When the National Park Service called on the help of high schoolers nationwide to provide recommendations concerning global change factors, local students were excited to contribute. 

Four seniors at Marian Central were among more than 5,100 students nationwide competing in Moody’s Mega Math Challenge to win scholarship money. 

Marian’s team of Jacob Fiedler, Matthew Snell, Jayson Wieczorek and Sierra Teeter was chosen by Stephan Liggett, chairman of the math department at Marian, to compete in the event. The foursome was allotted 14 hours to solve a complex problem with no guidance given by anyone other than each other.

“This is a lot more subjective than some math competitions,” Fiedler said. 

“In most math contests, there’s only one correct answer. But what’s more important here is seeing the logical steps you took to develop your model, to see if it matches with reality.”

The group began at 9 a.m. Feb. 26 and worked until 11 p.m. They took breaks totaling around 20 minutes, which included time for milkshakes. 

The first problem that high schoolers nationwide were presented with was to build a mathematical model to determine sea-level changes in five national parks. Then the students were tasked with assigning climate vulnerability scores. Together they used the information gathered to create a model that predicted long-term changes in visitors to each park, advising NPS on where future financial resources should be allocated. 

“They provided us with data sufficient to produce a linear aggression model, which is helpful, but not the most accurate. So we decided to go a little bit deeper and produce a very accurate model based on a huge number of factors. It’s basically putting together a huge amount of information to try to come up with one coherent model. At the end of each part, what you’ll be left with is a table of data. In our case, we determined an index for how vulnerable the parks were to rising sea levels,” Fiedler explained. 

With just 10 minutes to spare, the group had prepared its response: a 20-page paper that cited around 30 sources and provided a written explanation accompanied by equations and math that backed up the work. 

Liggett oversaw the problem-solving challenge but was not able to provide any form of assistance. 

“The day was long. There was so much they had to do. On [March] 15th, they (the judges) determine if we go to the second stage. They’ll make that cut. Roughly 700 groups turned something in. What is predicted is that 70 percent of those teams would not make the first cut (of judging),” Liggett said.

“I felt pretty prepared for it overall, and a lot of that is just due to the general education you get at Marian. Lots of the science, math and English courses really help with the aspects of putting together a comprehensive 20- page paper in a short span of time,” Fiedler added.

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