By Spencer Curcillo
Computer programs and algorithms can be designed to allow people to solve today in minutes or hours what may have taken days or weeks to figure out in times past, while simultaneously eliminating human error. The future, as they say, is now.
On Nov. 7-8, 165 students from 21 different universities will be doing just that in the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.
In the contest, teams consisting of three students each will have five hours of isolation in which they have to solve a series of hypothetical problem scenarios by designing computer programs.
Rarely do teams ever solve every problem in the allotted time, but they are evaluated against each other in terms of number of correct solutions and the time it took to achieve them.
Jenna Wise is a Youngstown State University student who will be competing in the competition this year. She discussed the pressure of the competition.
“Things like this competition really put you on the spot, to do something great and difficult in a short amount of time,” Wise said. “The atmosphere is really geared toward putting you under pressure, and if you can be successful under pressure, I think any company or grad school is really looking for that.”
Robert Gilliland serves as one of the co-site advisers for YSU. Gilliland said he believes the competition teaches students valuable lessons in teamwork and cooperation.
“When you get out in the real world, often times you won’t be working alone,” Gilliland said. “You’ll be working in a team with someone else. So this in a way gives you a small parallel to real life.”
Bonita Sharif serves as YSU’s other co-site adviser. She is also the coach of YSU’s three student teams who are competing. She was thrilled to have so many students volunteer as competitors this year.
“These people were motivated to actually be part of the team,” Sharif said. “There was no convincing required. They were really excited to be part of the competition.”
During the competition, student teams do not have access to their coach, so Sharif has done her best to prepare them ahead of the competition.
“As a coach, I make sure our teams know what to expect during the actual programming contest,” she said. “We do some examples of problems. [The students] work together also at their own pace, depending on how much time they have to do these problems, just to get familiar with the process.”
The YSU teams in the competition consist of Brian Powell, Joseph Kochemba and Kyle Seaver in Team 1; Jenna Wise, Connor Hetzel and Teryn Jones in Team 2; and Richard Elrod, Cody Rigney and Brian Eft in Team 3.
On Friday teams will register, witness a demonstration, participate in a practice contest and have a question-and-answer session.
The contest itself takes place in Meshel Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. An awards banquet follows at 4 p.m.
IBM, who often has representatives present, sponsors the contest. It is not uncommon for students scoring near the top of the competition to receive job offers from them.
YSU is one of four total sites in the region. The other sites include The University of Cincinnati, Grand Valley State University in Michigan and the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.
Robert Kramer serves as regional director. He is responsible for overseeing all four sites. Kramer said he believes strongly in the abilities of the students in the competition and believes they have a lot of potential in their professional careers.
“These kids are really sharp,” Kramer said. “They’re very good at thinking quickly and thinking outside of the box. That’s exactly what IBM looks for.”