Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

November 11, 2005

Whitworth Students Excel in Pacific Northwest
Regional Computer Programming Contest

Three teams of Whitworth computer-science students matched wits against their peers and solved a series of complex programming problems during the annual Pacific Northwest Regional Computer Programming Contest. Seventy-three teams from the Western United States and Canada took part in the Nov. 5 competition at Western Washington University.

The top Whitworth team - seniors Nathan Backman and Thomas Wild and sophomore Stephen Ash - solved four out of 10 problems to beat 58 other teams and rank 15th. This is the college's best showing at the regional contest since 1998, when a Whitworth team ranked 16th out of 57 teams. To view complete contest results, visit www.acmcontest-pacnw.org/results.htm.

The second Whitworth team - senior Patrick Reilly and juniors Brennan McQuerry and Michael Grandy - solved three problems to beat 52 other teams and rank 21st among their peers. The experience gained by the third team - junior Paul Stephens and sophomores Tyler Zuck and Jeffrey Brown - will be valuable for these first-time competitors when they take part in next year's contest.

The top two Whitworth teams edged out Whitworth's peer schools in the region, as well as many teams from larger schools, says Kent Jones, professor of math and computer science at Whitworth.

"The only teams that beat us were those from schools such as University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Stanford, UC Berkeley and University of Washington," Jones says. The competition's deciding problem, "Pascal's Travels," required teams to develop a program that determined the number of legitimate paths from the top left corner of a game board to the bottom right corner.

"Thomas Wild was responsible for solving that problem," Nate Backman says. "It involved developing a back-tracking algorithm." Both Wild and Backman have been nominated for the Computer Research Association's outstanding undergraduate award program.

"Our students have done extremely well given the limited amount of time they have to prepare for the competition," says Peter Tucker, assistant professor of math and computer science, who served as the Whitworth teams' coach.

Whitworth's computer-science program has changed significantly over the last several years. Tucker, a 1991 Whitworth graduate, recently joined professors Susan Mabry and Kent Jones as a Whitworth Computer Science Department faculty member. Tucker, Mabry and Jones have expanded the computer-science curriculum and engaged students in collaborative research projects.

Tucker is the co-author of a chapter, "Exploiting Punctuation Semantics in Continuous Data Streams," in a textbook on data-stream management. Mabry has led two National Science Foundation grants in intelligent multi-agents for patient monitoring, and has published and presented her research extensively. She serves on national grant-review panels and editorial boards. Jones is the recipient of multiple grants to conduct research in areas including biomedical systems and genetic algorithms, and has presented research papers at international conferences. Jones and Whitworth students Thomas Wild and David Olmsted are the co-authors of a recent journal article, "Genetic design of discrete dynamical basis networks that approximate data sequences and functions," for the International Journal of Systems Science.

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

"Whitworth's computer-science program has received support from the college and from outside grant agencies to conduct faculty/student research," Jones says. "Three of the competitors - Tom, Nathan and Pat - have been involved in summer research with faculty, which enhanced their abilities to solve real-world problems at the competition."

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, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4248 or kjones@whitworth.edu.

Julie Riddle, public information officer, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or jriddle@whitworth.edu.

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