Three Iowa State students studying computer science are off to collegiate programming World Finals in Poland, May 14-18

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Iowa State’s student programmers, from left, Bryce Sandlund, Devon Eilers and Kerrick Staley will compete in Poland May 14-18.

AMES, Iowa – Three Iowa State University students will be traveling as a team to the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC) World Finals at the University of Warsaw, Poland, May 14-18.

The team members are Bryce Sandlund, a computer science student from St. Charles, Ill. (East High School), Devon Eilers, a management information systems major and computer science minor from Quincy, Ill. (Quincy High School), and Kerrick Staley, a computer engineering student with a computer science minor from Des Moines (Johnston High School and classes at Central Academy).

The coach is Simanta Mitra, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Mitra said the three students are enjoyable to work with.

"They work really well together and their skills and abilities complement one another," he said. "They’re ready."

In 2009 Mitra led an Iowa State team to the World Finals in Stockholm. The ISU team finished 49th.

ISU one of 18 U.S. teams at ACM-ICPC World Finals According to the ACM-ICPC organizers, 25,016 students participated in the worldwide regional competitions, and only 336 individuals on 112 teams were invited to the World Finals. Iowa State is one of only 18 teams from the United States at the World Finals.

The team of Sandlund, Eilers and Staley was second at the ICPC Regional Competition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in November, qualifying them for the trip to Warsaw.

The regional was the first ACM-ICPC competition for the students. All three say that friends who participated in previous years had suggested the competition to them. "We organized our team the night before," Staley says. "But that’s okay. You can strategize all you want about how you will go about solving the problems. Then you find out that the problems given in the competition don’t fit your strategy, and you have to improvise anyway. The problems got harder and harder as the competition progressed, so that was when it was critical for us to work as a team and use our different skills to finds solutions."

Eilers noted that the problems were not like the ones seen in classes or textbooks. "They might look easy, but they were pretty tricky, and you really had to think about the problem before writing anything down."

Sandlund agrees. "In classes, the problems are all laid out for you, and the solutions are related to things you have learned in the class. You don’t have to invent any new approaches, just use the ones you have been taught. So, this competition showed all of us a different way of thinking about problem solving."

ISU team uses different methods to solve problems The team worked out problems with a variety of methods. Some were done all together, some with two members, and others were solved by just one member of the team. Staley did most of the code writing on the computer, with Sandlund and Eilers monitoring and brainstorming. Sandlund solved one problem that no one else at the Lincoln regionals successfully submitted to the judges, and another one on paper that wasn’t implemented because of time restrictions.

"Our solutions in the regionals were sometimes quick and dirty, but they got the job done. Other teams were writing more efficient code," says Staley.

Each team member brings something unique to the process. Staley is good at time management and fast coding, Eilers recognizes underlying difficulty in a seemingly simple problem, and Sandlund is good at balancing thinking and doing – a critical skill for recognizing when to stop planning and start coding.

They all agree that their academic programs and the coursework they have taken have taught them valuable skills that were put to use in the regionals, and will be put to use in the final competition.

"We all have worked as teaching assistants for computer science courses, and that has really improved our own coding skills," Eilers said.


NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences ( Iowa State University

Contacts: Laurel Tweed, Computer Science, 515-294-6516, Steve Jones, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communications, (515) 294-0461, Bryce Sandlund, 630-940-6666, Devon Eilers, 217-653-7381, Kerrick Staley,