MathWorks Expands Popular Math Contest Amid Pandemic

In the wake of a recent report that U.S. student test scores have dropped in math since the COVID-19 pandemic, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) has announced that its prestigious MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge will be expanding in 2021 to include students from England and Wales.

“The pandemic has brought to light the difficulty of engaging students through remote learning, and the need to use creative strategies to motivate students to succeed academically,” said Michelle Montgomery, M3 Challenge program director at SIAM. “M3 Challenge is designed to open students’ eyes to the relevance of math in everyday life, with the ultimate goal of boosting student interest and encouraging them to explore STEM careers.”

Marking its 16th year, the online competition attracts the participation of thousands of high school juniors and seniors across the U.S. – and now sixth form students (ages 16-19) in England and Wales – annually. Working in small teams, the students commit 14 consecutive hours on a designated weekend in February/March to devise a solution to a real-world problem using mathematical modeling. Of the hundreds of participating teams, nine winning teams are selected as finalists, with more than $100,000 in scholarship prizes – a total of 37 monetary prizes – up for grabs.

Submissions are judged by an international panel of 150 largely Ph.D.-level mathematicians, with the competition final presentation event and awards ceremony traditionally held in New York City in late April – an all-expense paid experience for the finalist teams.

“For 2021, M3 Challenge will be taken up a notch, with students now having the opportunity to participate in an international competition and compete on the world stage, resulting in added prestige for both the participating and winning teams,” Montgomery said.

Past competition topics have had students address issues such as the transition of trucking from diesel to electric, substance abuse, food insecurity and car sharing.

“SIAM and MathWorks share a common goal of encouraging students to explore STEM careers by demonstrating the relevance of math, engineering and science outside the classroom,” said Lauren Tabolinsky, academic program manager at MathWorks. “We are pleased to continue supporting M3 Challenge as it expands its scope by helping younger audiences consider STEM careers by applying their skills to relevant and achievable contest goals.”

In addition to its title sponsorship, MathWorks offers participants a range of free resources, training materials and software licenses to help them prepare for the challenge – including its flagship products MATLAB and Simulink that are widely used across academia and commercial industries around the world.

“Every year without fail, we hear from participating students who refer to their participation in M3 Challenge as a transformative experience that helped open their eyes to how important, useful and valuable the application of mathematics can be,” Montgomery said.

Since 2006, M3 Challenge has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships.

Registration is open until February 19, 2021. The competition will take place February 26 to March 1, 2021. For more information and to register, visit