Three Class of 2023 graduates recently helped plan and execute the Mercer computer science department’s first high school programming contest.
Saif Hasan, Everett Reynolds and Andrew Triplett worked with Dr. Bob Allen, computer science professor and chair, on this service project for their Information Science and Technology 301 experiential learning course this spring. While the computer science department has hosted many collegiate programming contests, this was the first one for high school students, Dr. Allen said.
Eighteen students from four Middle Georgia high schools competed in the event on April 15 on the Macon campus. The event was sponsored by Robins Air Force Base’s 21st Century Partnership/Middle Georgia STEM Alliance and the Middle Georgia Innovation Project, which provided shirts, snacks, lunch and prizes for the participants.
“We fully understand that computer science is not broadly taught in Georgia high schools and that a programming contest could be intimidating, thus scaring participants away,” Dr. Allen said. “One of our goals was to break the ice on programming contest awareness and begin to develop a positive image of such contests. The contestants really enjoyed the event and are eager to compete again.”
Reynolds, a computer science major, said many organizations have not hosted programming contests since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and his team wanted to restart that tradition and build interest in coding among high school students.
“We really want — to the best of our ability — to decrease the technical gap in the population, particularly among younger Americans,” said Triplett, a cybersecurity major. “As they get older, they’re transitioning into college. If they want to do computer science, any type of exposure we can provide to the kids (is great). … It was also an opportunity to brush up on my coding.”
After much research, the Mercerians chose a website called HackerRank as the platform for the contest, Reynolds said. The teams had two hours to complete eight coding problems created by Hasan, Reynolds and Triplett. The high schoolers received points for each correctly solved problem, Dr. Allen said.
“It was on us to come up with the questions, test those questions and set up some kind of software,” said Hasan, a computer science major. “Considering it was our first time doing something like this, I would say it went pretty great.”
A team from Stratford Academy won first place, and a team from the Academy for Classical Education took second. Perry and Howard high schools also participated.
“Dr. Allen and his staff did an excellent job in creating a computer programming challenge for our high school students in Middle Georgia,” said Bob Herrmann, executive director of the Middle Georgia STEM Alliance. “This event showcased the amazing talent that is resident in Middle Georgia and the great job our educators are doing in cultivating this talent.”
Hasan, who is from Bangladesh, helped with a coding event when he was in high school, but Reynolds and Triplett said this was a new experience for them.
“I had never done anything like this,” Reynolds said. “I was really worried, but I was pleasantly surprised that with the help of a few people, all of us could pull off something that had just been an idea a few months prior.”
Dr. Allen said the Middle Georgia STEM Alliance has expressed interest in providing funding for regional high school coding contests in the future.
“When you’re learning coding, the best way to learn is to challenge yourself,” Reynolds said. “When you go to a coding contest, it’s an opportunity for learning. Even if you don’t solve any problems, you at least get experience with the problems. I believe that learning how to think in code is how the students learn.”