BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Most recent college graduates would love to
forget the experience of "cramming" before a big exam, but two
University at Buffalo graduates who spent 96 hours last semester
doing just that have received multiple awards in the international
2008 Mathematical Contest in Modeling, in which 1,162 teams
competed from universities around the world.
The UB team consisting of New York State residents Amy Evans of
Rome and Tracy Stepien of Camillus was one of nine to be awarded an
Outstanding Winner designation, placing in the top 1 percent of all
It was the first time that UB had entered a team in the
24-year-old contest. Previous winners were from Harvard University,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of
California, Berkeley, among many other institutions.
In addition to the Outstanding Winners award, the UB students
also were awarded the Ben Fusaro Award, named for the founder of
the contest. They also won the SIAM prize given by the Society for
Industrial and Applied Mathematics, awarded to one outstanding
winner for "noteworthy originality and creativity in their modeling
John Ringland, Ph.D., UB professor of mathematics in the UB
College of Arts and Sciences, was the UB team's faculty advisor. An
additional UB team earned an honorable mention for its entry in the
contest; team members were Zachary Marzec of East Amherst,
Quinessence Anx of Buffalo and Joseph Zennamo of Skaneateles.
The intense international contest is sponsored by the Consortium
for Mathematics and its Applications. It requires undergraduate
mathematics students to solve a complex, mathematical modeling
problem within 96 hours.
During those 96 hours, students must research the literature on
the problem, come up with a mathematical model, use computer
programs to generate results from their model, draw conclusions and
write a cogent paper describing their methods and results.
The UB students were asked to develop a model that described how
the coast of Florida would be affected by the melting of the polar
ice cap due to predicted increases in global temperatures. The
students were required to model changes in the Florida coastline
every decade for the next 50 years, with particular attention to
large, metropolitan areas.
"The hardest part about competing in the contest was staying
focused and not getting sick," recalls Stepien. "There is a lot of
work that needs to be done in 96 hours and your ability to think
very clearly deteriorates throughout the contest."
As a result of their contest win, the UB students are headed to
the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics annual meeting
in San Diego in July, where they will present their paper and
attend workshops; SIAM is the major professional organization of
Stepien and Edwards said that their interest in "applied"
mathematics -- in which mathematical techniques are used to solve
problems in other scientific disciplines -- was stoked in part by
such UB courses as Fundamentals of Applied Mathematics I and II
taught by Brian Spencer, Ph.D., professor of mathematics, as well
as Introduction to Numerical Analysis taught by Ringland.
Stepien, for example, completed undergraduate theses in
mathematical physiology, analyzing and developing a mathematical
model of renal dynamics under the guidance of E. Bruce Pitman,
Ph.D., UB professor of mathematics and associate dean for research
and sponsored programs, College of Arts and Sciences.
"What also helped in our success was that Tracy and I have
worked together in the past in both the mathematics and music
departments and have known each other since freshman year," said
Evans. "We work well together, and our strengths and weaknesses
balance each other."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.