Computer Science Team Places Fourth in ACM Contest

Posted: November 16, 1999 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Gabrielle DeFord

George Mason University students Joel VanLaven and Emerson Farrugia put the school’s name in lights on Nov. 6. They placed fourth out of 146 teams competing in the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Mid-Atlantic Programming Contest, qualifying them to participate in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest from March 15 to 19 in Orlando, Fla. Only 58 teams out of the 2,300 competing in the various regional contests advance to the international finals.

The regional competitions consist of eight programming questions designed to test a variety of skills. Teams of three, usually one graduate student and two undergraduates, try to solve as many of the questions as they can in five hours. Teams are penalized for submitting answers that do not work and for resubmitting solutions.

This year, participants were asked to design a program to implement the mathematical part of a Global Positioning Satellite, used to determine the location of objects on earth. Other questions included figuring out the cable television offer with the most options and lowest rates and finding the length of the longest increasing subsequence in a series of numbers. The test was so difficult that 117 of the teams did not answer any of the problems correctly.

“Undoubtedly, the reason we are number four is because we answered the question about the subsequence in the least amount of time,” says VanLaven, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the Computer Science Department. “We were the only team to correctly solve this problem.” Farrugia, an undergraduate peer assistant in the Computer Science Department, says their knowledge of the computer language Pascal and other, more structured programming languages played a big role in their success, giving them more options for solving the problems.

“This is actually our fifth year in the contest,” says Elizabeth White, Computer Science, who chose the team members, advised them, and coordinated the logistics of their training and travel. “Our best previous finish was eleventh, and that was two years ago. It’s a very competitive region.” The top-scoring teams were Johns Hopkins University, Virginia Tech, and Duke. George Mason’s other team–composed of Jeff Scanlon, Bob Krieger, and Hung Tran–tied for 30th in the competition.

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