Team places third in regional programming competition

A team of three Northwestern College students placed third among 203 squads in the North Central region of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest on Oct. 31. The Northwestern team solved seven out of 10 problems, finishing behind teams from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Nebraska.

The Northwestern team—John Calsbeek, a senior computer science major from Orange City; Mark Haselhoff, a junior computer science and mathematics major from Schaller, Iowa; and Curt Van Wyk, a senior mathematics teaching and computer science major from George, Iowa—placed first at the site Northwestern hosted, which featured 19 teams. There were 15 other sites in the region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Manitoba, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, western Ontario and Wisconsin.

Calsbeek and Van Wyk were on the Northwestern team that advanced to the 100-team world finals last April in Stockholm, Sweden. This is the fourth straight year a Northwestern team has finished in the top eight regionally. Calsbeek was on each of the previous teams—which placed fourth last year, eighth in 2007 and seventh in 2006—and Van Wyk was on the last two teams.

“Year in and year out, they exceed expectations,” says Michael Wallinga, instructor in computer science at Northwestern, about Calsbeek and Van Wyk. “They and Mark finished ahead of teams from the University of Minnesota, Marquette, Iowa State and many others. They are phenomenal students.”

Another Northwestern team answered two questions correctly, placing fourth at the local site and 84th in the region. Members were Matt Bodensteiner, a sophomore art/graphic design major from Washington, Iowa; Alayna Carlson, a junior math major from Jewell, Iowa; and Caleb Kester, a senior computer information systems major from Urbandale, Iowa.

Northwestern had five other teams in this year’s competition, and two of them solved one problem each. “To have 21 students from a computer science department of our size wanting to participate, and to have over half of our teams answering a question correctly, speaks well of our students and their abilities,” says Wallinga.

Referred to as the Battle of the Brains, the competition challenges students to solve real-world problems using open technology and advanced computing methods under a grueling, five-hour deadline. Wallinga says students need to demonstrate creativity, teamwork, the ability to determine which problems are within their capability to solve, and the ability to work under time pressure.

Huddled around a single computer, teams of three students collaborate to deduce the requirements, design test beds and build software systems under the scrutiny of expert judges. The winning team is the one that solves the most problems in the fewest attempts within the least amount of time.

The Battle of the Brains is the largest and most prestigious computing competition in the world, with students from universities in approximately 90 countries on six continents participating. Since IBM began sponsoring the contest in 1997, participation has grown from 1,100 to more than 7,100 teams.