Kelly Cline's Guide to the MCM

Click here to download the guide.

What is the MCM?

The Mathematical Contest in Modeling is a competition in which undergraduate students in teams of three, at colleges and universities all over the world, spend a weekend in February working on one of two real-life problems and writing a formal paper describing their work. The problems are taken from all fields of science, government, and industry. Recent problems have included estimating the global effects of a large meteor impacting Antarctica, studying hunting strategies for velociraptor dinosaurs based on fossil data, and developing methods for detecting nuclear submarines in the ocean using only the existing noise field. Each team selects one of two problems (discrete or continuous) and then spends the weekend developing a mathematical approach to the problem and writing their paper. During the contest, the students may use books, libraries, computers, the web: anything except a living person. After the contest, a panel of math professors rank the solution papers into five groups: Successful Participant (55%), Honorable Mention (30%), Meritorious (15%), and Outstanding (about 12 papers).

The MCM is less about what you know or what classes you've taken, than about what you can teach yourself during the contest. It's more about creativity, writing, and working as a team. A team that creates a simple model, understands it well, and explains it clearly will generally beat a team with a more complicated, perhaps better model, that can't put their work into simple words.

If you are a current Carroll student and are interested in joining us, please contact me (Dr. Kelly Cline), Dr. Mark Parker, or Dr. Holly Zullo. Sometimes people think that we must be looking for only huge math genius people, but what we're really looking for are people who have energy, enthusiasm, teamwork skills, some writing ability, and who enjoy math. If this contest sounds like fun, then you're exactly the sort of person we're looking for!

For more information and a list of the teams over the past few years, take a look at Dr. Parker's MCM Page.. He's also compiled a nice list of MCM Resources.

Dr. Parker's MCM Page describing our participation here at Carroll.

MCM Information On the Web!

The official COMAP MCM website.

The Quest of the MCM: Conquering the Math Contest in Modeling. This is a truly excellent guide to the MCM. It was written by Brian Camley, Pascal Getreuer, and Bradley Klingenberg: They did the MCM at the University of Colorado at Boulder 3 times, in 2004, 2005, and 2006. (I never met them: They started the year after I left.) Now for the amazing part: These guys got outstanding ALL THREE YEARS. That is an amazing accomplishment that I doubt any other team will be equaling any time soon. Think about that for a minute, then go read their guide.

Good advice from a university in Ireland

INFORMS -- One of the sponcering organizations

SIAM -- Another

MAA -- yet another!

From Mark Parker, a list of MCM Resources.

Nice page from University of Puget Sound, they've been continuously involved since '92.

Page from Eastern Oregon University, where I competed three times.

Page from Stetson University

Page from Grinnell.

Page from Tempere University.

A site on Mathematical Writing

Old papers: This is from a calpoly team in '97. And here's another from the same guy in '98.

A page from U Mass describing their involvement in the the contest.

Modeling contest links and the papers from Heritage College's participation in the MCM.

Lots of papers from the University of Washington

Central Washington University


Simpson College


Although I have tested the ideas contained in this page, they're not my original ideas. First of all, I want to thank Holly Zullo and Mark Parker, two of the best teachers I've ever known. They introduced me to this contest when I was a student, and I am now honored to worth with them as colleagures: What I've presented here is mostly stolen from the Zullo-Parker method. I'd also like to thank all the math faculty at EOU as well as Dr. Preyer, and all the EOU faculty who helped train our teams. Other ideas here have been appropriated from outstanding papers and judges commentary in the UMAP Journal -- if you want to really prepare, go to the source!

The students that I have coached here at Carroll College have taught me a lot about how to succeed in this contest:

Anne Dougherty and Bengt Fornberg at the University of Colorado were kind enough to let me help coach the teams in Boulder while I was in grad school. I learned a lot from them, and a lot from the undergraduate teams that I worked with: Of course I learned the most when I competed myself, so I would like to thank my fellow teammates who put up with this cranky, greedy, domineering, obsessive teammate! Our teams were:
If you find this page useful/interesting please e-mail me! I'm very interested in any thoughts.