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Mason's Kathleen McLane, left, and Laura Maldonado walk down stairs

Mason graduate Kathleen McLane, left, and senior Laura Maldonado use math modeling to plot day trips across the United States, seeing as much as they can for up to $250 each, including travel. (Photo courtesy State Department/D.A. Peterson)

Mason Math Majors Make Trips Affordable, Fun

Kathleen McLane and Laura Maldonado love to travel. But as college students juggling classes and assignments, they don’t have a lot of time. “And we don’t have a lot of money,” McLane says, laughing.

So the longtime friends and George Mason University mathematics majors use math modeling to plot day trips to cities across the country, seeing as many sights as possible for no more than $250 apiece, travel included.

Their travel tips are available on their blog: America in a Day.

McLane, who graduated in May, and Maldonado, a rising senior, have blogged about trips to Miami, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., and a micro trip to Georgetown. They plan to take four to five trips a year.

Once they find the cheapest way to get to their destination, McLane and Maldonado check the internet for cheap eats and free activities.

Using Google Maps, they plot the best route to see everything on their list in the least amount of time. It’s an optimization problem, McLane says: finding the maximum value of a function using several variables within a set of constraints.

“There are three different elements we used math modeling for,” she said. “We have a time constraint. We’re also dealing with a spot where we start and where we end. We have a budget we’re trying to keep, too.”

“It’s using math in the real world.”

Laura Maldonado

Mason math education professor Jennifer Suh thought their idea was so cool, she had McLane and Maldonado present it at the recent Science and Engineering Festival in Washington.

Suh, on a trip to Mason Korea, demonstrated America in a Day to 60 South Korean teachers and challenged them to come up with Korea in a Day.

“This is a real-world math problem we can bring into the classroom,” says Suh, co-director of the Center for Outreach in Mathematics Professional Learning and Educational Technology. “When [students] see math happens all around them, they can make decisions in their everyday lives based on math.”

The next decision for McLane, who will pursue a master’s degree in engineering at Mason, and Maldonado, who is getting married in July, is where to go next.

“Boston,” they say in unison, and perhaps Key West and Orlando.

“It’s like a hobby,” says Maldonado.

“A hobby that works for us,” says McLane.