MCC-Blue River math team wins national problem-solving competition

The winning team: Patience Mitchell (from left), Joshua Gray, mentor Sherri Peister and Mikayla Hoyle.

Mathematics students from the MCC-Blue River campus won the grand prize in a national competition through the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC).

Joshua Gray, Mikayla Hoyle and Patience Mitchell competed as a team in the first Student Research League. The team was mentored by Sherri Peister, a learning specialist in Blue River’s Academic Resource Center. The winning team was recognized at the AMATYC annual conference last November and received $3,000 to be used in continuing their education. The prize was split equally among the students.

The Student Research League is a partnership between two-year college students and faculty mentors who are seeking STEM knowledge through an AMATYC-approved research program.

A challenge problem was emailed to teams in April 2018 and students were given nine days to complete their research and submit a thesis defense. The topic was “Forces of Nature,” in which students had to determine the safest place to live in the United States when it comes to natural disasters.

The thesis defense had to include problem research, job/career research through case studies, a discussion of mathematical tools used and the rationale for the chosen model, implications and predications, the design of a possible solution to the problem, and recommendations for further research.

The three students on the winning team come from very different backgrounds:

Joshua Gray is an electrical engineering student, a former Marine, an active Phi Theta Kappa member and a published author. “As awesome as the prestige, experience and opportunity to apply what we had learned in class to the ‘real world’ was, learning how to properly tackle a problem as a well-oiled team was the most important lesson learned for me,” he says.

Mikayla Hoyle is a mechanical engineering student who started her academic career at a university but transferred to MCC for its affordability. “The research project may have only been a small part of our semester, but I carry the experience with me to this day,” she says. “The other students on the team have become some of my closest friends. When I transferred to the University of Kansas, I took the lessons I had learned during the research project with me. Because of our success and the way we worked together, I now know what a healthy research team looks like.”

Patience Mitchell is considering a career in mathematics, but that wasn’t always the case. When she first started college she was placed in the lowest math class offered at MCC. “I figured I’d end up hating math because, based on my placement score, I didn’t think I’d be good at it. However, I ended up with an amazing instructor and I found myself enjoying the class.” Patience continued to excel in math and has now successfully completed the calculus sequence and differential equations. She works as a tutor in the Academic Resource Center.  “I remember when our instructor told us about the project, I kind of made the other two join the team.” The three faced many challenges over the nine days ” but after a lot of research and analysis, we were able to come up with a solid thesis.”

Hailey Jenkins and Oghenebrorhie Ighoyivwi represented a second team competing in the Student Research League. This team, named a Central Region finalist, was mentored by Jenny Beck, mathematics instructor at MCC-Blue River.

Click here for more information about the competition.

Click here to read the MCC-Blue River team’s winning thesis, “Natural Disasters, Climate Predictions and Human Settlement Patterns.”