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    Stephen Foster (front) with teammates Tommy Rogers (left rear) and Bob Potter (right rear).

Student programmers take top honors in regional competition

For the second year in a row, a team of students from Southwestern has claimed the title of Top Undergraduate Institution in the region in the IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.

The SU Root team made up of junior Tommy Rogers and seniors Stephen Foster and Bob Potter earned the honor at a regional competition held at Baylor University in Waco Oct. 17-18. More than 70 schools from Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma participated in the competition, including 25 teams from schools that do not have graduate programs. The Southwestern team placed sixth overall and took top honors among the undergraduate-only institutions.

“I was happy with the way the contest turned out,” Rogers said. “It was nice to feel like all our practice had been useful.”

The contest is the world’s most prestigious computer programming competition and requires students to use their programming skills to solve as many problems as possible within a five-hour period.

“It is intense because it is five hours long and you are worried that something is going to go wrong,” Potter said.

The ability to work well as a team by playing off of each other’s strengths has proven very successful. Foster’s computer science major, Rogers’ math and computer science double major, and Potter’s political science major offer a unique combination of skills in the competition.

“We all bring something different to the team − I think we complement each other,” Potter said.

In addition to being teammates, the students are friends. They enjoy each others’ company and the excitement of the competition. They are even able to make rigorous practice sessions into an enjoyable experience.

“Even when they are exhausted at the end, they seem to enjoy it,” said team advisor Richard Denman, an associate professor of math and computer science. “The main thing is to have a good time.”

With Potter and Foster graduating this May, Rogers will need to find new teammates for the competition next year. “Next year’s contest will be very different, but hopefully it will turn out well,” he said.  

In addition to winning the Top Undergraduate Institution award, the SU Root team placed first in a Friday night “scripting contest” that was targeted at programming in scripting languages such as Perl, Python, PHP and Ruby. The Southwestern team programmed in Ruby, which is used to rapidly build web-based database applications.