6 West students beat the odds in nabbing $1,000 math scholarships

       The words “math” and “passion” are not typically found in the same sentence, but six students from West Middle School were recently honored for their projects on how to equate them.

West Middle School math teacher Phil Hutcherson stands with his six students who each won $1,000 scholarships in a nationwide math contest sponsored by the Raytheon Company. From left are Hannah Levy, Olympia Vida, Jacob Abeyta, Barbara Kania, Moriah Yeh and Sami King.
Westside Pioneer photo

       They were among 150 middle-schoolers to each win $1,000 scholarships - out of some 3,000 entrants nationwide - in the annual competition sponsored by the Raytheon Company that asks “How Does Math Put the Action in Your Passion?”
       The West winners are eighth-graders Barbara Kania, Sami King, Olympia Vida and Moriah Yeh; seventh grader Hannah Levy; and sixth-grader Jacob Abeyta.
       As Abeyta put it, “we had to find what our passion was and figure out how math applies to that.”
       All are students of West Math Department Chair Phil Hutcherson. Overall, under his guidance, 15 of his students entered projects. This is the second year several of his students have entered the Raytheon competition. Last year when two of them earned scholarships, he said, “The chances of one student winning was slim, but two students winning is really cool, and it shows the great things they have accomplished.”
       This year, with six winners, Hutcherson again gave credit to his students, saying they had worked carefully and skillfully. As for his teaching, he related it slightly to the word in the Raytheon question: “You have to have passion and enjoy what you're doing. Kids pick up on that, and if they know you believe in them, they will try to do what you teach them.”
       Hutcherson has taught math to SAIL students for six years at West. Before that, he taught four years of elementary school.
       Principal Clay Gomez was highly complimentary of the Raytheon success and Hutcherson's part in it. “We're excited about it,” he said. “We're glad he's here, and he's got some super-bright kids.”
       Another plus for West is that Raytheon matches each scholarship award with a like amount to the school.
       Here are capsules of information on the six winners' entries:
       Abeyta. How video games use math. He figured out that “a lot of it is timing,” he said, and calculated how programmers make it so that a certain event happens when a game character “stands on a step,” for example.
       King. How tendonitis strains could be eliminated for pianists by matching the keys on the piano keyboard to the size of a person's hand. Her work included a spreadsheet with ranges of hand sizes and keyboards.
       Kania. A volleyball study in two parts - one measuring to find the best place on the hands for passing the ball, proportional to a person's height; and a second part, using math to show the most vulnerable places on the defense for a serve to be placed.
       Vida. A study using logarithms and decibels to delineate the impediments to hearing a cello (such as obstacles in the way or increasing distances the listener is from the instrument). She was prompted to do the study because as a cellist she believes that sometimes her sound gets drowned out, she said.
       Yeh. Using math to aid the dating of archeological finds. She ran out of time to run a full test, she said, but believes it's possible to speed up weathering so that such finds appear older than they really are.
       Levy. Board-breaking in karate. A student of the sport for eight years, “I love it,” she said. Using physics, she detailed the board-breaking process and collected data from watching and breaking them herself.

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