By Crystale Lopez
Danica Martinez and Mario Perez, both senior math majors at the University of the Incarnate Word, took a fraction of their summer to help a non-profit organization plan for their future, and in doing so, the duo made history.
Martinez and Perez completed their internship with ARTS SA, a non-profit organization that has been producing and preparing shows and activities in the visual and performing arts in the San Antonio area for more than 20 years. Although making profits is not the main focus of ARTS SA, their greater goal was to stay financially independent while promoting arts and culture in San Antonio. Martinez and Perez analyzed ARTS SA performance data dating back to 1992 and constructed mathematical models to be used as a tool to plan for future artistic performances and improve the financial success of the presentations.
“ARTS SA already had a general goal in mind,” Martinez said. “They wanted to increase the profitability and sustainability of their organization, and we collaborated in deciding that using a predictive model would increase their cost effectiveness.”
Martinez, Perez, and Dr. Jesús Cuéllar Fuentes, associate professor in the UIW School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering (SMSE), and faculty mentor for the project, had several meetings with ARTS SA about what could be used and what they wanted to use to measure as far as predictable variables. They had many years of figures on different types of shows and their performances, including ticket sales and revenue.
“We decided on using Ticketmaster reports to record certain variables and the number of attendants as our reliable sources,” Martinez explained.
In completing the analysis, she and Perez ended up with three models rather than one. The students felt the varied models more accurately predicted the response of three different types of performances: music, dance, and theatre. The models will be used to predict the number of attendees in the future.
“We hope the models will help ARTS SA be more cost productive since they will now have a better idea of how much particular variables, such as the venue a performance takes place in, the day and time of week, and artistic fee, to name a few, influence the number of attendees,” Perez said.
“What our students were able to accomplish was the creation of the first quantitative mathematical models for ARTS SA and, as far as we know, no one else has done this in the country either,” said Dr. Zhanbo Yang, chair of the UIW mathematics department, principal investigator and project director for the Mathematics Scholars Program (MSP). “It will take some time to validate and calibrate these models, but having a reasonable one to start out with is historic.”
John Toohey, president and executive director of ARTS SA said they look forward to learning how to use these planning models when deciding on who, what, when, where, and how to present performances with the highest likelihood for success.
Success in this context means a predictable attendance. “Both Danica and Mario seemed well prepared to take this on and were coached by Dr. Cuéllar Fuentes,” Toohey said. “They were consistently professional in their attitude and were hard working. Their open-minded and quantitative approach was refreshing, prompting us to already reconsider a number of planning variables.”
Toohey said he and the ARTS SA team were also impressed that Martinez and Perez are participants in the MSP funded by the National Science Foundation’s Scholars in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program at UIW.
Yang and Cuéllar Fuentes explained that the UIW mathematics department applied for and received funding of $600,000 to provide scholarships and supporting services for 15 academically talented UIW students with financial need majoring in mathematics.
“I transferred from Texas A&M to UIW to take advantage of the education and the scholarship program at the university,” Perez said.
The scholarship provided $8,750 per student per year ($35,000 over eight semesters) toward tuition and fees. The scholarship funds supported a wide array of activities, such as invited external professional speakers, trips to conferences, targeted tutoring and other support services. The scholarship program also has other enhanced supporting structures such as mentoring sections, weekly mentor meetings, resume critiques and mock interviews, etc.
“Through the activities of the MSP, students are better sup- ported in their studies, are more aware of career options and what they need to do to prepare for them,” Yang said. “The scholarship program encourages students to go out and explore internship opportunities – in fact, one of the assignments for MSP scholars was to investigate specific companies for their intern programs and share the information with the rest of the students.”
Yang and Cuéllar Fuentes added that the UIW Mathematics Department also offers courses directly applicable to real work problem solving processes including a variety of statistics, pro- gramming and mathematics modeling courses to get students ready to take part in internships out in the community.
“Dr. Cuéllar asked Mario and me if we would be interested in working on a project that would provide real life experience and give us a chance to apply what we learned in our classes,” Martinez said. “In completing the internship, we gained valuable experience and were happy to find there are real world examples of math and statistics being applied to things unrelated in areas such as the arts.”
Toohey said he thinks real-world applications and challenges are a necessary part of the education process and help develop critical thinking skills and confidence in students.
Yang and Cuéllar Fuentes agreed that internships, such as this one, allow UIW students to have opportunities to practice what they have learned in the classroom and have actual experience in the problem solving process and improve their problem solving skills, which is one of the important factors companies consider when they recruit new employees.
“We really enjoyed working with Danica and Mario and we are optimistic that the models will be helpful in improving the financial success of our presentations,” Toohey said. “They helped us to better understand what we do at ARTS SA and represented UIW extremely well.”
For more information on the UIW mathematics department or the Mathematics Scholars Program, visit www.uiw.edu/math.