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Computer programming team to compete in North American Division Championships

Seniors Ross, Platt and Watson also placed first in the annual Consortium for Computing Sciences Southeastern Region conference. Photo: Heath Parish

One of the eight Bruins programming teams that participated in the 2020 Southeast USA Regional Contest hosted by the International Collegiate Programming Contest Foundation will compete against 138 other teams in the North American Division Championships on April 22.

Bruins Team A, consisting of Steven Platt, Erick Ross and Elias Watson, came in 17th place after solving nine problems, securing one of the available positions in the division championships. Two other BJU teams ranked in the top half of all 138 competitors.

The regional competition took place over five hours on March 6 and consisted of 16 problems, ranging in complexity. The teams were ranked based on how many correct solutions they submitted, followed by a score based on how long each problem took to solve.

Teams from 19 schools participated at 11 sites across the Southeast. Due to COVID precautions, fewer schools took part this year and six additional sites were used beyond the normal five used in previous years. Ten of the other 80 teams from the Southeast advanced to the division championships in addition to the team from BJU.

All collegiate teams were made up of three students, and the members of the BJU team were picked by Dr. James Knisely and Dr. Ethan McGee, BJU faculty members in the computer science department. Although the contest is geared toward computer science students, a number of students from other programs, including engineering and mathematics, competed as well.

Although the members of Bruins Team A are hopeful about the next round, they admit they have plenty of work ahead of them. “I feel like this contest definitely showed us that we’ve got room to improve,” Platt said, a senior computer engineering major. “We actually now have five or six problems that we can take a look at. It’s like, ‘Okay, what was used? How can we solve this better and quicker and be ready for next time?’”

Seniors Ross, Platt and Watson also placed first in the annual Consortium for Computing Sciences Southeastern Region conference. Photo: Heath Parish

During the regional contest, the three read through each problem quickly, determining which ones would take the shortest amount of time. They worked on the questions individually for the most part, moving on to the next one as soon as they finished the previous to avoid wasting time.

According to Watson, a senior computer science major, the difficult part of the problems is not finding a solution but rather mapping the problem to a solution or technique the contestant already knows. Most of the questions are based on existing problems with known solutions.

“Problems give a lot of details which may or may not be helpful,” said Ross, a senior mathematics major. “So, what you have to do once you’ve read the problem is think about what the core question is asking, because a lot of times…you can ask the same question in terms of graph theory or…number theory.”

Platt attributed much of the group’s success to their differing strengths. He and Watson were able to handle many of the problems that relied on knowledge of computer science while Ross worked on the problems closely related to math.

After the contest was over, the teams gathered in Mack Building to watch the final results be revealed and celebrate with pizza. Contestants also discussed difficult problems and talked about the solutions they had reached. Applause erupted whenever the final ranking for a Bruins team was announced, congratulating them for the work they accomplished over the previous five hours.