Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) and
Inderdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM)
at EMU-Student Handout
The Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) is an applied-math contest held each year in mid-February. Its partner, the Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM), runs at the same time but has a broader view of global problems. Each team of 3 people competes from their home campus; no travel is required. The top few teams get their writing published in an academic journal! Even if you don't win, it's a good experience, a good resume-builder, and you learn a lot about applying math to real-world problems.
If you are going to be a high-school teacher, competing in the MCM/ICM now will help you coach the high school version (HiMCM) in your future job!
You do not have to be a math major-science and technology majors of every kind are welcome to join the team(s)! Sadly, though, anyone who already has a bachelor's degree is disqualified, even if it is in an unrelated field.
The contest problems are revealed on a Thursday evening; your team decides which of the two problems to tackle, and work on it during the weekend. On that Monday evening, you turn in your report (often 10 to 20 pages), and we send it to the contest organizers for judging. Some example contest problem topics are:
More examples are available at
Near the end of the semester, your team will also present your project to a math department seminar. You might also present to other departments that could be interested in this year's problem topic (computer science, physics, etc.) or to the Undergraduate Symposium.
- Optimizing the design of a building to reduce heating demand,
- Designing high-speed algorithms for visualizing molecular arrangements,
- Optimizing a large freeway tollbooth system to reduce delays (which waste gasoline and cause pollution),
- Drawing congressional districts to avoid allegations of gerrymandering,
- Modeling flooding that might occur if an earthquake ruptures a dam, and
- Planning evacuations in advance of a hurricane.
We will prepare for the contest by having the team meet with me each week leading up to the contest to review old winning papers (and non-winning papers!), discuss how to approach math modeling problems in general, and how to write a good paper.
I will write a letter to your other professors explaining the importance of the event and asking for some flexibility in due dates and exams, much like the Athletics department does for their athletes who have a long tournament.
During the contest weekend, the team is not allowed to get help from me or anyone else. You can and should use computer software, libraries, online literature search tools, etc.
After the contest, I will review your paper and provide feedback much like a referee for an academic journal would provide. Then, we will discuss what you might want to improve before giving your presentation to a math department seminar, and work on it together. After the presentation, you can give your feedback on the whole procedure in a survey.
LEARNING BEYOND THE CLASSROOM CREDIT
The General Education Program at EMU requires students to have some experiences in Learning Beyond the Classroom (LBC). Students who complete the preparation, contest, and presentation satisfactorily will earn an LBC credit under Group 6: Undergraduate Research. In doing all of this, you will
- Learn to carry out self-directed or independent learning projects,
- Collaborate with and be mentored by a faculty member,
- Appreciate the value of learning for self-understanding and actualization, and
- Appreciate the value of intellectual and critical engagement with local and global issues.
Participating in the MCM helps students link the ideas they have seen in their various major courses to solve a near-real-world problem. It also helps students see what topics they have yet to learn about in their courses, providing motivation for further studies. As they model the problem, students on the team think critically about each others' ideas. As they write and revise their team's report, they work on effectively communicating their ideas.
The students on the team essentially are doing mathematical research in a very compressed time frame (a long weekend). They have to decide which parts of the problem are important and which can be simplified. They often implement calculations or simulations on a computer, summarize the results, and draw conclusions based on their work. After the MCM/ICM is over, students will present their work to a math department seminar, thus gaining experience in giving presentations, and informing fellow students about the MCM/ICM itself. They might also present to other interested groups on campus, such as the computer science department's ACM club, or the physics department's seminar series, etc., depending on the content of each year's contest problems. If possible, the team will also present at the Undergraduate Symposium. For these reasons, participating in the MCM/ICM and subsequent presentation(s) will satisfy the Undergraduate Research area of the general education program's Learning Beyond the Classroom requirement.