MC team uses problem solving, research skills, outside interests for regional math competition

MC team uses problem solving, research skills, outside interests for regional math competitionDecember 21, 2021

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. From left to right, Jael Ornelas, A. J. Montanez, Jamie Kneisley and Parker Tew

Jael Ornelas, Arnoldo (A. J.) Montanez and Parker Tew were born in different parts of the country; however, when they met each other in Midland as young high school students, it all just seemed to “click.”  Now the trio enjoy spending time together attempting to find mathematical solutions to solve social problems while being mentored by MC Math Instructor Jamie Kneisley.

“I moved to Midland when I was in the 9th grade,” Ornelas said.  “A. J. was one of the first people I met at Midland Freshman School.  Then we both were accepted into ECHS [Early College High School at Midland College] as 10th-grade transfer students.”

It was in ECHS@MC that Ornelas and Montanez joined Tew in their affinity for math.  They are now high school seniors taking dual credit college courses at Midland College.  

Last winter, Kneisley proposed to the three students that they enter the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) research competition.  They performed practice research projects during February and then in March were given the competition problem, which required students to develop a flight plan to Mars that focused on providing food to sustain a flight crew for an extended period of time and to develop a plan to maintain a future colony.  

“Jael and I were taking Trig from Mrs. Kneisley, and we decided to do the competition as an honors project,” Tew recalled.  “We convinced A.J. who was taking another math class to join us.  I remember practicing during the February snowstorm.  It gave us an opportunity to really concentrate on math modeling.  It was the first time any of us had ever done anything like that.”

When the team received the competition challenge problem, they immediately got to work and developed a plan for establishing agriculture, communication with Earth and maintenance.  Their research contained a shipment plan for the amount of food needed for survival to sustain life for long periods and meals needed to last crewmembers for six months for the initial trip to Mars.  It also included new shipments accompanied by two astronauts to last the crew a year.  The team’s meal plan consisted of variety and nutritional value.  They also considered the cost of meals and ranked the meals on a variety-nutrient-cost scale, which examined the calorie intake of the astronauts.  In addition, the project established hydroponics of kale, beets, potatoes and rainbow trout on Mars to create an intertwined ecosystem providing all the necessary nutrients required for survival while being self-sustaining and relying on minimal support from Earth.  AMATYC selected the team’s submission as one of the top three submissions from the Southwest Region.

“When we told Mrs. Kneisley that we wanted to enter the competition, we didn’t have any idea what type of problem we would be given,” Ornelas explained.  “It just so happened that this particular scenario about Mars and growing food appealed to our interests.  I am from a farming family, and I enjoyed the farming aspect of the problem.  A. J. and Parker like astronomy, so the Mars aspect really appealed to them.”

“When we started working together on the project, our work flowed and ebbed really well,” Montanez said.  “We did a little bit of research, came up with a problem statement and then discussed a way to solve the problem.”

This coming May, all three young men will not only graduate from high school at ECHS@MC, but also receive Associate of Science degrees from Midland College.  They all want to pursue degrees in engineering with the hopes of transferring to Colorado School of Mines in August.  Montanez is considering petroleum engineering; Tew wants to either become an aerospace or mechanical engineer; and Ornelas is interested in mechanical engineering with a biomedical specialization.

“Engineers solve problems,” Ornelas said.  “I want to be able to give back to my community by solving those problems.”

By taking ECHS@MC’s accelerated curriculum and obtaining an associate degree by the time they graduate from high school, Ornelas, Montanez and Parker will be able to have a bachelor’s degree in less than three years.  

While they have decided to major in Engineering, they also have other interests.  Both Tew and Ornelas enjoy computers.  Ornelas prefers coding and networking, and Tew’s hobbies include building computers.  

Ornales is also a self-taught musician and plays the guitar, drums, bass, ukulele and harmonica.  He said that he picked up the guitar when he was 12 inspired by his father who is also a guitarist.

“My outside interests are a little different from A. J.’s and Jael’s,” Montanez said.  “Right now all my spare time is centered around my Labradoodle puppy!”

“These three young men have been a pleasure to work with,” Kneisley said.  “They are thoughtful, funny and engaging, and they make an excellent team, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  The problems they used as practice for the competition problem included developing models to describe and evaluate the long-term feasibility of converting existing semi-truck fleets to electric fleets and determining the risks to the U.S. National Parks due to climate-related sea-level changes.  Their projects have included a prioritization of funding when costs are incurred due to these changes. 

“Currently, they are working on a long-term project to develop a theoretical model to address factors leading to teacher attrition in MISD.  They will be looking at factors related to school funding, the boom and bust cycle of the oil economy, and demographic and socioeconomic information for the Midland population as a whole and the student and teacher population of MISD, in particular.

“They each seem to have a significant desire to better their environment, and the problems they have looked at during our time together are evidence of this.  When creating the project for this year, they came up with several ideas but ultimately chose the teacher attrition problem because they thought, that even a theoretical solution would have the greatest impact on their community.” 

Photo:  From left to right, Jael Ornelas, A. J. Montanez, Jamie Kneisley and Parker Tew

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