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Modeling the Future Team Wins $25,000 Grand Prize for Research on Chicago Crime and Homicide Rate

Communications Team
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Almost every day, someone from Aayush Kashyap’s family travels into Chicago for work.

And he worries.

The rising crime and homicide numbers in the city have not been lost on Kashyap, a member of the Class of 2022 who graduated from Stevenson in May.

Kashyap and his teammates from Stevenson’s Modeling the Future team decided to use their skills in math to find ways to lower those numbers. And recently, the team, which also includes fellow Class of 2022 classmates Collin FanAadit JunejaNathan Ma and Jack Chen, learned that it took first place and a $25,000 prize for its project in the Modeling the Future Challenge, sponsored in May by the Actuarial Foundation.

“My heart was in this project the whole way through,” Kashyap said. “Given that almost all of my family works in Chicago, I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure their safety. I was aware of the high crime rate in Chicago, but I was definitely taken aback when I conducted research on the actual homicide count.

"The data inspired me to do the best research possible to model Chicago homicides and get to the root causes so that we could provide the most effective recommendations to lower the homicide count.”

The final paper from the team’s project will be published in the Society of Actuaries’ Actuarial Research Clearing House (ARCH). It was also passed on to WGN-TV with the hopes of getting widespread publicity.

Meanwhile, the team is hoping its research can be used to influence real change.

“The Modeling the Future Challenge gave us the opportunity to show that, contrary to popular belief, math is not just a series of numbers and symbols, but a powerful tool to understand social issues and bring about necessary changes,” Fan said. “We first found data for key factors associated with homicides along with homicide trends themselves over the past few decades, and processed it with a symbolic regression program.

"This led us to an equation that related all the factors together and allowed us to shape our future predictions and recommendations.”

Through its research, the team deducted that opioid use, unemployment and a reduction in police staffing are some of the leading causes of Chicago’s rising homicide and crime numbers.

“Going into this project, I thought the biggest cause of homicides would be gang violence and drug use,” Kashyap said. “But I never expected unemployment to have such a key role in the Chicago homicide count.

"Lack of police staffing is also not something that I thought of, but it makes sense in hindsight since less police officers would undeniably lead to more crime.”

The team came up with a series of reasonable recommendations that it believes could be implemented today to start positive change, such as using social media to campaign for the creation of more centers to help prevent opioid overdoses, and increasing the standards of education in Chicago Public Schools to better prepare kids to get a job. The team also reasoned that reducing unemployment benefits would likely entice the unemployed to get back into the workforce.

“To increase police staffing, we recommend that the government increase police officers’ salaries, and increase public appreciation of police officers through media campaigns that shed light on the bravery of police officers,” Kashyap said. “The government is known for its advertisements that shed a positive light on the Army and Navy, but attractive advertising for policing is much less common.

"The public can work to spread awareness of the crucial role that the police play in our society, and politicians can be contacted to raise appreciation for police officers in the city.”

The team’s numbers on police staffing were revealing, and even a small increase could mean significant change in dropping homicide numbers.

“The factor with the largest impact turned out to be police employment,” Juneja said. “Our sensitivity analysis determined that a 10 percent change in police employment would result in roughly a 30 percent change (reduction) in annual homicides in Chicago.”

The Modeling the Future team was given high marks by the Actuarial Foundation for its comprehensive research and real-life solutions.

“A challenge like this requires many levels of analysis and critical thinking that one does not regularly see in the classroom, but is an everyday aspect of many careers,” the Foundation’s press release read. “The Actuarial Foundation hopes that by winning this challenge, it will open new opportunities and help you continue to explore new mathematics classes, majors, and ultimately careers using actuarial science.”

The honor and glowing words were especially humbling for Stevenson’s Modeling the Future team, which was new to this specific competition.

“I was definitely more surprised than anything,” Fan said. “This was our first year of math modeling and we were ecstatic to know we won the championship prize.”

The five teammates will equally split the $25,000 prize, meant to be used for college expenses.

“I was extremely excited when I saw that I could get up to $5,000 to help pay for college,” Kashyap said. “It makes me proud that I am able to chip in at all with paying my college expenses, since it gives me a bigger role in my higher-level education.”

The bigger picture of possibly making a difference in society felt pretty good to the teammates, too.

“The personal connection we had to the problem of Chicago homicides definitely helped us feel that we were doing real, meaningful work that could help people,” Juneja said. “That feeling motivated us to create a quality project, as we knew it could have a real impact rather than just be something that’s thrown out immediately.”