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Computing Students To Test Math, Programming Prowess

At next week's World Finals of the 30th annual ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, students will compete for $10,000 scholarships, computer equipment, and other prizes.

Computing students will gather next week at the 30th annual World Finals of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) to compete for $10,000 scholarships, ThinkPad computers, flat-screen monitors and other prizes.

Sponsored by IBM Corp., the three-day final competition will draw 249 talented students from around the world to San Antonio, Texas, said Douglas Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM’s Lotus division, who calls the event "the battle of the brains." The ICPC has been headquartered at Baylor University's main campus in Waco, Texas, since 1989.

"It's quite inspiring to see this much raw potential sitting in one room," Heintzman said.

During the week students will build logic for interactive software games, such as soccer, race cars or basketball. They also participate in massive chess games. A big part of the competition hinges on eight real-world mathematical problems.

Mathematics, physics and programming students intermingle in teams of three. Each group analyzes the series of mathematical problems, such as "finding the optimal configuration for the distribution of cellular phone towers in the metropolitan area that is influenced by population density and obstruction from buildings like mountains," Heintzman said.

Getting to the finals isn't easy. About 200,000 students from nearly 2,000 colleges and universities in 84 countries begin each fall with internal competitions to find school representatives.

A few of the winners end up at IBM in research and development, Heintzman said. Two Iowa State students, for example, Brett Kail and Joshua Woods, who competed in 2003, both work for IBM now.

Kail, who works in Rochester, Minn., in IBM Software Group Application Middleware Software, became enamored with computers early in school, and into programming in eighth grade. Woods works as an enterprise on-demand software engineer at IBM WebAhead in Southbury, Conn.

Although students from around the world are participating in the event, U.S. schools include Binghamton University, California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Maryland - College Park, Washington University and others.

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