Programming team to compete in China

Northwestern College’s computer programming team is looking forward to getting off campus—and out of the country, actually—for the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest’s world finals Feb. 1–6. But the students won’t be leaving behind the snow and ice that have been such a big part of this winter.

The competition will be held in Harbin, China, home of one of the world’s most well-known ice and snow sculpture festivals. In addition to viewing the festival, the students will spend one afternoon working to build their own snow sculpture. Wearing winter gear donated by contest sponsor IBM and the host school, Harbin Engineering University, the Northwestern students may feel more comfortable with that task than their collaborators, students from The British University in Egypt.

The real purpose for the trip, though, is the programming competition, which pits 103 teams that qualified at regional sites. Northwestern is among 21 U.S. colleges and universities represented. Only thirteen of them—schools the likes of Duke, MIT and Stanford—join Northwestern in returning to the world finals for the second consecutive year.

Two of the Northwestern students—John Calsbeek, a senior computer science major from Orange City, and Curt Van Wyk, a senior mathematics teaching and computer science major from George, Iowa—competed in the world finals last April in Stockholm, Sweden. They are joined this year by Mark Haselhoff, a junior computer science and mathematics major from Schaller, Iowa.

Students representing 1,931 schools in 82 countries competed in regional contests for the right to advance to the world finals. At the competition, teams of three will be challenged to use their programming prowess and mental endurance to solve eight to 10 complex, real-world problems—a semester’s worth of curriculum—in just five hours. The team solving the most problems correctly in the least time emerges as the champion.

“It’s a fun experience,” says Calsbeek. “I’m looking forward the most to the five-hour adrenaline rush during the contest, and to being surrounded by over 300 fellow nerds. But I’m also curious about China, about what I will find to be most different than at the previous host site, Stockholm.”

The students, along with computer science professors Mark Vellinga and Mike Wallinga, will leave for China Jan. 30 and return to Orange City on Feb. 6.

 “We’re very proud of John, Mark and Curt,” says Wallinga. “They have done so well because they are not only good programmers, but also detail-oriented and well-rounded students who have what it takes to figure things out.”

The competition, known as the Battle of the Brains, is in its 34th year. More information can be found at View the Northwestern team's Facebook page and follow their Twitter feeds.