Getting with the Program

Left: Maryna Asipchuk, Prof. Mohammad Q. Azhar, Rodny Perez, and Chris Chapman (on screen)
May 20, 2014

Talk about starting off with a bang: Barely two months after it came into existence, BMCC’s Computer Programming Club went up against more established teams from three other colleges in the Community College Programming Contest and walked off with first and third prizes.

“These are awesome students—just about the most dedicated and energetic I’ve ever seen,” says Computer Science instructor Mohammad Q. Azhar, the club’s faculty advisor. “I have nothing but praise for all of them.”

It was Matthew Oyervide, a member of a campus group that was a precursor to the Programming Club, who initially learned about the annual contest, which takes place on the Pleasantville, NY, campus of Pace University. Professor Lin Wang Leung, who has taught at BMCC for 27 years, brought it to his attention.

Getting organized

“Matthew was really excited and thought the best approach would be to organize a Programming Club,” says Leung. He mentioned the idea to several fellow Computer Science majors and together they founded the club and recruited Azhar as their advisor. The first meetings were held in February.

“BMCC had never competed in the contest before, so we thought this could be a good way to put our Computer Information Science Department on the map,” says club co-founder Rodny Pérez, who emigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic four years ago and plans to become a software engineer.

Maryna Asipchuk, also a co-founder, had taken part in several intercollegiate competitions last year as a member of the math team, “so the opportunity to enter a programming competition was very appealing,” she says.

Each of the four schools in the contest was represented by multiple teams; BMCC fielded three. (Team 1 [1st place]: Pérez, Asipchuk and Chapman; Team 2 [3rd place]: Ihar Laziuk and Jianxin Li; Team 3: Iktear U. Mujtaba, James Kierstead and Manuel Pena.)

“We all woke up at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning at the beginning of Spring Break in order to get to Grand Central and make our train to Pleasantville by 7:15,” says Azhar. Accompanying him and the team were Leung and Professor Don Wei, who provided invaluable support to the students, Azhar says.

“This success wouldn’t have happened without Prof. Leung's initiative and encouragement,” he adds. “She has inspired and motivated me as a faculty to help create opportunities like this where students can shine.”

While the mood was optimistic en route to Pleasantville, the members were not oblivious to the challenge they faced as first-time entrants. “We all felt the pressure and a sense of anxiety,” says Pérez. “But we knew we could do it. Prof. Azhar expected a lot from us, but he believed in us.”

In point of fact, the club members had spent a lot of time reviewing—and tackling—sample problems from last year. “They had only about a month to prepare, but they were very motivated,” says Azhar.

Good to go

Notes team member Chris Chapman, “We all agreed that second place wasn’t an option—we wanted to win. But we’d done the work, so we were ready.” Each team was given eight problems to solve in three hours. Chapman, who holds a Bachelors degree in Communications from Boston University, enrolled in BMCC to begin working toward a Bachelors and eventually a Masters degree in Computer Science.

Going head-to-head with other schools is not the sole reason for the club’s existence.  “The core idea of the Computer Club is to create an environment where students can come together and solve problems related to a wide range of independent research projects,” says Azhar. “I’ve always been a major proponent of collaborative learning.”

Asipchuk, who came to the U.S. from Minsk, Belarus, to pursue her dream of a higher education, says that computer programming is first and foremost about problem-solving.

“You start by looking at the problem, analyze it, try to figure out which tools and methods would be applicable, develop the algorithm and write the code.” A large part of programming’s appeal is its universal relevance, adds Asipchuk, who will continue her studies at a four-year college after graduating from BMCC.

“Programming can be applied in any field—medicine, economics, scientific research,” she says. “It’s always useful.”

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  • With less than two months to prepare, students compete in the Community College Programming Contest
  • BMCC teams garner first- and third-place honors
  • These are awesome students
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