Mount Allison CS students take 1st place in Science Atlantic programming contest

15 Nov 2019

Trio places eighth in Northeast North America (NENA) Regional competition

CS_REgionalProgrammingComp_Nov2019Mount Allison University computer science students Graeme Zinck, Isaac Lee, and Crystal Sharpe earned first prize in the 2019 Atlantic Canadian Preliminary Contest, held at Dalhousie University this Fall.

The contest, part of the Science Atlantic 2019 Conference for Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, welcomed undergraduate students from across Atlantic Canada. Mount Allison placed first out of 27 teams. It is the fourth time in the last six years the University has received this honour.

“These kinds of competitions allow students to apply their programming skills to interesting and sometimes real-world problems,” says Dr. Liam Keliher, Mount Allison math and computer science professor and team coach. “Both Isaac and Graeme have participated in numerous competitions before, and we are proud of their accomplishments. As a first-year student, Crystal has really distinguished herself in the areas of programming and problem solving. We are pleased to have them represent Mount Allison at these high-calibre competitions.”

Lee, Sharpe, and Zinck advanced to the Northeast North American (NENA) Regional competition, held on Nov. 9, where they placed eighth overall out of 20 teams from across Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and the Northeastern United States. This year, Mount Allison served as a remote host for the region, allowing the five teams from Atlantic Canada to complete the challenge here on campus. The University has seen eight of its student teams compete at the NENA Regional level over the past two decades.

“For a programming competition like this one, you are given several challenging problems to solve, and only five hours to complete as many of them as you can,”explains Zinck. “You’re working as a team to use the best data structures and algorithms for the job. It’s great because the competition allows you to apply textbook concepts to actual problems.”

The students, working with Keliher, meet regularly on campus to review programming and problem solving, practice that Lee, a resident of Sackville, became familiar with in high school.

“I met Dr. Keliher before I came to Mount A, and joined the community coding club on campus when I was in high school,” Lee says. “It was great to learn a bit about programming before I came to university.”

Lee and Zinck are both fourth-year students and have taken part in the NENA Regional competition before. Sharpe is in her first-year of studies. This was the second competition for the Oakville, ON resident this year.

“I took computer science in high school and have always been interested in programming,” says Sharpe. It’s fun to work as a team to think of different, creative approaches to problems in a limited time frame.”

Zinck, who is from Charlottetown, PEI echoes this.

“I didn’t formally study computer science until I came to Mount A but it was always something I was interested in. These competitions are a fun way to take the principles of what you’re learning in class and apply them in real life. The problems in these types of competitions are also on a lot of job applications in this field,” says Zinck.

Photo caption (l-r): Computer Science students Crystal Sharpe, Isaac Lee, and Graeme Zinck

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