Programming Challenge

Raising the level of Programming in St. Louis

The Walker School of Business & Technology presented the annual High School Programming Challenge on April 1, 2017. The event is coordinated by Professors Brenda Boyce and Xiaoyuan Suo, PhD. Every year for the last 14 years, Webster faculty and students volunteer to make this a spectacular event. Preparation for the event starts almost 7 months beforehand. “Many high school teachers tell us that this event is the highlight of their year,” said Brenda Boyce, “Each year the event grows in prestige and popularity.”

“Every high school student within 50 miles of Webster University is invited to participate,” continued Boyce. “We want to brings together the best and brightest students from all over the St. Louis region.” This is one of the only free events of this kind in the country.

Students work together in teams of two or three to compete to test their skills and abilities in solving object-oriented programming problems. They are given four hours to solve several computer programming problems using any of a number of programming languages (e.g., Java, C/C++). A team’s score is based on how many problems they answer correctly. Ties are broken based on time spent solving the problems, including penalty minutes which are assessed for each incorrect solution submitted.

The programming problems range from very easy to unbelievably hard, so that beginners experience some success and very advanced students are inspired. The submitted programs are judged by Webster University’s advanced programming students under the guidance of volunteer faculty members.

The students are eligible to win door prizes, receive a certificate of participation and an event t-shirt as well as other gifts. Following lunch, an awards ceremony is held. The top ten teams and their teacher/coach receive a school trophy and individual medallions. The top three schools also receive cash prizes to help with their computer programming efforts.

The high schools who participate look forward to this event all year. This event has encouraged young people to be inspired about pursuing college work in the STEM areas. “We know how much it means to each student,” said Professor Boyce. “One friend’s son went through the Challenge and it was a turning point for him. He decided to study computer programming and he now works as a programmer. I know we are encouraging students to consider the field of computer science for their future, many of which had never considered this as a career.”

Professor Boyce and Professor Suo plan to go to the high schools in the fall to review with students so they can better understand how to navigate the problems they worked on during the Challenge. “We want this event to be a great source of pride and accomplish for everyone who participates, as well as for education as a whole in St. Louis.” said Professor Boyce.

“We want every student to feel encouraged, empowered, to have a better belief in themselves and their skills. If we can do this, then we are successful.”
–Brenda Boyce