YSU MathFest team sets record with six awards

Members of YSU’s 2013 MathFest team are, left to right: (Back row) Kim Do, Blain Patterson, Camron Bagheri, Shawn Doyle, Michael Baker and Dan Catello. (Front row) Sarah Ritchey, James Munyon, Matt Pierson, Eric Shehadi and Ashley Orr. Photo courtesy of George Yates.

MathFest, the annual summer meeting of the Mathematical Association of America, was held in early August. This year, a team of 11 Youngstown State University students set an event and school record with six MathFest awards.
The 2005 and 2006 YSU MathFest teams held the previous record of five, while no other school has ever surpassed three awards.
“It really speaks to the quality of people that we have in our math department,” said team member Eric Shehadi.
Camron Bagheri, Michael Baker, Kim Do, Ashley Orr, Sarah Ritchey and Shehadi won awards for excellence in student exposition and research.  Daniel Catello, Shawn Doyle, James Munyon, Blain Patterson and Matthew Pierson also participated.
“We’re very proud of them,” said George Yates, YSU associate professor of Mathematics and Statistics. “They worked hard and they deserved it.”
In preparation for the event, which lasted four days in Hartford, Connecticut, the students prepared projects on their own and with YSU faculty.
“Dr. Yates listened to all of our presentations and gave us tips,” said Orr, whose winning project was called “Fourier and Wavelet Analysis: Extracting the Business Cycle.”
Orr added that the amount of time it takes to complete a project varies, but all the students put in a significant amount of effort.
“I did a lot of my work on the weekends while I was in Texas [for the summer], and it only took me five weeks,” she said. “But for other people, they work on it all summer and sometimes into the semester. It’s really just how far you want to take it.”
The MAA is not only a competition — it’s also a learning experience for the students where professionals present lectures throughout the event.
“It really creates a cool atmosphere,” Shehadi said. “You get to see what’s going on in mathematics, get ideas, see what other people are working on and just meet other math students.”
Yates said the lectures were geared mostly towards the undergraduates.
“The talks range from how effectively to teach mathematics, to research in mathematics,” he said.
Orr said the multiple opportunities that MathFest provides is a major motivating factor.
‘”It motivates us to want to go to Hartford and have that experience,” she said. “We’re motivated to go and try research and approach our professors and be like, ‘Okay, do you think you can really work with me on this?’”
Shehadi, whose winning project was titled “Prioritizing Vacant Residential Properties for Demolition in Youngstown,” also said it is a priceless experience.
“Students should take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “I encourage everyone to come up with a research idea that interests you and run with it.”
There is no requirement to join the MathFest team, although members are usually majoring or minoring in mathematics.
“We encourage all of our students to attend,” Yates said. “We’re not designing a football team to go out and be the best team. We take any students that want to participate and want to put in the requisite time to prepare a topic and presentation.”
And while the awards are nice, the goal is much simpler.
“We’re just trying to give the students a unique experience and expand their knowledge,” he said.