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'Cats Make Strong Showing in Computer Science Competitions

Davidson students standing by College of Charleston sign
Davidson's team members in the Charleston competition were (l-r) Elena Vasiou-Sivvopoulou '15, Tommy Rhodes '17, Vincent Zhu '16, and Jackson Spell '15.

The computer science division of the college's Mathematics and Computer Science department has acquitted itself well in recent intercollegiate competition. Led by Assistant Professor Raghu Ramanujan and Assistant Professor Tabitha Peck, the "Computer 'Cats" finished third among 31 teams in a contest associated with the southeastern meeting of the Consortium for Computing Sciences.

The team of Tommy Rhodes '17, Jackson Spell '15, Elena Vasiou-Sivvopoulou '15 and Vincent Zhu '16 achieved their high ranking by solving five of the eight assigned problems.

Teams had three hours to work. Each team had just one computer, but could work in an adjacent room equipped with white boards. Textbooks and printed material from practice sessions were allowed, but access to the Internet was forbidden. Problems included creating a program that could solve a Sudoku-like puzzle, and determining what year in the future will duplicate the days and dates of 2014.

In addition, two three-person Davidson teams entered the much more competitive International Collegiate Programming Contest organized by the Association for Computing Machinery held in Chapel Hill this fall. Ramanujan described it as "the premier student programming contest in the world." The event attracts thousands of competitors, including graduate students, and is sponsored by IBM. The top teams advance to the world finals, which will be held in Morocco.

Davidson competitors Micah Brown '16, Erol Cromwell '15, Jackson Spell '15, Elena Vasiou-Sivvopoulou '15, Ben Wiley '15 and Vincent Zhu '16 finished in the median among the field of more than 100 teams.

To prepare for competition, Ramanujan and Peck supervised 90-minute practice sessions every Wednesday evening during the fall semester. "We would pick one problem and all work on it, then discuss what worked and what didn't," said Ramanujan.

All members of the team are pursuing either a major in mathematics, and/or a minor in computer science.

Ramanujan said Davidson will compete regularly in these two fall semester contests, and the team is looking for a spring semester tournament as well. In addition, Ramanujan plans to offer students in his "Data Structures" class extra credit for competing in the annual "Google Code Jam" competition. That contest designates a 24-hour period for participants worldwide to simultaneously work on several problems. Winners advance to subsequent rounds until an overall champion is decided. Ramanujan said several of his students made it to the second round of last year's contest.