On Saturday, April 11th, the University of Virginia hosted the fifth annual High School Programming Contest (HSPC). Over 200 high school students came to compete. Combined with 25 coaches, and equal number of parents and chaperones, and 50 student volunteers from UVa, there were over 300 people at the event. The students were from 23 different high schools – most from around the Commonwealth, with three teams coming from out of state (Maryland and New Jersey). The map below shows where the students came from.
The students formed a total of 52 teams of (generally) 4 people each. Teams were presented with ten programming problems to try to solve in a four and a half 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 “MoCo Swagga Squad” team from the Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland solved nine of the problems, and won first place. Second place went to a team from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North from New Jersey, and third place went to a team from the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology. Prizes were awarded for the top five teams, and included Raspberry Pis, board games, 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. Contests such as this help to encourage young minds to pursue computer science and related disciplines. They create excitement for the field itself. For example, some of the schools were unable to fund the transportation to the contest (which can cost $400 per school), but the students wanted to go so much that they spent time fund raising in order to attend. 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. Indeed, the HSPC contest director, who is a second year at UVa, was a former competitor at the contest, and the HSPC helped him decide to come to UVa to study 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 seven years, UVa has advanced to the world finals five times. The world finals – often called the Olympics of computer programming – is a contest of the top 120 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, St. Petersburg, Russia in 2013, and Ekaterinburg, Russia, in 2014.
The image above shows the closing ceremony, with the balloons – which indicate which problems the teams solved – on display.