Carroll Math Team Ranks Among Top Three Percent in Worldwide Competition

L-R: Madeline Norton, Shirley Davidson, Sabrina Crooks
Thursday, May 13, 2021

HELENA – A team of Carroll College students recently ranked among the top in the world in the annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM)/Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMPAP). Three Carroll College teams competed in the February competition with one team placing in the top three percent of all participants worldwide.

The MCM/ICM is a unique international contest for undergraduate students. It challenges teams of students to clarify, analyze, and propose solutions to open-ended real-world problems. Students participate as team members rather than as individuals, creating an environment for sharing knowledge and skills. Student teams are given 100 hours to analyze a single open-ended problem, develop a model of the problem, solve the model, and write a report.

This year, a total of 26,112 teams from nearly 20 countries and regions across the globe participated in the competition. Carroll College had nine students volunteer to compete in three teams of three students.

Carroll’s top performing team was ranked as “Finalist,” placing them in the top 3% of all teams. Only eight U.S. teams earned ranks of "Finalist" or better. One Carroll team was ranked as “Honorable Mention,” placing them in top 24% of teams, and one team was ranked as “Successful Participant.”

MCM Problem C, Finalist:  Sabrina Crooks, Shirley Davidson, Madeline Norton

ICM Problem A, Honorable Mention:  Keaton Blair, Connor James, Milos Vukadinovic

ICM Problem A, Successful Participant:  Ethan Mancini, Iain Scott, Makenzie Jahn

In the contest, each team selected one of six open-ended real-world problems. Two Carroll teams chose problem A, in which they studied how fungi break down woody fibers, as on a forest floor, where they break down leaves, sticks, and material from dead trees, examining how this process varies with factors like temperature and moisture – 4,487 teams chose to work on this problem, of which 64% received a successful participant ranking, and the next 24% received an honorable mention ranking.

Carroll’s third team chose problem C, in which they studied the spread of the Asian giant hornet, known popularly as "murder hornets," through the American Pacific Northwest – 2,461 teams chose that problem. Carroll’s team received a "Finalist" ranking, the second highest category, putting them in the top 3% of all teams. 

The “Finalist” winning team of Sabrina Crooks, senior, biology major and math minor from Nine Mile Falls, WA, Shirley Davidson, senior, math, computer science and data science major from Escondido, CA and Madeline Norton, senior, math major from Callao, UT, selected a data science problem focusing on controlling the spread of Asian Giant Hornets in North America.

For this problem the team created models to calculate the predicted population growth and spread of these hornets, a convolutional neural network (CNN) which could correctly distinguish between positive and negative images of reported sightings, and a website which would allow for the spread to be tracked by both the Washington State Department of Agriculture and concerned citizens. This hypothetical website, once running, would automatically run all uploaded pictures of potential hornet sightings through the CNN and adjust the population growth prediction based on the positive or negative sighting result. The predicted population growth models included factors such as soil temperature, hornet traveling distances and speeds, clutch size, and mortality rate of both adult and larval hornets. Their final CNN model was able to distinguish an image of an Asian Giant Hornet from that of another species with an accuracy of 90%.

Carroll teams have placed in the top 1% in the MCM/ICM in 2003, 2006 and 2010, and their most recent highest ranking had been in the top 7% in 2019, with a team that included Crooks and Davidson as well. Learn more about the competition at https://www.carroll.edu/mathematics/math-modeling-contests.