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Programming Panthers Problem-Solve Their Way to the Top
Posted By Trudy Palmer On January 10, 2012 @ 1:40 pm In Uncategorized | No Comments
Every fall, the best student computer programmers in the world pit their skills against the clock and each other to solve a series of challenging problems in five short hours as part of the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual contest. Principia’s Programming Panthers have competed most years since 1990 and more often than not placed in the top third of all regional entrants. Twice the College has placed in the top tenth—always against vastly larger and more technically oriented competitor institutions.
On November 5, two Principia teams traveled to St. Louis’s Webster University to compete in this arena of perfect problem solving under fierce time pressure. Our Blue Team, comprised of seniors Vladimir Darmin, Emily Sander, and Ross Vincent, placed first among the eight teams at Webster University and 19th among the 141 teams in the Mid-Central Region! They ranked above much larger schools such as Northwestern, DePaul, St. Louis University, Washington University in St. Louis, and many state universities including Alabama, Missouri, and Tennessee State. Our Gold Team—Casey Dutro, Julianna Hensey, and Michael Ward—competed for the first time, placing lower but gaining valuable experience that positions Principia well for next year’s contest.
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the largest, oldest (over 50 years), and most prestigious of the computer science professional societies. Their Annual International Collegiate Programming Contest (sponsored by IBM) involves more than 30,000 of the finest computer science students from over 2,000 universities in 88 countries on six continents. (The World Finals will be held next May in Warsaw, Poland.) ACM believes their contest “fosters creativity, teamwork, and innovation in building new software programs, and enables students to test their ability to perform under pressure.”
A typical programming assignment takes hours—sometimes many hours spread over a week or more. Suppose a professor assigned eight tricky programming problems, and allowed five hours to complete all eight. And suppose further that the programs would be judged on a pass-fail basis where passing means processing an unseen collection of subtle test cases perfectly—absolutely perfectly.
This is precisely what the ACM contestants must do. Most students would run screaming from such a task, but the Programming Panthers relish the opportunity to demonstrate their algorithmic prowess. And indeed they did, yet again.
Congratulations, Programming Panthers!
Historic background: The first Principia team, Bob Schmit, Scott Dykema, Jason Dent, and Scott Davis, competed at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1990. Professor Tom Fuller served as coach, chauffeur, and one of the contest judges; he remains involved to this day as coach. This fledgling team solved two of the seven problems, enough to catapult Principia over much larger and more experienced schools into 10th place among the 91 undergraduate teams competing that year. In 1999, Principia’s two teams placed 8th and 28th—our highest regional standing ever. The College also served as a competition host site for seven years (1998–2004).
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