Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

October 29, 2004

Whitworth Students Top Local Peers in Spokane Computer Programming Contest

A team of three Whitworth computer-science students solved a series of complex programming problems to win a local competition Saturday at Eastern Washington University.

The winning Whitworth team -- juniors Nathan Backman, Scott Otis and Thomas Wild -- correctly solved six problems to beat 16 teams from the Community Colleges of Spokane, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University and Whitworth. The winning Whitworth team will continue on to a regional competition, Nov. 13, in Portland involving 50-60 teams from throughout the Western United States and Canada.

Kent Jones, associate professor of math and computer science, said the Whitworth team was able to edge out a talented EWU team that finished 7th at last year's regional competition by solving one more problem than the other team. The deciding problem was called "Planning the Simple Life." Teams were required to develop a program that, when given a series of life activities, could find the shortest sequence of activities from "Born" to "Die."

"It turned out to be a challenging problem," Jones says. "The EWU team that finished second tried several times to submit a solution to the problem and got close without getting it quite right, but our team got it. Their preparation and hard work preparing for the competition really paid off."

Whitworth's computer-science program has grown significantly in recent years, with the number of majors today up to 54 this fall from 24 in 1995. Jones has been joined on the faculty by Susan Mabry and Peter Tucker, who have expanded the curriculum and engaged students in collaborative research projects. Mabry and Jones have received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop and test intelligent software agents for patient diagnostics and monitoring in complex medical environments.

Recent Whitworth graduates of the computer-science program have been awarded selective fellowships to top graduate schools. Caleb Hug, who graduated in May with a degree in computer science and applied physics and won a 2003 Goldwater Scholarship for outstanding undergraduate students in math, physics and computer science, is enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other 2004 math and computer science graduates were accepted in graduate programs at the University of California Berkeley, the University of Massachusetts, Oregon State University, Washington State University and Vanderbilt University.

"Our program has expanded and we've gotten support from the administration and from outside grant agencies to do research in which our students are heavily involved," Jones says. "Two of the three participants on our winning team -- Tom and Nathan -- have been involved in summer research, so they have had extra experience that helped in their ability to solve real-world problems."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,400 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Kent Jones, associate professor of math and computer science, (509) 777-4248 or kjones@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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