The Brainiac Olympics

Sacred Heart University hosted the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) at West Campus on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Schools from all over the greater New York area came to compete, including students from some of the top schools in the country including Princeton, Yale, Cornell, and NYU.

“Having our kids get to compete with teams like Columbia and Yale is good,” said Samah Senbel, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “They get to see that those kids are just like us, they work hard.”

Senbel said that it is very important for Sacred Heart to participate in these competitions, since it helps give students both experience and confidence.

“Coding is like an art and a sport. The more you practice, the better you get,” said Senbel. “It’s the same thing with coding, it’s like brain practice.”

According to Senbel, the ICPC is an important competition in the computer science and coding community.

“I think it’s really cool that Sacred Heart was able to host a coding competition that is so prestigious,” said Chris Simpson, a sophomore finance major. “I’m not in the computer science program, but just like the finance program, it is in the Jack Welch College of Business and Technology, so I have seen the labs and have seen how hard the computer science majors can work.”

Coding is a very important aspect of computer science and is taught to all the students in the program. SHU received accreditation for its computer science program this past fall, and offers many coding classes.

“Students start coding right away, it’s the first class they do,” said Senbel. “It’s like our bread and butter.”

Sacred Heart is fairly new to ICPC competitions, according to Senbel, who said the program first attended the competition in 2018.

“When going, I noticed we have much nicer labs and facilities than the places that were hosting. All our labs are top notch, the best of the best, we spared no expense on the labs,” Senbel said.

After attending in 2019, she decided that SHU should try to host a competition, so she reached out to the organizers and invited them to see Sacred Heart’s facilities.

“When they came they were amazed by our campus. They said they had never seen so many labs,” said Senbel.

After getting approved, Sacred Heart was set to host the competition in 2020, but after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in worldwide shutdowns, they were forced to push the event back until 2023.

Each school in the competition gets to send teams of 3 students to compete. These teams then get a set of 10 problems that they have to solve in 5 hours. At the end of the 5 hours, the team that has been able to solve the most problems the fastest wins.

“It is like the Olympics, but for your brain. You have to code quickly, but also correctly,” said Senbel.

Sacred Heart did not win the competition, but they were able to compete with some of the best young coders in the country.

“Just going is an honor. You get to see the other teams, and get to see what real world competition is like,” said Senbel. “Every time you go you have to improve, so the plan is long term, and one day we hope to win and go to the international competition.”

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