A team of five students from Holy Spirit High School were among the top 12 finishers in the 2014 national Moody’s Mega Math M3 Challenge.

The students competed online against more than 1,150 teams in a marathon 14-hour challenge to apply math modeling to a real-life situation. This year’s challenge was to create a tasty school lunch that met the designated budget and national nutrition guidelines.

The team at Holy Spirit included seniors Khoa Nguyen, of Northfield; Veronica Orrechia, of Brigantine; Rita Do, of Atlantic City; Michelle Moffa, of Linwood; and Joe Fairweather, of Margate.

Nguyen and Orrechia competed last year and volunteered again this year when math teacher Kenneth Scott asked whether students were interested in forming a team.

“We all decided to partake in bonding through math,” said Orrechia of the 14-hour nonstop experience of developing their model.

Do said they had to research nutrition guidelines and calories to develop their menu, and had to include all the major food groups as well as stay within the $6 per meal budget.

“We didn’t take any breaks at all,” she said. “We just kept going and going.”

One of their suggested meals included pasta, turkey and cheese with strawberries for dessert.

Fairweather said when they were notified they had made the top 200 they were surprised, then shocked to learn they had finished in the top 12.

“We didn’t even make it to the second round last year,” Nguyen said.

Orrechia said the announcement came out April 1, and for a moment they wondered whether it was an April Fool’s joke.

It wasn’t, and there is prize money to prove it. The team was not chosen for the top six finalists but will share a $1,500 scholarship as semifinalists in the competition.

A New Jersey team from High Technology High School in Lincroft, Monmouth County, made it into the top six finalists and will compete for scholarships of $2,500 to $20,000.

Holy Spirit’s team was the only New Jersey team to make it to the list of six semifinalists whose projects were deemed of “exceptional quality” by the judges, according to the Moody’s list of winners. Twelve other New Jersey teams were among 53 given honorable mention awards of $1,000.

The M3 Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool, as a viable and exciting profession, and as a vital contributor to advances in an increasingly technical society. It started in 2006 in the New York City metropolitan area and has grown to 45 states and the District of Columbia. High schools can enter up to two teams of three to five students who are juniors or seniors. Panels of Ph.D.-level applied mathematicians serve as judges.

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.