Competition isn’t just for athletes alone

By: Hannah Brough, Staff writer

For nine Lebanon Valley College students, using their brains in competition is far more important than using their brawn.

The Mathematical Sciences Department has a major known to most as CompSci. Formally known as Computer and Data Science, the major readies its students to do the behind the scenes work that makes the Internet run.

“The curriculum focuses on developing the skills necessary to develop software: to program, to design, organize, and implement complex systems,” Dr. Ken Yarnall, Associate Professor and Chair of the Mathematical Sciences Department, said. “That means writing code that will run on distributed systems involving many computers spread across a network.”

Despite being based in a liberal arts campus, LVC’s CompSci department is actually one of the best in the state, and there is a high request for their graduates’ skills.

“Because of the liberal arts focus of our curriculum, emphasizing fundamental skills like careful reading, problem solving and communication, [the students] find themselves in high demand, and they move up quickly,” Yarnall said. “Our employment rate after graduation is about 100%, and the salaries are, um, high.”

With such a strong foundation of skills, it comes as no surprise that these students would be eager to compete.

Nathan Darrah ’19, Nicholas Gibbons ’19, Denis Halilovic ’19, Alexander Koinski ‘19, Douglas Keeney ‘18, Kyle Mace ’17, Caitlin Manahan ’17, Derek Null ’17 and Anthony Feudale competed in the North American Mid-Atlantic Regional Collegiate Programming Contest on Nov. 5. They were divided into teams of three, and went up against nearly 200 other teams.

The competition allows five hours for the students to complete a list of several questions solved through various coding languages.

“We get 8 to 10 problems that are to be solved using computer programs in a specified amount of time,” Gibbons said. “We have to solve as many as we can using working code that gives the correct answer.”

Success, however, doesn’t necessarily mean solving all of the problems.

“Solving four or five problems over the course of a day is a fantastic result,” Yarnall said. “These problems aren’t easy.”

If these problems aren’t simply for CompSci majors, imagine how difficult they must seem to students in other disciplines. Still, the programming competition is open to any LVC student. Though all nine of this year’s students have either a major or a minor in CompSci, past years have included students from other fields. Their contributions involve logic; they can solve the problem, and their teammates convert it to code.

“One of our best teams ever, who finished in the top five in the region and were one line of code away from the world championships, included an English major who had never written a line of code in his life,” Yarnall said.

Yarnall also said that he thought his students would do well this year, and it turns out that he was right. Due to a mishap with the competition’s servers, all three teams were unable to place in the regionals. However, the teams were able to compete for a title locally, and the team made up of Darrah, Gibbons and Halilovic took first place.

“It was very, very frustrating to be forced to drop out of the regional competition,” Gibbons said. “We spent a lot of time preparing for it, but we’re still proud that we took first place in the locals.”

The students will have another opportunity to fight for a regional title this spring in a contest hosted by Dickinson College.