Tricounty News

Kimball math team competes nationally

On a list of 1,281 top math and science high school teams in the country, one would hardly expect to see a small rural public school. But, there it is on the list: Kimball Area High School. They were one of 24 teams from Minnesota in this predominantly East-Coast contest.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics announced its annual Moody’s Mega Math competition and, this year, four KAHS seniors decided to take on the challenge. After all, there was no entry fee; the only cost would be 14 hours of their time, a whole Sunday as it turned out.

The team consisted of calculus students Jonathan Bisila, Cole Denn, Hannah Zipoy, and Katelyn Lichte.

The group met early Sunday morning, March 3, at the high school for their 14-hour challenge. They had no idea of their question until that morning: how to reduce the amount of plastics that end up in landfills in the United States, and predict the amount of plastic waste present in landfills today.

They easily divided duties and conquered the challenge. Some focused on research while the others worked on the writing process. The result was a 20-page solution, that had to be submitted online by the deadline Sunday evening.

The challenge was to find a cost-effective means to recycle more materials, on a small-town scale, medium-sized town scale, and a large-city scale. The problem with recycling today is that it is both inefficient and costly; mechanical sorters are not very sophisticated, and hand-sorting by humans is laborious and costly.

The group found a new, relatively inexpensive sorter manufactured in Massachusetts. It comes in different sizes, ranging in price from $10,000 to $100,000. Utilizing this equipment appropriate to the size of the town, they calculated that the equipment could quickly pay for itself.

The Kimball team submitted their solution which passed the first elimination. They were on a short list of 167 schools in the country, most of them private schools, and several that are math and science institutes.

April 8, they learned that they did not make it to the next level of competition, which would have meant an all-expense-paid trip to New York City to present their solution. A total of $115,000 in scholarship money will be divided between the 55 finalists who made the cut.

Math teacher Jason Mortenson was the advisor on this project. His role that Sunday was to answer mathmatical questions only; he did not participate in the research, discussions, or writing. 

Two of the moms brought food,,  snacks and beverages during that Sunday work day.

When asked why they took on the challenge, the answer was “money!” The chance at free scholarship money was greatly appealing. They also said it was an interesting process, and this is something that will look good on their résumés for the future.

While they are not national champions, these four are all stellar students and local champions in their own right. 
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Jonathan Bisila plans to attend Carlton College, majoring in physics/math or psychology/neurosciences. Cole Denn plans to attend NDSU, majoring in civil or mechanical engineering. Hannah Zipoy plans to attend Bethel University and major in biology or biochemistry. Katelyn Lichte plans to attend the U of M Twin Cities and major in chemical engineering. There’s no doubt they will achieve great things.


These KAHS seniors competed in a math contest sponsored by the SIAM, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. They passed the first cut, but did not advance to the final competition in New York City. Pictured, left to right, are Jonathan Bisila, Cole Denn, and Hannah Zipoy; not pictured is Katelyn Lichte who was in a math competition at St. Cloud State that day. Staff photo by Jean Doran Matua.