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What I’ve Learned from the Modeling the Future Challenge

While I acquired many valuable mathematical skills and experiences while working on the Modeling the Future Challenge as part of my team, I would say that the greatest and most impactful lesson I have learned throughout the process is the importance of teamwork. I think it is safe to say that without my team’s willingness to truly listen carefully to each other, stick to a strict schedule we had laid out for ourselves, and work together as one team rather than a separated group of individuals, we would not have been Finalists. 

Students participating in the Modeling the Future Challenge and others like it are often some of the most mathematically smart and talented individuals in the country. However, a common pattern I have noticed is that students’ individual talents do not shine as brightly when they are not willing to make compromises and work together as a team. Especially on projects or challenges like MTFC that have a large workload to get done, very few individuals are successful working alone. 

Last year, my team and I were able to communicate with each other and exchange constructive criticism about the project without hesitation—this is another crucial aspect of the process. 

This habit of teamwork carried over into the mathematical side of our project as well. I personally was not familiar with many of the concepts we were dealing with, both in the Qualifying and Project Phases of the competition, but my teammates were always there to provide a clarifying explanation with a smile on their faces. With this type of connection, strengthened bond, and ability to make decisions together, I saw that no project is truly impossible or “too hard” if one is working together as a part of a team. 

Another crucial aspect that I realized was the importance of listening before talking. Before sharing my ideas, I’ve learned to always pay very close attention to what ideas or comments others had in mind. This allows me to reflect and elaborate on my own statements or thoughts before I shared them with others. Further, most of the time, the other members of a team will have ideas that you haven’t even thought about. It’s important to recognize that everyone has their unique perspectives on various parts of the project, and this must be respected in order to maintain a positive team environment. 

I am oftentimes not the most experienced or knowledgable person in the room, but I am always willing to listen and learn from others—and this mindset is necessary for growth, both within and beyond the MTF Challenge. 

Lastly, I want to share a helpful tip from my experience.You are most likely never going to get things right the first time. The nature of math modeling and forecasting is that you need to fine tune every little detail, clean your data, analyze to an extent that makes you an expert on whatever subject you research. Things definitely aren’t going to come easy– but this is where your team comes in. Rely on each other for support along the way! 

For both new and returning competitors, remember: what’s more important than your final result is the process you go through with your team, and the memories/experiences you build along the way!