In an academic competition traditionally dominated by some of the region's most prestigious universities, a team of Sam Houston State University computer science students scored an unlikely victory last Saturday.
Matching wits against over 70 teams representing such academic behemoths as Rice, Texas A&M, and the University of Texas, three SHSU students earned a third-place finish in the South Central Regional Computer Programming Contest held at Baylor University.
The event, sponsored by the Association of Computing Machinery, is considered one of the most prestigious computer programming competitions in the world, according to Dr. Johnny Carroll, a SHSU computer science professor who helped coach the team. The competition was open to universities in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of New Mexico.
SHSU's extraordinary performance, Carroll said, could earn the team a chance to compete in the international competition this February in San Jose, Calif.
"This is an unheard of thing, for small state colleges to actually place like this, because of who we are competing against," said Carroll.
Many of the universities competing in last weekend's contest had the advantage of selecting teams from a pool of thousands of students enrolled in their programs, he explained. The SHSU computer science department doesn't have that kind of depth.
"The odds were against SHSU placing," he said, "but I knew we had some special students."
Defying the odds and earning the third place finish for SHSU were team members Joe Presley, Bob Farmer and Andy Cloyd. All are active members of the Sam Houston Association of Computer Scientists, a student organization that helped fund the team's entry in the contest.
At the Baylor competition, judges graded the teams' ability to write computer programs that solved complex mathematical problems. A total of six problems were presented at the start of the five-hour contest. The team solving the most problems in the least time won.
First place honors went to a team from Texas Tech University that solved five of the six problems. Teams from SHSU and the University of Texas in Arlington solved four problems. The UTA team earned a second place finish because they solved the problems quicker than the SHSU team.
Of the 70 plus teams participating in the event, only three solved four of the six problems. Finishing behind SHSU were seven teams that solved three problems, 15 teams that solved two problems and 15 teams that solved only one problem. The remaining competitors were unable to solve any of the problems.
It was the second time for two members of the winning trio to compete in the regional competition. The experience gained at last year's contest proved very valuable to this year's performance, Carroll said.
"The pressure of competing against Texas A&M, Rice and Texas Tech kind of fries your brain," he said. "When they went back this year, they knew what to expect."
The SHSU team also benefited from Carroll's experience as a judge in last year's competition.
Carroll's wife Jan, another SHSU computer science professor, lent her assistance to the team's training as well.
"I am very proud of these students, said Jan Carroll, "They represented SHSU well. They have as good a chance to win the international championship in San Jose as anyone else in the world."
To celebrate the SHSU victory over overwhelming odds, the university's Department of Math and Information Sciences is planning a public reception for the team at 3 p.m. Friday in the fourth floor lobby of the Lee Drain Building.