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UVa's Third Annual High School Programming Contest

March 25, 2013

ICPC group

On Saturday, March 23rd, the University of Virginia hosted the third annual High School Programming Contest (HSPC). Over 150 high school students came to compete. Combined with 25 coaches and 35 student volunteers from the university, there were over 200 people at the event. The students were from 24 different high schools – most from around the Commonwealth, with one from Maryland. Students came from as far as Virginia Beach and Baltimore, both about 3 hours distant, to participate. The map below shows where the students came from.

The students formed a total of 39 teams of (generally) 4 people each. Teams were presented with nine programming problems to try to solve in a three hour period. Whichever team could solve the most problems would win. In the case of a tie, then the team that solved the most problems in the least time would win. Students were awarded balloons during the contest, colored to indicate which problems they solved.

The Intermediate 'Puter Team from the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology solved eight of the problems, and won first place. The second place team is a group of home schooled students, who called themselves the "Roanoke Home Educators" and third place went to another team from Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology. Prizes for the top three teams included Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, and remote control helicopters.

This is the largest such event in the mid-Atlantic region, and one of the largest in the country. Hosted by the UVa chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, UVa's contest is unique in that this contest is run by the students, not by faculty, and with no administrative staff support. The programming contest was planned to coincide with the SEAS Open House, which meant that 150 additional potential computer science majors visited the open house due to the contest.

Contests such as this help to encourage young minds to pursue computer science and related disciplines. They create excitement for the field itself. Indeed, consider a quote from one of the coaches: "we enjoyed the competition last year so much that we formed a programming club and officially became a high school chapter of the ACM!" At a time when STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are lacking enough college majors, contests such as these help provide a long-term solution by encouraging students to major in computer science – and to choose UVa to pursue computer science.

UVa's computer science department has a strong history of success with programming contests, and competes at the collegiate level in the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). In the last five years, UVa has advanced to the world finals four of the five times. The world finals – often called the Olympics of computer programming – is a contest of the top 100 collegiate programming teams in the world. The world finals are held in various countries, and UVa has attended them in Stockholm in 2009, Harbin, China in 2010, Orlando, Florida in 2011, and will be traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, in the summer of 2013 for the upcoming world finals.

The image above shows the closing ceremony, with the balloons – which indicate which problems the teams solved – on display.

map of schools