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Laurier computer science team impressive in North American contest debut
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The pizza problem recently facing three Laurier students was complicated: it was even more difficult than agreeing on pizza toppings and there was more at stake than figuring out where to get the best deal for their money.
Jeff Armstrong, Kyrylo Stepanchuk and Olav Jordan – along with 133 other three-person teams from North American schools – were working against the clock to write a functional computer program to calculate the shortest pizza delivery route given multiple destination points and time constraints. And that was only one of eight complex problems the teams were expected to solve in five hours. No easy task for seasoned contestants, never mind for rookies like Armstrong, Stepanchuk and Jordan, who were competing in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)’s international collegiate programming contest for the first time.
“These are sharp kids,” said Eugene Zima, associate professor in physics and computer science, who coached the students in stringent weekly training sessions leading up to the contest. “Many of these problems contain extraneous information. It’s easier to sift through this information when you’ve had contest experience.”
Despite their inexperience, the Laurier team placed in the top quarter, coming out ahead of universities such as Notre Dame, Queen’s, Laurentian and Toledo. Only two schools solved all eight problems, and 44 didn’t solve any. Laurier scored more than the average, successfully completing two problems, and received an honourable mention.
Once the teams solved a problem, they submitted the program to the judges, who subjected it to rigorous tests. Although they could submit a program more than once, teams received a penalty of 20 minutes for each subsequent attempt, forcing them to weigh accuracy against speed.
“The students needed to use tools from class in a creative way, and deal with complications,” said Marc Kilgour, mathematics professor and chair of physics and computer science. “It’s difficult to work as a team in these contests, but it provides a great education.”
The students agreed. According to Stepanchuk, “Participating in the ACM contest is very different from writing a final exam or writing software for an employer… I could only rely on my knowledge and intuitive understanding to help the team code the right solution in a very short time, which I've never had to do in class or at work.”
“The competition itself was a great experience,” said Armstrong. “Our team really came together well and managed to get a good placing. We want to keep the momentum going and improve our standing.”
“Next time, our target is the top 15,” said Zima.
ACM is the world's oldest and largest educational and scientific computing society. Since 1947 the society has provided a vital forum for the exchange of information, ideas, and discoveries. Today, ACM serves a membership of computing professionals and students in more than 100 countries in all areas of industry, academia, and government. The ACM regional contest took place on November 11, 2006. For final standings and problem sets, please visit: http://acm.ashland.edu/.
Those interested in joining training activities for future contests can contact Dr. Eugene Zima at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 2796.
Lori Chalmers Morrison