Student Success

U of L programmers lead Canadian schools at Rocky Mountain Regional

University of Lethbridge student programmers earned the highest finish of all Canadian universities, placing fourth overall, at the 2015 ACM Rocky Mountain Regional Programming Contest hosted by the University of Alberta recently.

U of L Team 1, consisting of Kai Fender, Brandon Fuller and Lukas Grasse, solved seven of 11 total problems with 999 penalty minutes to earn the top spot among Canadian schools. University of Calgary 3 was second amongst Canadian entries and fifth overall, while the University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan had teams that ranked eighth and ninth overall in the competition.

Students are given a series of complex, real-world problems that they must solve over a five-hour time period. Competitors race against the clock, and each other, in a battle of strategy, logic and mental endurance. Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds, and write programs that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges.

“Basically, their solutions have to be in the form of computer programs that will run and produce the correct answers,” says Dr. Howard Cheng, associate professor of mathematics and computer science and the group’s coach. “For example, one of the easier problems they solved was to write a computer program that will read a recipe for a certain number of portions, and scale all the ingredients to some desired number of portions. A harder problem was to write a program that will read a map of a scavenger hunt and the values of each item in the hunt, then find a way to achieve the maximum value and still finish the hunt in time.”

Cheng says a wide cross-section of students take part in the contest, and all reap the rewards of the experience.

“I have students who are not in math and computer science at all. Some have just taken some programming classes and enjoyed it, and decided to try out for this,” he says. “The skills they get are general problem solving skills, as well as the ability to quickly turn a conceptual solution into a computer program that works correctly and efficiently. These skills are commonly sought after by high-tech companies, so they are increasingly using these types of problems/puzzles in their job interviews.”

A total of 52 teams were entered in the competition from throughout Western Canada and the western United States, with University of Utah, Colorado School of Mines and University of Arizona finishing first through third respectively. Both Utah and Colorado solved eight problems, while Arizona solved seven but had less penalty minutes, 823, than the U of L’s top team.

In all, the U of L entered four teams with all four finishing in the upper half of the competition.

University of Lethbridge 2, with team members Lindsay Ablonczy, Matt Basaraba and Stephanie McIntyre, placed 14th overall (five solved, 555 penalty minutes), while U of L 3, with Brad Melchin, Julius Moore and Soraj Seyed Mahmoud, placed 20th (four solved, 205 penalty) and U of L 4, consisting of Lyle Snelgrove, Marko Ilievski and Justin Werre, was 21st overall (four solved, 341 penalty).

To view full results, visit the competition website.