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Math team earns award from American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges

| Denise Olson

This past November, a paper co-authored by three UW-Eau Claire – Barron County students, was presented with a second-place national award by the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges Student Research League.

The team of first-year students are Hannah LeMoine of Shell Lake, and international students Anna (Yuchi) Dong of Anshan, China, and Andy (Sicheng) Mo of Chengdu, China. The students’ faculty mentor was Dr. Wufeng Tian, assistant professor of mathematics at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County.

Each year, the Student Research League (SRL) competition takes applications beginning in January, teams are accepted by March and then have 18 days to complete the assigned problem.

The 2019 SRL problem was titled “To Grid or Not to Grid,” a topic related to increasing clean energy and environmental suitability, asking for proposals to reduce individual impact on the effects of global warming.

Tian found this to be a timely and relevant topic, saying, “It is a widely held imperative to reduce our individual impact on the environment and focus on the production and consumption of eco-friendly sources of electricity, such as solar, wind or bio-electric energy."

The paper the team submitted was titled “Mathematical Analysis of Alternative Power Systems in a Northern Wisconsin Home,” which proposes to modify a house in northern Wisconsin by using a hybrid system, including solar energy and wind turbine energy to replace the traditional power grid. The students set out to project the immediate and long-term fiscal and environmental impacts based on the sunlight time and wind speed in northern Wisconsin. From the cost-benefit analysis mathematical model the team devised, they found that the best hybrid option is a combination of 95% solar power and 5% wind energy, which would save about $43,000 over the next 30 years.

“The SRL provides an important opportunity for students to apply mathematical knowledge in solving a real-world problem,” Tian said. “The competition challenges teams of students to clarify, analyze and propose applicable solutions to open-ended problems. Along with the development of stronger interpersonal skills provided by the team-based project, SRL credentials give these students a distinct advantage when applying for future internships.

"In my role as faculty mentor for the student team, I was able to not only guide their acquisition of deeper knowledge and skill levels in mathematics, but to encourage their process of putting that knowledge into practice," Tian said.

Pointing out that the students presented their work at UW-Eau Claire's Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity this past spring, Tian added, “Although we are a small campus in northern Wisconsin, we provide great undergraduate research opportunities for our students, which helps them acquire more math knowledge, along with experience presenting their findings."

As this team of researchers discovered, beyond the practical application of mathematics and other skills involved, team research and public presentation of studies and findings are experiences that will serve these students well, no matter where their future academic and career interests take them.

"The SRL experience was valuable for me because it offered me a more effective research-based learning style. I enjoyed the whole research process, from finding sources to working out the solutions with my teammates. I really appreciate this great opportunity to participate in SRL and I have learned a great deal from it," Dong said.

This sentiment was echoed by the team's other international member.

"I really would like to thank AMATYC for providing us this fantastic opportunity and for their recognition of our team. To solve the problem at hand, we mathematically analyzed the combinations of different energy in Wisconsin. It is fabulous for us to win the national award, but more importantly, it is much more meaningful to find the most affordable and eco-friendly energy-generation methods," Mo said.

LeMoine, a member of the research team who has transferred to UW-Eau Claire’s main campus since the start of the project, was happy to have this opportunity, one that will provide excellent experience to build on with further undergraduate research as a Blugold.

"It is an amazing honor to receive second place nationally for the SRL. I enjoyed working with my team members to research environmentally friendly energy sources and I am proud of the work we did. I learned a lot from this experience and being in SRL helped me prepare for further research opportunities," LeMoine said.

Photo caption: Members of the award-winning mathematics team are (from left) Dr. Wufeng Tian, Anna (Yuchi) Dong, Hannah LeMoine and Andy (Sicheng) Mo.