UNT computer programming students place first at regionals to qualify for international programming competition

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A group of student computer programmers from the University of North Texas has qualified for an international computer programming contest in Canada.

The "Knapsackers@UNT" will compete next April in the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest after winning the 2007 ACM South Central USA Regional Programming Contest held earlier this month after Texas A&M University.

The contest pits teams of students against eight or more complex, real-world problems. Huddled around a single computer, the competitors race against the clock to solve the problems, collaborating to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds and build software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges. The students receive a time penalty for each incorrect solution they submit to the judges.

After five hours of non-stop programming, the "Knapsackers@UNT" solved eight of nine problems to finish first. The team was the only one to solve eight problems, including guiding a laser beam through a maze of objects with reflectors and splitters. It became the first UNT team to qualify for the international competition, which is scheduled for April 8-12 in Banff Springs, Alberta.

The ACM South Central USA Regional Programming Contest attracted 76 teams. The Knapsackers@UNT solved more problems than the rest of the top 10 teams in the competition, which included three teams from the University of Texas at Austin, two teams from Texas A&M, two teams from Baylor University and one team each from Rice University and Southwestern University in Georgetown.

Another UNT team, "The Traveling Salesmen," placed 11th in the competition, ahead of teams from the University of Oklahoma, Louisiana State University, Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Dr. Oscar Garcia, dean of the UNT College of Engineering, which houses the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, says the success of the department's student programming teams "bestows honor on the students and on their teachers, attesting to the quality of the education in their discipline at UNT."

John Rizzo, captain of the "Knapsackers @UNT" and a senior computer science and mathematics major from Kingwood, is looking forward to competing in Banff Springs.

"For the world finals, we'll need to concentrate on practicing lots of very difficult problems, both individually and as a team. The world finals problems will be a lot more algorithmically and mathematically rigorous than the regional problems, so we need to work on extending our skill set to perform well," he says.

Rizzo was also a member of the "Texas Codeboys" programming team that finished 14th last year and 19th this year in the "Challenge 24" computer programming contest in Budapest, Hungary, and finished fourth last winter in an international online programming contest sponsored by the Indian Institute of Technology.

"Knapsackers @UNT" also includes seniors Hector Cuellar, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Robert Mitchell Burke, Dripping Springs. Both are computer science and mathematics majors. The members of "The Traveling Salesmen," all computer science and engineering majors, are Joey Parrish a senior from Deer Park; Angel Fox, a junior from Haltom City; and Matt Bishop, a junior from Copper Canyon.

Sponsored by IBM, the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest traces its roots to a competition held at Texas A&M in 1970 and hosted by the university's chapter of the Upsilon Pi Epsilon Computer Science Honor Society. The idea gained popularity at universities in the United States and Canada as an innovative initiative to challenge the top students in the field of computing science, according to the international contest's web site.

The contest evolved into a multi-tier competition, with the first finals held at the ACM Computer Science Conference in 1977. Since then, students from 1,756 universities from 82 countries have participated. Ninety teams are selected for the finals.

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