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U.Va. Computer Science Students Qualify for Computing Contest World Finals

The International Collegiate Programming Contest, sponsored by IBM and operated under the auspices of the Association of Computing Machinery, is known as one of the largest and most prestigious computing competitions in the world of computer science. This fall, a team of three University of Virginia students placed second in a regional contest and qualified for the World Finals to be held this summer.

Team members were third-year Neal Milstein and second-year Derek Morris, both computer science majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and second-year College of Arts & Sciences student Carson Wang. In July, the group will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, along with their faculty coach, Aaron Bloomfield, an assistant professor of computer science, to compete against 115 teams from 91 countries.

Nearly 10,000 three-person teams participate in the International Collegiate Programming Contest regional contests in 11 regions in North America. U.Va.’s region consists of the nearest six states and this year included 172 teams from 67 institutions.

“This is the fourth time in five years that a team from the University of Virginia has advanced to the world finals in the ICPC,” said Bloomfield, who advises the local chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery. Six of U.Va.’s eight teams placed among the top 25 teams, and three placed in the top 10.

The International Collegiate Programming Contest challenges teams of three students sharing one computer with the task of solving as many daunting problems as they can in five hours. The problems range in difficulty, but all require a depth of knowledge and all are judged against strict requirements by a well-versed panel of experts. Through this form of competition, students are offered the chance to increase their abilities as problem-solvers and members of a team, as well as the opportunity to meet and interact with students from other universities.

U.Va. began participating in the contest in the early 1990s, but only fairly recently has become one of the top schools in the mid-Atlantic region. Past U.Va. teams qualified for world competitions held in Stockholm in 2009; Harbin, China in 2010; and Orlando, Fla. in 2011.

Bloomfield notes that, though it is an honor to compete at the World Finals, it is not the main priority. He recognizes the value of pitting team against team in a battle of the brains, but emphasizes the importance of enjoying the unique experience that these competitions offer.

“I want students to enjoy the experience, to learn and to interact with students from other schools and other countries,” he said. “And if we qualify for the world finals in the process, than all the better.”

U.Va.’s Association of Computing Machinery chapter is seeking to build awareness and interest in the International Collegiate Programming Contest. It launched the High School Programming Contest in 2011 to boost interest in the study of computer science; the first year of competition attracted three teams, while 18 participated in 2012. The 2013 high school contest will be held in late March with the hopes of drawing 30 teams to U.Va.’s Rice Hall.

Kevin Skadron, chair of the Engineering School’s Department of Computer Science, said, “The success of these students and the involvement of so many students and faculty exemplifies the distinction of the U.Va. Department of Computer Science and the Engineering School and provides a wonderful opportunity for students to hone their programming skills in a problem-solving environment.”

— By Erik Dornbush

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