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Mayfield STEM team scores major national achievement

In a credit to Mayfield STEM education and the perseverance of our advanced math students, a Mayfield team won semi-final status in a highly competitive and prestigious national math competition.
In addition, the work of a second Mayfield team of junior and senior students was recognized as strong enough to be among semi-finalist contenders.

“Making it to the final round made me realize that all the hard work my teammates and I put into this competition paid off and that we accomplished something great,” said Niamh Diver '19, the team statistics specialist.

The MathWorks Math Modelling Challenge calls on high school students to present solutions to real-world problems using mathematical expertise, research, writing, graphics and brainstorming to create math models and metrics.

During one marathon 14-hour competition in late March, our inquisitive, fearless and deeply curious teams produced a 20-page mathematical model that predicted what the 10-year future of vaping looks like for high school seniors, and the likelihood that an individual will use various substances, including alcohol, marijuana and opioids.

The senior’s paper catapulted Mayfield to the top strata of 1,174 teams nationwide, earning a place among only 178 teams named semifinalists. Among California’s 105 teams, Mayfield was one of only 13 to advance.

But the work didn’t start with high-fiving optimism.

“We were all intimidated,” said team captain Sarah Lydon ’19 the first time they opened a sample problem. They didn’t know how to start, what to do. “We knew we were going to have to learn a different side of math.”

Learn they did. They studied and analyzed past years’ problems. Watched videos on math modeling. Read former winning papers. The they practiced and practiced. Math department teachers were on hand for support, but the teams were truly self-taught.

“I think this really demonstrates all of the hard work we all put in since Christmas break to make it this far,” Sara said. “It also shows how capable we are! We really thought this was going to be such a challenge, but doing so well just affirms that we are more powerful than we know!”

The competition presents teams with several problem prompts and they have one intense day to work on it alone. No teachers, no outside help. Using our in-classroom SmartBoards, old-fashioned white boards, computers and calculators, the teams holed up in Strub Hall classrooms. Parents brought in fortification: healthy power food, coffee and water to keep them hydrated.

“The strength of our paper is one mathematical model that came incredibly close to actual government-regulated statistics and data—a 1% error margin—wow!” said team member Elisa Gonzalez ’19, who served as a research specialist.

Melissa Tighe, Math Department Chair and Director of Innovation, put the Mayfield team’s work in perspective and explained why entering such competitions is valuable, whatever the outcome.

“We were up against giant public schools with full-time professors who teach only mathematical modeling and teams that practice all year in a class,” Mrs. Tighe said. “And here we are, a small group of curious girls who got together in December, practiced after school and asked questions of teachers when they didn’t understand something they were teaching themselves.”

“To make it as far as our two teams did is a major achievement,” she said. “I could not be more proud.”

She said such competitions affirm their classroom work.

“It shows the world how extraordinary these girls are not only inside their minds, but through their strong character and discipline,” she said. “This is saying ‘among your peers throughout the nation, you are special.’ ”

Elisa credited her strong math and STEM classes at Mayfield for the team’s success as well as the girls’ “fierce determination to discover the generally-perceived impossible.”

As the team members reflected on the experience they all said their collaborative spirit and deep classroom learning, critical thinking skills and respect for the opinions and thought processes of others translated to success.

“I think the biggest lesson is that just because something is daunting and seems unmanageable, doesn’t mean it is impossible,” said Niamh Diver '19, team statistics specialist. “By using the skills Mayfield taught me about how to work on a team, persevere and have confidence in myself, we were able to tackle a terrifying problem and come out with amazing results.”  

Congratulations to both of our impressive teams:

Senior Team:
Sara Lydon '19, captain
Gabby Magat '19, mathematics and graphics specialist
Karina Carranza '19, writer and LaTex software specialist
Elisa Gonzalez '19,  research specialist
Niamh Diver '19, statistics specialist

Junior Team:
Fiona Pan '20, captain
Isabella Paine '19, mathematics and graphics specialist
Amanda Schaller '19, writer and LaTex software specialist
Solunna Nwankwo '20, research specialist
Halle Villalobos '20, statistics specialist
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 21 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.