Simpson team wins programming contest for the first time

Simpson team wins programming contest for the first time

by Alex Kirkpatrick, Digital Editor

Simpson College won the programming contest for the first time at the Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium this weekend in Cedar Falls.

Simpson beat out 58 teams from other small, Midwestern colleges, including the University of North Dakota, Minnesota State University Moorhead, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Bismarck State College and Graceland University, in the regional competition.

The two-day conference involves students presenting their research, a robotics contest and a programming contest.

This year marks the college’s first win in the competition. Since participating in MICS in 2010, Simpson has finished in the top five every year since 2011 and placed second in 2012.

“As soon as the results were final, I headed down to (the students’) room to tell them,” said Mark Brodie, associate professor of computer science. “I met Nate Hayes coming up to see how they had done. When I told him they had won, he almost knocked me over in excitement.”

Leading up to the competition, students met once a week to practice solving problems from previous competitions, according to Brodie.

“As faculty, we make suggestions occasionally to help them solve tough problems, but mostly they learn by working the problems on their own,” he said.

Teams consist of three students, one of whom can be a graduate. Participants are given eight problems to solve in three hours. Whichever team solves the most problems correctly wins.

Teams solving the same number of problems are separated based on penalty points determined by how many incorrect attempts they made.

Twelve Simpson students — four teams — attended the conference.

The team of Nate Hayes, Christopher Hanson and Will Roberts took first place and won $300, solving seven out of the eight problems correctly. One St. Olaf College team also solved seven but had more penalty points.

“I had originally gone into this competition not expecting much,” said Roberts. “It wasn’t until we turned in the code for our first problem and received a message that told us the problem was solved correctly that I started feeling confident.”

“This is an outstanding achievement,” said Brodie. “The competition was very exciting.”

Hayes’ robot finished third in the robotics contest.

“(This is) also very impressive, especially since this is only the second time we have competed in the robotics contest,” said Brodie. “The results confirm the quality of our computer science program. We’ve always done well at MICS, but we’ve never won before. It will help tremendously with recruitment and retention. Also, employers will have another reason to look more closely at a Simpson resume.”

Brodie said he hopes the team will repeat the first-place finish in the programming contest and to improve the third-place finish in the robotics contest.

“It’s quite rare for a small college to be able to provide opportunities to students to participate in these types of competition,” said Brodie. “They are a great learning experience, and they are a lot of fun.”