CSU, Chico News

Computer Science Students Take Last-Second Victory Over Stanford, Win IBM-sponsored ‘Battle of the Brains’

Date: 11-15-2010

Joe Wills
Public Affairs
(530) 898-4143

In a last-minute victory befitting intercollegiate sports more than academics, California State University, Chico computer science students got a final point in the waning moments Saturday and won the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Pacific Northwest Programming Contest, besting 74 other universities.

CSU, Chico now moves on to compete against approximately 100 other schools at the 2011 World Finals of the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), to be held Feb. 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

In its 35th year, the ICPC, also known as “The Battle of the Brains,” is sponsored by IBM. The contest requires teams of three students to try to solve 10 extremely difficult computer programming problems in a race against time and other student teams. The ultimate winner goes on to claim what IBM calls “The World’s Smartest Trophy.”

Moaty Fayek, chair of CSU, Chico’s Department of Computer Science and team adviser, said about 8,000 universities around the world compete in the contest, which is treated almost as an Olympic sport in some overseas countries. He said when students from St. Petersburg, Russia, won the world title two years ago, they were feted at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

CSU, Chico’s top team was tied with Stanford University’s top team with seven correct answers with 30 seconds to go. Right before the clock expired, CSU, Chico’s lead programmer, David Stolp, handed in an answer to an eighth problem. The judges found the final answer was correct, giving the title to CSU, Chico.

Following second-place finisher Stanford, last year’s winner, was Simon Fraser University of Canada in third. Among the other top finishers were University of Washington (sixth), UC Davis (11th) and UC Berkeley (13th). The second highest CSU finisher was San Jose State at 14th.

Fayek said while it was exciting to place ahead of all other CSU and UC entrants, it was gratifying to have their support as the contest came down to CSU, Chico and Stanford. “They were all cheering for us; they wanted us to come in first,” said Fayek. “I have received many, many e-mails from Sac State and other schools that are really proud of us.”

Fayek said Stolp, a third-year graduate student, did much more for the victory than hand in the winning answer. “He was a hero for us in many ways,” Fayek said. “He led the practice sessions every week, picking challenging problems for the others. He was so important to our winning the title.”

The other members of CSU, Chico’s winning team were Katherine Gabales and Abhishek Iyer, with Jennifer Coryell as a reserve member. The students on CSU, Chico’s second team were Swapnil Deo, Ryan Feenstra and Kevin Kane, with Michael Lombardi as reserve member.

“I am so proud of the accomplishment and dedication of all our students,” said Fayek. “They all have busy schedules this semester, yet they made time to practice every Friday at 4:30 p.m. This accomplishment is the result of hard working and dedicated students.”

The regional final was held Nov. 13 at University of the Pacific in Stockton.

Fayek said CSU, Chico has competed in the ACM contest since 1977 and won the regional in 1981. CSU, Chico’s Department of Computer Science is the oldest in the CSU and has had many high finishes in past years, he said.

Winning the world title will be a tall order, Fayek said, because of how seriously Eastern
Europe, China, Russia and other parts of the world take the contest. Many of the teams from those countries have full-time coaches and other advantages, he said. The highest U.S. finisher last year, Stanford, finished 14th in the World Finals.

The trip to Sharm El Sheikh for the World Finals will be particularly satisfying for Fayek. A native of Egypt, he came to the U.S. and graduated from CSU, Chico in 1985. While he didn’t compete as a student in the ACM contest, he helped some classmates who did, then began a long career at CSU, Chico as a computer science professor. “It’s been over a quarter century since we claimed first place,” Fayek said. “This has been a dream of mine to bring the trophy back to Chico.”