Campus Life

Cheng’s group posts best-ever regional result

Dr. Howard Cheng would like nothing better than to beat the University of Alberta at the Rocky Mountain Regional Programming Contest. With the group of students he has now, that's a distinct possibility.

Cheng and three groups of University of Lethbridge students took part in the Rocky Mountain Regional in October. Two of the groups managed top-seven finishes in the computer programming competition, a best-ever result for the U of L and a harbinger of things to come.

"This is the best group we've had in a while and the strongest students still have a couple more years to go so we hope to only do better in the future," says Cheng.

The group of Darcy Best, Keilan Scholten and Michael Van Ryn led the way with a sixth-place standing, followed by another U of L team consisting of Falcon Momot, David Sessford and Corey Van Tighem, who placed seventh. The trio of Nathan House, Allysa Lumley and Marc Moreau finished 23rd overall in a field off 55 colleges and universities from throughout the Rocky Mountain region of both Canada and the United States.

The top five teams in the annual competition featured a pair of University of Alberta entries (first and fifth) as well as the University of Saskatchewan (third). University of Arizona grabbed the other two spots but only U of A is headed to the world finals. Cheng has been there once, ironically as a U of A student in 1998, and would relish the opportunity to go back as a coach.

The competitions feature teams of three students trying to solve a series of problems with real-world applications. They are given one computer and turned loose to design programs that will address the problems. Once they think they've found a solution, judges enter data into their created program to determine whether or not it works. If it does not, they are simply told the program is incorrect and can then try and fix it for a resubmission.

"Ultimately, the only way to practice for this is just doing lots and lots of problems, so that's what we do to prepare," Cheng says.

The majority of students he works with are from math and computer science disciplines. Both Best and Scholten are studying math and Van Ryn is in computer science, but Cheng says all manner of students can take part.
"The practice sessions we did here, without them I would have had no idea of what was going on. They help you get used to the approach you should take when looking at a programming problem," says Scholten, a second-year math student.

"The problem solving skills I get out of this will help me anywhere I want to go. Whether I'm trying to do a mathematical proof or work on something in a job later on, the skills I acquire here will definitely come in handy."

Cheng says the contests force students to take theory into practice.

"In a course you are taught a specific algorithm or method to solve problems in an isolated setting, you learn the theory but not necessarily all the ways to apply that theory," he says. "These problems force you to grab your knowledge and figure out what technique best suits the problem and then how to make it applicable, and occasionally you'll have to come up with something you've never seen before."

Students interested in joining Cheng's programming contest teams can contact him at