Date Posted: 3/13/2023

Students in Ithaca and New York City showed off their computer programming skills Saturday, March 4, solving problems with the theme of women’s achievements in computing, in the first of two high school computing contests organized by volunteers from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.

The organizing team, led by Robbert van Renesse, professor of computer science, has hosted high school programming competitions in New York state for 10 years, welcoming students from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This year, they partnered with Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC) to recruit more girls and students belonging to underrepresented groups in tech and STEM-related fields, though all students are invited to compete. 

“The contests are not just fun, they’re also educational,” said Van Renesse. “We want to open up the minds of people who mostly know computers from games. We make sure that they get a diverse perspective on computer science.”

The WICC High School Computing Contest, which offered a supportive environment for students who are new to programming, attracted 41 teams that competed at the Cornell Tech campus and seven teams at Gates Hall in Ithaca. Among this year’s contestants, 80% identified as female, 10% as Black, and 10% as Latinx.  

After lunch and a brief demonstration of the competition software, students had two hours to complete five problems that highlighted accomplishments of prominent women in computer science, including NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and University of California at Los Angeles computer scientist Thelma Estrin, whose daughter, Deborah Estrin, is a professor of computer science at Cornell Tech. Mentors were on-hand to provide support and encouragement. 

As volunteers tallied the points, Sarah Dean, assistant professor of computer science, gave a talk at the Ithaca location on the issue of bias in algorithms, while in New York City, Angelique Taylor, assistant professor of information science at Cornell Tech, spoke about her journey in the STEM fields – from high school to becoming a professor – and her research on human-robot interaction.

The following teams received awards for the WICC High School Computing Contest:

·  1st place/Best of NYC: Team 2023 Innovation, Hunter College HS (NYC)

Team members: Charlotte Li, Shaina Mitra

·  2nd place: Brearley Hackers, The Brearley School (NYC)

Team members: Jenny Zhu, Sophia Lin, Sophie Zhu

·  3rd place: JHS, Jericho High School (NYC)

Team members: Jocelyn Wang, Tiffany Qiu, Kenneth Lee

·  Best of Ithaca: Webster Schroeder Warriors Blue, Webster Schroeder HS (Ithaca)

Team members: David Y, Filipe F, Jiang Y

·  Best Effort – Ithaca: Prototype Lukas, Ithaca High School

Team members: Celene Sahoo, Alex Elia, Jennifer Zhao

·  Best Effort – NYC: The Chicken Nuggets

Team members: Azalea Li, Hanvit Lee, Penelope Hentsch-Cowles

The second event – Cornell High School Programming Main Contest – will be held Saturday, April 1 and will feature more advanced questions. Contestants from the WICC competition are strongly encouraged to enter. Registration for the event is open until March 17, 2023, and is open to high school students from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Students can register here.

Van Renesse founded the first competition in 2014 with Ithaca High School math teacher Fred Deppe, and the contests have continued yearly – including during the pandemic, when they moved online. Longtime organizer Diane Levitt, senior director of K-12 education for Cornell Tech, hosts the NYC-based competitions. The goal is to address the shortage of – and growing demand for – computing competition opportunities in New York state. The events are also outreach opportunities for Cornell students to work with young people in the Ithaca and New York City communities, as well as an opportunity for Cornell to attract talented, motivated undergraduates.

“I love seeing Cornell students who say, ‘Oh, I did the contest!’ and I like to think I played a little bit of a role in their career path,” said Van Renesse. “They probably were going to study computer science in any case, but you know, they ended up studying computer science here in New York state at Cornell.”

Patricia Waldron is a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science. Chris Walkowiak '26 provided reporting.