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Coding Contest Teaches Collaboration and Problem-Solving

April 11, 2016

Chip Underhill
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7326

Turnout for the ninth annual High School Coding Contest at Saint Anselm College on March 7 demonstrated exceptional growth in interest for computer science at the high school level.

Over 50 students participated in-person or virtually via three remote sites across northern New England – but the contest's origins were humble: only six students participated in the inaugural year.

"What started as a contest with half a dozen students from southern NH has grown into a contest with students from Massachusetts, Maine, and across NH," says Eamon Dawes, a senior and computer science major at Saint Anselm who helps produce the Coding Competition. "We have satellite schools in north-central New Hampshire and northern Maine connect remotely with us."

Participating schools from Massachusetts were Central Catholic and Philips Andover Academy. John Bapst Memorial High School took part remotely from Bangor, Maine. Nashua, N.H. had three schools: the Academy of Science and Design, Nashua High School North, and Nashua High School South, and N.H. was further represented by Milford High School, Hanover High School, Central High School of Manchester, and Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey.

The 2016 winners:

  • Prize I: Evan Rysdam and Faith McCandless of Milford High School with Instructor Tammy Andrew
  • Prize II: Ankur Sundara and Aashish Welling of Nashua High South with Instructor Lorna Spargo
  • Prize III: Cameron Wong, Nicholas Rauen and Thomas Marshall of Phillips Academy with Instructor Jadrian Miles

Professor Mihaela Malita of the Computer Science Department managed the overall event, relying on nine Saint Anselm students to serve on the juries and judge the teams, assist with logistics including registration, answering Coding Contest questions, and performing the actual operation of the contest. The students are Dawes, Long Nguyen '16, Duong Do '16, Hung Mai '19, Benjamin Larson '18, Daina Grauslys '17, David Foley '17, and Colin Malone '19.

"It's an experience I would have loved to have had before coming to college," says Dawes. "It gives high school students a chance to meet computer science professors and our students. It's also a way for the college to recruit really smart students who would strengthen the department, and the college as a whole."

Dawes notes that collaboration is as important as solving the coding problems.

"It's great to not only see the students discuss their work, but also to start dialogue amongst themselves about how they solved problems," he says. "There's a great mix of groans/applause when one team solved a problem in 20 lines of code, which took another team 100 lines. Other contests simply tell the students if they were right or not. It's probably my favorite part of the day."

Dawes adds that it is very helpful in computer science to see different ways to solve a problem: "If you get it stuck in your head that there's only one (solution), it really narrows your vision. With 25 or so teams solving a problem, one team thought of a new, not necessarily better, solution."

Next year, the Computer Science Department plans to expand the Coding Contest by adding satellite sites.

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