Team Ippatsu students win silver at Collegiate Programming North American Championship

5/29/2024 Bruce Adams

A Grainger College of Engineering Department of Computer Science student team placed second in the International Collegiate Programming North American Championship. They have qualified for the 48th World Finals, which will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital city, from September 15 to 20. To get to the finals, the Illinois team advanced through local contests, a regional contest with 100 teams from Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, and the North American championship. Each year, about 10,000 teams compete.

Written by Bruce Adams

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign student teams compete in places beyond Memorial Stadium or the State Farm Center. Such as Luxor, Egypt, and soon Astana, Kazakhstan, in the case of a computer science team.

CS professor Mattox Beckman recalled his first experience coaching an  International Collegiate Programming Contest team in the world finals in China: “This is actually a really big deal. This is an Olympic-level event.” Since then, Mattox has coached eight Illinois teams, bringing six to the world championships.

Team Ippatsu, Ippatsu, L to R: Zhikun, Yuuki, Aditya[43]
Team Ippatsu students competing at ICPC North American Championship.

The Grainger College of Engineering Department of Computer Science student team UIUC, including Zhenwei Hu, Aditya Jain, and Sean Liu, placed 70th at the ICPC 46th World Finals on April 18, 2024, in Luxor, Egypt. They faced teams from 124 universities worldwide. To get to the finals, the Illinois team advanced through local contests, a regional contest hosted by Illinois with 100 teams from Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, and the North American championship. Each year, about 10,000 teams compete to get to the finals. The Luxor competition consisted of two world championship rounds to make up for the COVID-cancelled season. At the April 2024 finals in Egypt, Beckman won the ICPC Coach’s Award for bringing 5+ teams to the World Finals.

Three members of CS Team Ippatsu in blue shirts stand and look at the camera in a large, bright room on April 18, 2024, in Luxor, Egypt, at the International Collegiate Programming Competition where they won 70th place in the ICPC World Finals.
Team Ippatsu, L to R: Sean Liu, Aditya Jain, Zhenwei Hu

The Illinois Team Ippatsu, made up of Aditya Jain, Yuuki Sawanoi, and Zhikun Wang, advanced to the 2024 North American championships. 

Team Ippatsu competed in the North American Championship on May 27th at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. They solved nine problems in total, placing them in second place and winning the silver medal. This means they have qualified for the 48th World Finals, which will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital city, from September 15 to 20. Fifty teams competed in the 2024 contest, each one placing in the top spots of the regional contests held in February of this year.

Beckman said of his coaching experience that “initially it was ‘Oh cool. I get to travel and see interesting things.’ But the more I've learned about ICPC's mission, I've become much more convinced that this is something that deserves full support. One thing they will do when they go into a country is they will help this host university raise about 10 times as much money as it costs to run the competition and leave that as a gift for them after they're gone. The other thing they usually do is ask the government of the host country to do something to improve the equity of computer science.”

A. Mattox Beckman, Jr.
Mattox Beckman

As seriously as the competitors take the championships, there is a collaborative feel. Beckman shared, “When the world finals were in South Dakota, we were flying back, and the Russian coach was sitting next to the graduate student coach. He spent an hour explaining how to solve one of the problems that had shown up in the contest.” Beckman commented, “In tennis, Serena Williams is not going to come after a match and say, ‘OK, you need to hold the racquet like this, and then you can return my serve.’ It's not going to happen. In competitive programming, there is a sense that we're trying to help each other get better. We're competing, but it doesn't feel like a zero-sum game. Because people genuinely want to learn how to do this stuff, and the idea is that there are enough opportunities to win something that it's safe to share.”

The ICPC describes itself as “the oldest, largest, and most prestigious programming contest in the world.” The first competition was in 1970 and has evolved into the “premier global programming competition conducted by and for the world’s universities.” ICPC is a contest in which teams of three represent their university to solve the most real-world algorithmic programming problems using collaboration, creativity, and innovation under pressure.

Beckman described how he designed the CS 491 Introduction to Competitive Algorithmic Programming class. “I've been spending a lot of time developing that, and I've noticed the students that go through it. Their skill and confidence in programming go way up. And that I did not expect to see that. I thought, ‘OK, they're just going to train and get a little bit better.’ But I've had students tell me, ‘I feel I can do my other programming assignments now because I've had this class.’ I've had a student tell me that she understood dynamic programming for the first time. I realized this is useful. And that's not even getting into the fact that most people who take the class are doing it because they want to have practice where they interview. It almost certainly will help with that. That's not why I'm offering the class, but they want to take it for that reason. That's fine by me.”


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This story was published May 29, 2024.