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Programming team makes Wofford proud

sykesstory
2008-12-12

A handful of Wofford students, coached by computer sciences professor Dave Sykes, has made Wofford proud in recent academic contests that involve computer programming. A team of three students finished 17th and a second team of three came in 46th at the Association for Computing Machinery Southeast Regional contest. Sixty-nine teams participated, meaning the first team finished in the top 25 percent, Wofford’s best finish ever. At least for two weeks.

While the team of Shay Ellison (senior, computer sciences, Lake City, S.C.), Brad Neff (senior, computer sciences, Boiling Springs, S.C.) and Manan Gupta (junior, computer sciences and chemistry, Spartanburg, S.C.) were happy with that 17th-place finish, Gupta told Sykes that it would be nice to have a mathematician on the team for another contest two weeks later, one that is held every year called the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges, Southeast Region.

Since four players are allowed on a team at the CCSC-SE contest, the team that finished 17th two weeks before was able to recruit Stephen Strickland (senior, mathematics, Spartanburg, S.C.) at the last minute.

That foursome finished second out of 20 teams, quite an accomplishment. They were one of just four teams that solved all the problems, and finished second to a team from Bob Jones University only because of the time it took them to finish.

Each team that participated was given the same set of seven problems that needed to be solved on the computer. An example of one of the problems: the team was instructed to write a program that converts Roman numerals into decimal numbers. The programming language used was Python.

Sykes said the team was a good mixture of personalities and experience.

“Brad and Shay were veterans at this,” he said. “They’ve been doing this for three years. They pretty much knew what to expect.”

As the “youthful” addition to the team, junior Gupta was asked if he felt any desire to sit back and let the seniors do their thing.

“Oh no,” he smiled. “I wanted to help.”

Neff said the competition is anything but cutthroat.

“It was pretty friendly,” he said. “It didn’t really get competitive until the end when you could see who was competing for the top spot.”

Ellison said nerves got a little antsy at that point.

“There was a lot of speculation as to who was in first, because they weren’t posting to the leader board the last few minutes,” he said. “They wouldn’t even tell us if we got our last problem right. We kept bugging the judges to the point that they finally told us.”

Angela Shiflet, Chair and Larry Hearn McCalla Professor in Computer Science, didn’t attend the event but offered her heartfelt joy in their strong finish.

“Wow!” she said. “This is terrific for our students to do so well in these contests. Dave wrote me with the exciting news after it happened and I had butterflies in my stomach for a couple of hours afterward. Their achievement represents a great deal of hard work over the years, problem-solving skills, intelligence, calm under pressure, and teamwork.”

The second Wofford team at the ACM contest was composed of James Koutroulias (senior, computer science, Spartanburg, S.C.), Glenn Hope (sophomore, computer science, Due West, S.C.), and Whitney Sanders (freshman, computer science, Spartanburg, S.C.).