America Loves Math Essay Contest

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Math major Emma Young ’15 won a national essay contest

Senior Emma Young has some advice for the campaign managers of political candidates, but they’ll need to know a bit of math to implement it.

Young has won first place, and a $250 prize, from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics for her essay on how to understand, and control, the spread of information. She submitted her piece, “The Math Behind…Information Epidemics,”  to SIAM’s annual Math Matters, Apply It! contest.

The contest seeks clearly written submissions from math undergraduates and graduates on the role of math in our everyday lives. The top three winners’ pieces are printed onto colorful posters that are distributed to school classrooms.

Young wrote her essay during winter break when she was home in Moreland Hills, Ohio. A math and economics major, she said she has always loved math and came to Bowdoin knowing she would major in the subject. Next year, she’ll work for Bank of America as an equity research analyst in New York City.

Young starts her SIAM essay by pointing out that the goal of campaigners is to try to use their resources — e.g., their money — most effectively to reach as many people as possible. “To do this, the campaigner wants to optimally control the spread of information leading up to the election to ensure that the maximum number of people are aware of the candidate,” Young writes.

She recommends that campaign staff study the spread of information as if they were epidemiologists studying the spread of a pathogen through human populations. “Mathematicians often apply SIR/SIS models, which are used to model the transmission of communicable diseases through individuals, to information epidemics,” Young writes. One model in particular, the Maki Thompson Rumor Model, is superior for elections, she argues, because it takes into account the psychological aspects of humans spreading information to one another. The model divides the population into three categories: ignorants (those who don’t have the information), spreaders (those who are spreading the information), and stiflers (those who stop the spreading).

Young says the model can be applied to other campaigns as well. “This same type of modeling can be used to optimize the spread of information in social awareness campaigns, movie promotions, and product advertising,” she writes.

Economics Department | Mathematics Department


To increase awareness of women’s ongoing contributions to the mathematical sciences, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Math for America are co-sponsoring an essay contest. This contest is open to students in the following categories: Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, and College Undergraduate. The candidates must submit an essay based primarily on an interview with a woman currently working in a mathematical career. Winners will receive a prize, and their essays will be published online at the AWM website.

The purpose of the Association for Women in Mathematics is to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences.


The contest is open to students Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, and College Undergraduates.

How to Apply:

Interested candidates can submit their on-line application form through the given link:

A valid submission will contain the following information:

  • A biographical essay, based primarily on an interview, of approximately 500-1000 words in length, on a woman currently working in a mathematical career.
  • A short (approximately 100 words) biographical sketch of the student contestant. This biographical sketch should include the student’s name, grade level, school, and mathematical interests.
  • Information about the student
  1. Student’s name
  2. Address of student (or parent)
  3. Phone number or email address of student (or parent)
  • Information about the subject of the biography:
  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Phone number and/or email address

Financial Aid and Award Money:

  • There is one First Place Winner in each category (Middle School, High School, and Undergraduate) and a Grand Prize Winner chosen from among those three First Place Winners. There are also typically 0-3 Honorable Mentions in each category.
  • The winners (including honorable mentions) receive a monetary prize, a membership in the Association of Women in Mathematics, a certificate, and their name and affiliation published in the Newsletter for the AWM. In addition, all of the essays are published online and the Grand Prize winner‘s essay is published in the newsletter.

Application Deadline:

Application deadline is January 31, 2017.

Link for More Information:

Contact Information:

If you have any problems submitting your essay, contact Dr. Heather A. Lewis (contest organizer) by email (


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