Students Use Math to Help Community Partners Solve ProblemsBy Rachel Peter
How do you optimize production and maximize profits with limited space, while providing as many work hours as possible to employees?
That was the challenge presented to a group of students in Discrete Mathematical Modeling, a class offered by the UW Department of Mathematics. The students learned how to use mathematical modeling to solve real-world problems.
Students present their final project at the end of the quarter. From left: Donovan Boyd, Clare Cronkleton, Chris Callagan, Isaac Liu, and Sara Billey
Students Donovan Boyd, Chris Callagan, and Isaac Liu applied linear programming to optimize the production of the Giving Tree, a woodshop that employs seniors and homeless individuals to build handcrafted toys. The toys are sold to the public or donated to children in need.
The non-profit’s main concern: knowing the optimal number of toys to have on display at the start of each month to increase profit, while taking into account volunteer involvement constraints. The students provided the organization with several possible solutions that varied from low to high demand for toys and the sacrifices in profits the organization can make for increased employee hours.
“It was refreshing to have the students look at the production in a different way – how what we do fits into the market and how we can improve,” says Clare Cronkleton, project manager of the Giving Tree.
Professor Sara Billey was impressed by the quality of the students’ work. “They went out and talked to their community partners, found out what they needed and then translated it into a mathematical problem,” says Billey. “Some of these people were asked to do very general things – like reduce clutter or improve business. How do you turn that into mathematics? It is the role of the mathematical modeler to find some aspect of the problem which can be formalized.”
“The project was a really good tool to use for the class, because you actually had to apply something you learned from the class–either the math or the modeling cycle,” says student Brianna Evans. “I enjoyed having the chance to go out and help solve a real world problem.”
Other projects of the winter quarter class include:
• Automating UW Hall Health Nurse Schedules
• Inventory Storage Management at Treehouse
• Improving the Trail System of Seward Park
• Predicting Attendance of Sporting Events
• Minimizing Customer Wait Time at Ian's Domain
“Each one of these teams has succeeded in identifying a solvable mathematical problem that fit their community partner's original description,” says Billey.