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News & Stories: 2007-08

Students Score Big in Math Competition
May 6, 2008

Mention of a college math competition conjures up images of diligent students, clad in polo-shirted uniforms, huddled over a red buzzer, whispering about factorials. They boast catchy team names like “The Denominators” or “Math-letes.”

However Calvin College’s victorious students at the 2008 Lower Michigan Mathematics Competition (LMMC) differ from typical notions of a college-level math squad. The students attended the competition sans uniform or clever title. But they were outfitted with a passion for problem solving.

Junior Tim Ferdinands of Grand Rapids, senior Jess Vriesema of Lowell and first-year student Ethan Van Andel of Grand Rapids took first place at the LMMC, held April 5 at Lawrence Technological University in Detroit.

Impressive Placing

Thirty-one teams from 12 lower Michigan colleges and universities participated in the three-hour competition. Calvin had two additional teams with impressive placings: the fourth-place team of juniors Greg Clark, Sarah Snoeyink and first-year student Jim Hays and the 16th-place team of juniors Katelyn Plaisier and John Roshko and sophomore Peter Plantinga. Calvin was the only school to have two teams place in the top five in the event.

Competition day began early, as professor of mathematics and statistics Christopher Moseley met students at 6:30 a.m. for the two-and-a-half-hour-across-state commute. As far as preparation goes, students had a good breakfast, a full eight hours of sleep and warm-up problems, given by Moseley on the road.

Ongoing Preparation

"There was no systematic preparation,” commented Moseley. However, he added, most students involved in the competition regularly stretch their mathematical muscles in the “Problem of the Week” contest, a math problem, which Moseley posts on a bulletin board and encourages students to solve. In addition, several students participate in the “Problem Solving Club,” a gathering for the purpose of solving math challenges for fun. Students are not obligated to participate in either activity, nor do they receive extra credit; they simply enjoy solving math problems, said Moseley.

The LMMC began at 9:30 a.m. The two-to-three-person teams split into separate rooms at Lawrence Tech. Students were armed solely with brainpower, as calculators were not permitted into the examination. After they glanced over the test packets, the competitors divvied up the work and forged on.

Nonchalance and Diligence

Overall, the students approached the competition with combination of a nonchalance and diligence. “I was comfortable, laid back, not really nervous at all,” said Plaisier, “I was there to have fun solving problems.”

Upon finishing, the Calvin students congregated in the lobby and concluded that the test was not that bad, and that it was actually quite fun. “We knew we had done quite well,” said Van Andel of the winning team.

Following the competition, all of the students gathered for lunch, sharing lasagna and volleying formulas. There was a sense of “camaraderie” among the competing schools, said Van Andel.

And Frisbee

After lunch, Calvin students and Moseley started a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee."There is a strong correlation between math and Frisbee,” Van Andel joked.

Sunday, April 20, Moseley was notified of results via e-mail. “It validates our math curriculum,” he said of the students’ performance.

“Calvin has a good math program,” echoed Van Andel. “We tend to do quite well.” Currently the first-place trophy for the LMMC proudly sits in the math department on the second floor of North Hall at Calvin.

Calvin’s math curriculum is not restrictive, said Moseley: “It doesn’t force you into one category; it opens a lot of doors.” He added that a degree in mathematics can parlay into a career as a doctor, lawyer, researcher, educator or engineer. “Good problem solvers in general can do a lot of things,” he said.

~Written by Communications and Marketing assistant writer Katie Landan
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