperative to making America more competitive on the world stage. However, a recent New York Times article found that 40% of students who choose STEM majors in college tend to quit before graduating. This is thought to be down to what has been described as an excessive focus on abstract courses, theoretical exams, and rote memorization, with little emphasis on practical applications.

Earlier this year, a Commerce Department report found that STEM jobs grew at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs and paid higher salaries by over 25% over the past decade.

Ensuring that they maintain that appreciation and interest through college and beyond is more important than ever. That’s why Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge, a high school contest that takes a different approach, is so interesting.

Sponsored by The Moody’s Foundation, and organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, this internet-based math contest gives participants 14 hours to apply math modeling principles to the solution of genuine, realistic problems.

Previous challenges have included topics such as how the 2009 Stimulus Act would generate jobs in the U.S. economy and what measures need to be taken to reduce the impact of long-term drought in the American Southwest.

Challenges that use scenarios that show ways in which they could use it in their lives and careers.

“Math often times is learned and used only in the abstract, in classes and even other math competitions. The real-world application of math is lost. This contest is a change from that,” said Xiao-Yu Wang, a past winner.

“We analyzed a major political, social, and economic issue through mathematics. It really opened my eyes to the world of mathematical modeling not only in economic fields, but also in other fields such as physical and biological sciences.”

The contest awards a total of $115,000 to winning teams and is open to 29 states in the Eastern United States.

The top six teams are invited to present their winning solutions at Moody’s headquarters in Manhattan, answering questions from a panel of PhD-level mathematicians who judge the contest.

“The M3 Challenge helped me realize that logical, abstract thinking and problem solving was the career path that I desired to pursue,” said Dan Strivelli, a past participant and current electrical engineering major at Penn State University.

The Challenge reinforces the practical applications of math in the real world for students looking at the idea of pursuing a mathematics career track.

Registration closes February 24. The Challenge weekend is March 3—4.