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Computer Science Students Win Regional Competition

Lisa Walker
Publication date: 
December 17, 2021

UMN Morris took first place in the 2021 Digi-Key Electronics Collegiate Computing Competition, winning $5,000 for the UMN Morris computer science discipline and $300 for each team member.

Two Morris computer science teams competed in the 2021 competition. The first-place team, “Insufficient Memory,” includes Audrey LeMeur, Erik Rauer, Joe Walbran, and Natasha Zebrev. The second team, “Goated on the Keys,” includes Josh Eklund, Damte Hoomz, Richard Lussier, and Biruk Mengistu.

The last time UMN Morris placed in this regional competition was last year, with three of the four students from this year’s first-place team placing second. Since 2003, UMN Morris has had 14 teams place in the top three.

Digi-Key, a leader in the distribution of electronic components and automation products, invited teams from 13 schools to participate, focusing on rural colleges with computer science or business and information systems departments. Each department was allowed up to two teams; four students per team. Students had to be of junior or senior undergraduate level, majoring in computer science or information systems, whichever department their team represents. Normally held at the company’s headquarters in Thief River Falls, MN, because of COVID-19, the 2021 competition—like in 2020—was held online.

Structured a little differently than other computing competitions held during the year, the Digi-Key event is organized into three main events: two programming sessions and one word logic problem session. The two programming sessions consist of short problems with varying difficulties and long problems–four–each worth more points. All four students on the team must work together on one computer to complete each event. This can be a challenge for some teams, especially for team members who haven’t worked together before or who don’t have prior experience working together in a competition like this. “It definitely calls for teamwork,” says UMN Morris Professor of Computer Science Nic McPhee.

“One of the nice things about the computer science department at Morris is how much emphasis they place on teamwork—learning how to communicate, listen to each other, and work together well,” said Joe Walbran, one of this year’s first-place team members. “The experience [at Digi-Key] will be invaluable at any future technology job.”

McPhee appreciates all eight students taking time to represent UMN Morris. “The Digi-Key event gives our students hands-on experience to be creative problem solvers. Many of them don’t feel they are good enough [to participate] but I encourage them to try. This type of work takes practice and effort.”

McPhee helps organize and coach the UMN Morris teams. He meets with them to review their strategy and offers help as needed. He usually holds at least one practice event before the competition. “It’s nice that we have a competition opportunity like this, considering the rural location of our school,” says McPhee.