ISU School of Information Technology: Raising the Bar

December 9, 2010 at 10:13 am Leave a comment

Throughout my brief time at ISU, I’ve seen the School of Information Technology working to make big changes within the department.  Considering that information technology is one of the most dynamic and constantly evolving fields, it makes sense that the department supporting future professionals in that field would have the same attitude.  I’ve seen curriculum revisions, discussions of additional Masters programs, increased recruitment and other efforts to help showcase what the school has to offer.  Overall, the work of everyone in the department has really paid off.  We’re seeing students win statewide and national awards.  We’re also seeing students getting jobs at very competitive companies like IBM and Google.

During the last month, another event helped to show just how high the ISU School of Information Technology has raised the bar.  Each year, several teams of Computer Science students, led by Professor Mary Goodwin, compete in the Association of Computing Machinery Intercollegiate Programming Competition (ACM ICPC).  This year, five ISU teams competed at the regional level on November 6 at the University of Illinois Springfield campus.  Our teams were very successful overall.  Out of 140 teams competing in our region, our teams placed 4th, 30th, 31st, 38th and 49th.  The fourth place team, named “Onward and Upward,” has been invited to compete in the World Finals event, which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in March 2011.

So, why is this a big deal?  Worldwide, there were 7,820 teams that competed at the regional level this year.  Based on the current teams listing on the ACM ICPC website, there are 69 teams out of 7,820 that have been invited to compete at the World Finals event.   21 of those teams are from North America.  The best part of all is that one of those teams is from ISU!  You might have heard of some of the other schools that were invited also…MIT, Carnegie Mellon, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Princeton.

What exactly is a programming competition?  The ACM ICPC is a team competition.  Teams are composed of three students, undergraduate or first year graduate students.  Each team has one computer and is given a packet of roughly 7-10 problems.  The competition lasts for five hours and the goal is to solve as many of the problems as possible in as little time as possible.  Problems range in difficulty, but the general idea is that a generic computer program is written that can solve any test problem that corresponds to the overall problem concept.  One example problem is based on the childhood game of Chutes and Ladders.  In the programming problem, the goal is to find the minimum number of turns it would take to win the game.  While this may sound relatively easy to some, it is further complicated by the facts that the maximum distance that can be moved per turn varies by game board and each game board may have 1,000,000,000 spaces.  With these expanded characteristics, someone cannot figure out the answer by sight only.  This is where the computer program comes in handy.  After coding the programming solution, it would be able to compute the answer to at least 20 different test game boards in under one minute.  While this is one of the more challenging problems that teams may see, the idea is similar for all problems.

The ACM ICPC is recognized in the Computer Science field as the most prestigious programming competition for college students.  The success of ISU in sending a team to World Finals indicates that the department is becoming increasingly competitive with schools currently recognized as being at the top in the field.

If you would like to read more about ISU’s success at the ACM ICPC, check out the ISU Report at http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/report/1011/dec7/itk.asp.  For more information of the ACM ICPC in general, feel free to visit their website, http://cm.baylor.edu/welcome.icpc.

On a more personal note, it’s been fun writing these blogs for you this semester, giving you a peek at what Information Technology is all about!  I hope that you have found some topics helpful, inspiring or thought-provoking.

If you’d like to discuss more about IT and perhaps how it might relate to you personally in the future, please feel free to contact Dr. Kenton Machina.  You can drop by to see him at his office in Stevenson 341 or reach him by email at Kenton.Machina@ilstu.edu.

Don’t forget to head over to Blackboard and take your quiz!  Good luck on your finals and try to stay warm!

Sarah

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