Centre teams excel at ACM International Programming Contest

Posted by Centre News in Math, News 12 Nov 2015

ACM Programming ContestIllustrating Centre College’s commitment to critical and creative thinking, two Centre teams excelled in the recent Mid-Central USA Regional Contest of the ACM International Programming Contest, with one team earning third place and the other earning ninth.

Three-person teams from several colleges participated in five hours of programming and problem solving. The fact that the Centre teams did so well is “quite remarkable,” Christine Shannon, professor of CentreWhite2mathematics and computer science, said.

“Having both our teams score in the top nine of twenty-four teams, most of whom are coming from much larger institutions, is a testament to their talent and perseverance,” she explained.

The “Centre Gold” team, with members Boting Li ’16, Yifan Li ’17 and Yuchen Liu ’16, achieved a “dramatic finish” by answering an additional problem that bumped them from eleventh to third place. There can be a large change in rankings based on additional problems solved, as rank is determined by the number solved correctly, Shannon said. Ties are broken by the least amount of time taken to submit a correct solution.

In the final few minutes of the competition, Li of the Centre Gold team adapted an algorithm he had recently seen in Assistant Professor of Computer Science David Toth’s parallel computing course. The team solved a problem about the order in which a series of dance performers (each involving a company of dancers) should be organized in a dance recital so as to minimize the number of quick costume changes for performers, putting their creative problem-solving to the test. Out of 155 teams in the five-state regional, Centre Gold achieved 31st place.

Li is excited that the Centre teams performed so well, explaining that they trained every week with Shannon since the beginning of the semester. During the contest, his teammates did not give up until the last minute to solve the hard problems. He credits courses at Centre with giving them an edge, including Shannon’s algorithm class and her data structure class, Toth’s parallel programming course and Associate Professor of Computer Science Michael Bradshaw’s computer organization course.

“We have not spent a crazy amount of time preparing for this contest like some teams from big universities did,” he continued, “so our ability to solve these problems is mostly coming from the courses we have taken.”

The “Centre White” team, including Han He ’16, Daniel Graham ’16 and Forrest Kamperman ’16, also did very well in their ninth place finish. They were actually ahead of Centre Gold throughout the contest until the end.

“The contest is a good demonstration of our students’ ability to solve a problem and then implement that solution in an efficient manner,” Shannon said. “This can take a great deal of creativity and the ability to apply something they may have seen before, but now in a novel setting.”

Pictured: The Centre “Gold Team,” which finished in third place (above); the Centre “White Team,” which finished in ninth place, with Shannon.

by Elise L. Murrell
November 12, 2015

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