TTU team programs under pressure caputures regional win in contest

It took five tough, tension-filled hours to do it and countless more time in preparation, but a team of dedicated computer science students at Tennessee Technological University has captured a win in an elite programming competition.

The students finished second in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Mid-Central Regional Collegiate Programming Contest, held in early November. Approximately 70 teams from Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Indiana competed at several sites that day for the chance to go to the national finals in Philadelphia in February 1996.

The Tennessee Tech students went to the site at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. They worked feverishly in two teams to solve as many of seven challenging programming problems as they could in five hours, the time limit for the contest. They had to write working programs in the language of their choice (C, C++, or Pascal). Each team had a personal computer at its disposal. The problems ranged from analysis of DNA sequences from molecular biology to simulating calculators that use numbers in bases other than decimal. A team consisting of Alan Davies, Bill Morefield and Benji York placed second out of 15 teams at the Murray site, beating out a team from the host university, UT-Martin, Belmont University in Nashville and Rhodes College in Memphis, among others. A team from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville won at the Murray site, solving only one more problem than the Tennessee Tech trio.

Morefield, a junior from Newport, said the event gave him "a chance to experience something similar to what I'll face in a career in programming. I was presented with a problem with no prior knowledge and the pressure of a deadline to work against."

Philip Greer and Jason Morse also represented Tennessee Tech in the event. They, too, helped Tennessee Tech achieve the second place win, coach Martha Kosa said, due to their contributions in the many hours of preparation leading up to the event.

"The contest was taxing," Greer said. "Programming for five hours and only obtaining a 'wrong' if there was a problem with our solution--and not a why--tended to cause a considerable headache." Nevertheless Greer, a senior from Hendersonville, says he's already looking forward to taking part in the event next year.

Kosa, an assistant professor of computer science, said the programming contest is an excellent learning experience because it reinforces problem solving skills, fosters cooperation among students, and forces students to budget their limited time. Along with Kosa, computer science faculty members Frank Hadlock and Jonathan Blake helped the students prepare for the event.

Tennessee Tech is no stranger to success in programming contests. In 1990, a team placed first in the whole southeast region and competed in the national finals. In 1993, a team placed fourth at Murray, and last year a team placed third there.