Students put their best to the test in national math modeling challenge

The competition added up to real-world benefits for the U.S. trucking industry

Avery Fenton and Antonio Zevola looking at calculations on window

They had 14 hours to study, calculate and use mathematical modeling tools to solve a real-world challenge they had never seen before, and by the time they were done, four BPHS seniors were part of an effort that reaped potential benefits for the nation’s trucking industry.

Antonio Zevola, Meaghan Uhlinger, Avery Fenton and Emily Macfarlane were among 760 teams of high school students from across the U.S. who tackled the 2020 MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a national, online competition focused on the importance of math in problem solving and everyday life.

“At 5:45 a.m. on March 2, Antonio, Meaghan, Avery and Emily were let into the high school by custodial staff so they could begin working on the M3 Challenge in the Virtual AP (VAP) room, which was reserved until 11:45 p.m. just for them,” said BPHS math teacher Billy Eipp. “They had a 14-hour window of time to solve and submit their solution to the M3 Challenge problem.”

Eipp noted that all of the students on the team were taking AP Calculus AB, and Emily and Antonio were also taking AP Computer Science A. The four would tap their math and computer science knowledge, and more, for the competition. “The students prepared by having discussions with me about previous challenges and about setting up an approach for their team on what roles each would focus on during the challenge itself,” Eipp said.

On March 2, Antonio, Meaghan, Avery and Emily put their best to the test in the VAP room to solve the 2020 M3 Challenge problem titled, “Keep on Trucking.” They had to create a model to predict the percentage of semi trucks that will be electric in the next few years and decades, determine the number and locations of charging stations along major U.S. trucking routes that will be needed for an all-electric trucking industry, and prioritize which routes should be targeted first for development of electric charging infrastructure.

The students did not know anything about the problem until they downloaded it on Challenge day and started their 14-hour clock. Teams in the competition could use any free and publicly available resources, but they could not discuss any aspect of the problem with, or seek help from, their coach or anyone other than their teammates.

“B-P’s team made calculations on laptops, notebook pages, flip charts, and even the VAP classroom windows as they developed potential solutions to the challenge problem,” Eipp said. “I think it’s pretty funny they chose to use the windows in our nicest room in the school. They said they knew that’s how real-world employees work at Google, and they wanted to work like that.”

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), which runs the M3 Challenge, worked with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) to develop this year’s competition problem. After all teams nationwide submitted their solutions, a panel of judges convened by SIAM reviewed the entries over a six-week period before choosing six finalists and then a winning team.

NACFE then reviewed competition information and reports from Challenge finalists to identify elements that could be directly used in their work with over-the-road electric trucks.

“Our kids did great in the M3 Challenge, even if they didn’t win a portion of the prize money,” said Eipp. “And how cool is it that the NACFE’s executive director worked the Challenge solutions into some of his work. This is amazing stuff that our kids are doing, it is positive news and evidence that the future will be in good hands.”

According to the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the goal of the M3 Challenge is to motivate students to study and pursue careers in applied math, computational science and technical computing. For more information, visit

Emily Macfarlane and Meaghan Uhlinger at computer


Emily Macfarlane and Meaghan Uhlinger work on computer

In the photos above: Emily Macfarlane (left) and Meaghan Uhlinger take on the Challenge on a laptop.

In photo at top of page: Avery Fenton and Antonio Zevola calculate on the VAP classroom windows.