Gainesville Students Advance to Finals in Prestigious International Math Competition

Team from F.W. Buchholz High School will win a portion of $100,000 in scholarships in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge

For 14 straight hours in early March, a small group of F.W. Buchholz High School students came together to participate in an international online math competition. A combination of math smarts and creative thinking has added up to a spot in the finals for the team, whose submission was selected as one of the best solutions to the double whammy crises of affordable housing and homelessness with which local and national governments are currently grappling.


The students – Melissa Li, Sophia Rong, Nathan Wei, Andrew Xing, and Luke Xue of Gainesville-based F.W. Buchholz High School – make up one of the nine finalist teams in MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3 Challenge), a unique competition that drew nearly 3,000 11th and 12th graders in the U.S. and sixth form students in the U.K. this year. The team, whose work underwent intense scrutiny by judges in the first two rounds of assessment, has one last hurdle when they head to New York City on April 29 to present their findings to a panel of professional mathematicians for final validation.


Using mathematical modeling, students had to come up with solutions to real-world questions: How do we solve the intertwined crises of homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing, especially given that they are often exacerbated by unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and economic downturns? Can we predict long-term changes in the housing supply and unhoused population? If so, how can we use this information to devise real, long-term solutions for homelessness? 


Now in its 19th year, M3 Challenge is a program of Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and is sponsored by MathWorks. It spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and motivates students to consider further education and careers in applied math, computational and data sciences, and technical computing. Winning teams will be awarded a share of $100,000 in scholarships, with the champion team receiving $20,000.


A total of 643 teams submitted papers detailing their recommendations. Roughly 45% of those submissions included technical computing to support and enhance their solutions, and those coding skills make them eligible for additional scholarship prizes.


“The cost of housing in the U.S. and the U.K. has increased faster than people’s incomes, making rent or mortgage payments challenging for many,” said Dr. Karen Bliss, Senior Manager of Education and Outreach at SIAM. “This issue is often due to a shortage of available housing, which has reached crisis levels and has been associated with a significant increase in homelessness in many large cities.”


“Stable housing can ease homelessness and is often an important first step in helping people tackle other challenges like addiction, mental health issues, and unemployment, but increasing the housing supply is slow and requires significant financial investment,” Bliss explained. “There are also other complex issues to consider, such as land restrictions, population growth, financial constraints, and longevity of a housing structure.”


The team’s coach, mathematics teacher Ziwei Lu, explained that “the open-ended nature of M3 Challenge means there is a lot of creativity required in problem solving, which is rather unique in the realm of high school competitions. The students not only had to apply the skills they learned in math and computer science classes, but also research and understand the background, as well as overcoming challenges like how to project so far into the future.”


Team member Melissa Li said that she found M3 Challenge to be an invaluable opportunity for connecting academic knowledge to real-world issues, providing unique insights into the practical applications and efficacy of math modeling.


“Although our school provides AP math and statistics courses, there are no classes that describe the real-world application of math modeling or adequately address the level of analysis necessary for M3 Challenge,” she said. “By challenging our team in what can only be described as ‘the Challenge’, I believe we obtained a glimpse into the thrill and wide-reaching utility of math modeling and that has shaped what we want to pursue.”


In addition to F.W. Buchholz High School, the other finalist teams hail from schools in Alexandria, Virginia; Andover, Massachusetts; Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Elmhurst, Illinois; Livingston, New Jersey; Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Diego, California; and Watford, Hertfordshire.

For more information about M3 Challenge, visit


To access this year’s challenge problem, visit  

To see the full list of finalist, semi-finalist, and honorable mention teams, visit


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Written by Daniel Korentur

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