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Computer science team places second in region

By Jennifer Shen     11/18/13 6:00pm

A group of computer science students put their skills to the test earlier this month to compete in a programming competition. The team from Rice placed second out of the 57 teams that competed in the USA Southwest Central regionals of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.

Two other teams from Rice also competed in the competition and placed 11th and 42nd, respectively.

According to its website, ICPC is a team-based programming competition first held at the ACM Computer Science Conference in 1977. Participants are given eight to 12 problems to solve in five hours. Each problem lays out a real-life scenario, for which participants must identify the underlying topic and develop algorithmic solutions in Java, C or C++. The participants for the world finals last year were chosen from over 2,000 universities and 91 countries.

The Southwest Central regionals included schools from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and the competition was held Nov. 2 at Baylor University, Louisiana State University and LeTourneau University simultaneously. The winning team, from the University of Texas, Brownsville, will represent the region in the world finals in Ekaterinburg, Russia in June 2014.

The second-place team consisted of Sid Richardson College senior Jeff Arenson, Hanszen College sophomore Derek Peirce and computer science graduate student Marcus Shen, all returning participants in the competition. The team completed seven of the eight given questions, according John Greiner, a lecturer in computer science who coached Rice's teams.

"I originally got involved during sophomore year, when one of the competitors dropped out at the last minute and I took his place," Arenson said. "I met a bunch of amazing people - both from Rice and from the schools we competed against - and decided to go back. I almost didn't get involved, but I'm really glad I did."

Arenson, who serves as the student organizer, said he organized the three teams that represented Rice this year by experience. He said the participants started preparing for the competition soon after the semester started.

"[Arenson] led weekly practices for the participants, doing practice problems and talking about common issues that come up within the contest," Greiner said.

Rice has participated in the competition before, according to Greiner. Many members of the current computer science faculty had competed and represented Rice in the world finals, including Greiner and professors of computer science David Johnson and Joe Warren.

"[Rice's participation in the competition] goes back decades, although more recently the participation got restarted in 2003," Greiner said. "The best [we've placed] is second in the world ... [by] Johnson in 1981."

Greiner said he has served as the coach since Rice began competing again in 2003, when a student came to him after Rice stopped competing for four years.

"A student came to me and said, 'Hey, I want to do this,'" Greiner said. "And I said, 'OK, let's look for some volunteers.' We ended up having two teams that year."

Arenson said the three members on his team were the only returning participants this year, but he said he has high hopes for Rice's future performance in the competition.

"We had tons of interest from new freshmen and sophomores, and they all did really well," Arenson said. "I think the contest has gotten far more publicity and new blood this year .... Next year and the year after have a lot of potential."

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