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APSU Computer Science and Information Technology students compete, present research at major competitions

Michael Timbes

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Students from Austin Peay State University’s Department of Computer Science and Information Technology have been active in recent weeks, competing in regional coding challenges, as well as presenting findings at a major academic conference.

Two teams of Austin Peay students recently made a strong showing at the Association for Computer Machinery-International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC) 2017 Mid-Central USA Regional Contest, held Saturday, Nov. 4 at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

The regional event brought together 14 teams from six universities, including Austin Peay, Harding University, Murray State, Rhodes College, the University of Tennessee at Martin and the University of Memphis. Of the teams, Austin Peay students placed fourth and 10th, respectively.

Austin Peay’s top-performing team, "#include <szechuan>," was comprised of Ron Harper, Robyn Yates and Nathan Nickelson. Their fourth-place finish at the regional competition was good for 57th nationally, out of 126 teams that competed at other regional competitions around the country. The University’s other team, “Namespace Awesome” was comprised of Ryan Swanson, Rhett Newton and Luke Cecil, and their 10th-place regional finish was good for 100th out of the national field.

Dr. James Church, team coach and Austin Peay assistant professor of computer science and information technology, said that ACM-ICPC competitions are made up of a five-hour period in which teams of three compete to solve as many complex problems as possible during the allotted time. The challenge, Church said, is multi-layered, as students must flex their knowledge of coding as much as they need to display teamwork and problem-solving skills.

“These competitions are an endurance challenge; the ask you to cram an entire semester’s worth of coding homework into a five-hour period, and to do that, you need extremely good math skills and a talent for understanding algorisms,” Church said. “And because each team is given one computer to use with no access to the internet, teams need a plan and they need to be able to work together to solve the challenges.”

Church said he was pleased with his teams’ performance, especially considering all six students had never competed at an ACM-ICPC event previously.

“The top-ranked school at our regional site was Harding University, and they were a team of three students who were competing at their third event, so they understand how to navigate the challenges and how to work with each other,” Church said. “No one from Austin Peay had ever been here before, so they did very well considering they didn’t know what to expect.”

During last weekend’s ACM Mid-Southeast Conference, held in Gatlinburg, Austin Peay senior computer science major Michael Timbes presented his research at the conference’s student poster competition. Timbes presented his research into Google TensorFlow, the company’s open-source software library that is used for, among other things, machine learning applications like neural networks.

Timbes’ research centered around using the software library to teach computers to identify images. Presenting the software with widely different images of people and objects, Timbes then recorded the software’s accuracy.

“Michael presented the software with images of human faces or animals or objects and then record how accurate it was in, say, telling the difference between a human face or a truck,” Church said. “Machine learning is a really hot topic right now in computer science, and it’s a field Michael wants to go into, so this event was a great way for him to present his research.”

For more information about Austin Peay’s Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, visit www.apsu.edu/csci.