May 16, 2013 | 8 a.m.
By Michelle Westlund, Communications Specialist
Seniors Jake Smith, Michael Tetzlaff, and Tony Burand (left to right) discuss their winning strategy at a recent Bethel presentation.
A Bethel team has once again been named one of the 11 Outstanding Winners in this year’s
COMAP MCM, a highly competitive, 96-hour, international mathematical modeling competition. In addition, the team—comprised of Bethel seniors Tony Burand, a chemistry and physics major; Jake Smith, a math and physics major; and Michael Tetzlaff, a computer science and physics major—was awarded the 2013 Mathematical Association of America prize.
COMAP, the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, sponsors the annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) to challenge teams of students to clarify, analyze, and propose solutions to open-ended problems. The contest attracts diverse students and faculty advisors from more than 500 institutions around the world. This year, 5636 teams from 14 countries competed. Bethel’s team provided a winning solution to a complex problem of designing the optimal pan for baking brownies, determining that most often a circular shape was best, followed by the square and hexagon. “The results depend on many parameters,” explains Smith, “and involved a lot of taste testing.” The team found that ultimately it is best to make custom pans based on the user’s desired outcome.
Bethel has accumulated four wins since entering their first COMAP MCM competition in 2001, accounting for 3% of all winning papers in that time. This rate of success is equal to MIT’s win rate during that time period, and only six institutions worldwide have won the contest more often than Bethel since online records began.
Nathan Gossett, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, explains that Bethel’s contest success is directly related to its mathematics curriculum. “The COMAP contest was created to provide an arena for undergraduate students to demonstrate skills in applied math, as opposed to pure math like most math competitions,” explains Gossett. “Similarly, our math department has worked applied math concepts into most of our math courses to help students connect the mathematical concepts they are learning to real-world applications. So the same goal that drives the contest is what drives Bethel’s curriculum. We simply found a competition that matches what our department already does well.” In addition, Gossett credits Bethel’s liberal arts curriculum for helping its math modeling teams “meet the challenge of the MCM’s emphasis on clear exposition and communication.”