Former Educator to Master Trainer of the Modeling the Future Challenge

August 6, 2021
By: Moriah Wright


On a random Monday in late spring of 2018, I received an email from my former professor, colleague, and now Youngstown State University (YSU) math department chair, Dr. Tom Wakefield, sharing information about a new actuarial competition for high school students: Modeling the Future Challenge (MTFC). He invited me to come to YSU for a short information session that summer. Piqued by the promising prospect of the challenge and a nostalgic visit to my alma mater, I attended the informational session and was impressed by the scope and approach of the MTFC in its accessibility, free registration, and the innate problem-based learning (PBL) approach to the challenge itself. After a stroll through of the Butler Museum of American Art on campus and a quick stop to see if the Teddy Graham I had hidden in the math major study lounge was still there from 2009 (good news: it wasn’t), the wheels were turning in my mind as I drove home that day about how I could make the MTFC a tangible experience for my students.

As a math educator at both the college and high school levels since 2010, I had jumped at the chance in 2015 to be part of the founding team of teachers for a new independent STEM school in northeast Ohio where mastery learning and problem-based learning would be the driving teaching approach. As the founding math teacher at iSTEM Geauga Early College High School, I appreciated the curricular freedom and responsibility of designing courses that provided real-world connections and an authentic audience with applications and ties to various careers. I had often felt at a loss when addressing the completely valid student question of “When are we ever going to use this?” when teaching Algebra 2 and higher math to a diverse student body who were not necessarily contemplating math doctorates or engineering on their horizons but already appreciated the innate problem-solving and critical thinking skills that are as axiomatic to mathematics as the parallel postulate to geometry.

The MTFC addressed each of these areas: external audience and motivation, real-world math problems to solve and resources, exposure to a new career field in actuarial science, a timeframe that allowed for learning and not just high-stakes competition, and accessibility with free registration. Over the course of the 2018-19 academic year, I was able to incorporate the MTFC into my sophomore precalculus course and had 4 teams participate in the scenario phase, 2 teams move into the project phase as semi-finalists, and then 1 team qualify as finalists. While that team (“The Matheketeers”) did not place in the top four winning teams at the national symposium in Chicago, the experience was invaluable and several of these students have declared actuarial science as their major as they enter university this coming fall. I continued to build the MTFC as a course project into my precalculus course over following years and saw numerous project-phase qualifying semi-finalist teams and one more finalist team this past spring.

The reality of teaching in the K12 setting and attempting a new external competition is that the learning curve is often steep, time is short, and value + return-on-investment must be sold to multiple stakeholders (admin, colleagues, students, parents, community … yourself). Over the course of my 11 years of classroom experience, I had the chance to develop skills in project and program management – particularly in STEM programming—and as I looked to transition out of the classroom this year, the chance to join the Institute of Competition Sciences and be a part of the MTFC from the “other side” was an incredible opportunity. As I know that teacher time is precious, I was thrilled to have the prospect of creating materials for the MTFC Resource Library that would help teachers to scaffold the MTFC resources and engage students in this amazing and worthwhile competition.

On top of it all, this summer I was fortunate enough to be part of the Underserved Engagement Initiative project team. Over six weeks this summer, teachers from Title 1 schools gathered virtually for the Actuarial Process Training Pilot which is sponsored by The Actuarial Foundation, F&G Annuities and Life, and the Casualty Actuary Society (CAS). Master Trainer Alberto Dominguez and I (including several volunteer actuaries) led teachers through various resources, supports, and discussions on Actuarial Process and the Modeling the Future Challenge. The dynamic interactions allowed the enthusiastic participants and facilitators to build rapport and support networks for successful challenge participation in the upcoming year and hear insights from actuaries who work in the field and have served as mentors or judges for the challenge. Teachers noted the inherent real-world problem- and project-based learning (PBL) nature of the challenge are excellent avenues to incorporate into their schools and classrooms. A unique feature to the Modeling the Future Challenge is the free registration (but substantial volunteer input and scholarship awards available) because it maintains that it is an equitable-access challenge and learning experience for all high school students around the country.

I look forward to working with the MTFC team coaches around the country for this 2021-22 MTFC in sharing perspective and resources, brainstorming and engaging with teams for successful and meaningful MTFC participation at various levels, and cheering on the amazing work of teachers and students and all volunteers and sponsors in association with The Actuarial Foundation and this wonderful program.