Riedesel leads computer programming team to international competition

Feb 4th, 2010 | By | Category: Campus News, February 4, 2010, Issue

This week, a trio of computer programmers from UNL is flying to Harbin, China, for the World Finals of the IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.

Luckily, one of their traveling companions is the “winningest coach” in the history of the competition.

Charles Riedesel, assistant professor of practice in Computer Science and Engineering, has coached UNL’s ACM-ICPC teams for 12 years, and eight of his teams have competed at the international level. (Riedesel is quick to point out that the teams that didn’t make it to the world finals came extremely close). He will be honored for his tenure and successes with a coach award in Harbin.

Members of the 2010 team, nicknamed the Incendiary Pigs, are seniors Tim Echtenkamp (Cairo), Tyler Lemburg (Dannebrog) and Steve Trout (Batavia, Ill.) They will also be joined by assistant coach Jeff Ifland.

computer programming team
Steve Goddard (left), chair of computer science and engineering, reads a statement of good luck to members of the computer programming team that will compete in the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest. Team members include (back row) Jeff Ifland, assistant coach; and Charles Riedesel, coach of the team and assistant professor of practice. Photo by Greg Nathan/University Communications.

Riedesel, who spends his days recruiting and advising computer science and engineering majors, cherishes the close relationships he develops with each year’s team members.

“I appreciate having the opportunity to work with students outside the usual classroom environment or my usual advising environment,” Riedesel said. “In my role as chief academic adviser for the department, I see hundreds of students and watch them through their time at UNL, and help guide them into careers. But these students who dedicate themselves with practices and trips to the competitions… it’s something special.”

In the past decade, Riedesel has dramatically increased UNL’s involvement in the ACM-ICPC competition. UNL is a host site for the regional competition each fall, through which teams are selected to travel to the international finals. What began with a handful of teams from nearby schools has grown into an annual gathering of 40 teams from universities across the Midwest.

“I did everything I could to get the word out, and tried to generate a lot of publicity,” Riedesel said. “I searched out every computer science department in the region, and invited them to our campus. Now, we’re outgrowing our facilities. We’ve maxed out.”

He’s not complaining. When he’s recruiting new students, he can tell them that by coming to UNL, they will have a better chance at competing at the international level than they would at just about any other school. That’s a strong sell, because contest sponsor IBM recruits heavily from the group of students who participate. Participation in the ACM-ICPC looks equally impressive on resumes and graduate school applications.

“These students are placed in situations where they have to struggle, and because it’s a team of three, they have to learn teamwork, sharing, cooperation, and all kinds of skills related to that,” Riedesel said. “It’s like a sports program, they develop friendships that take them from freshman through senior year.”

Riedesel does not hand pick members for each UNL team. Rather, he lets them self-select. The teams also determine how hard they want to work.

“I have been ready to work with them to whatever level of rigor they were ready to handle,” Riedesel said. “This year’s team has been especially dedicated, ready to work through a number of full practices using old Worlds Finals problem sets and recreated judges’ data.”

The competition itself is an exhausting, five-hour problem-solving marathon. However, when the final numbers are crunched and the computers power down the fun begins. Activities surrounding the contest are designed to let the programmers cut loose. They watched a fireworks display in Shanghai and attended a rodeo in San Antonio. This year in Harbin, they’ll participate in the city’s spectacular Ice Festival.

“Each time I go, I thank my students for taking me along,” Riedesel said. “This has given me the opportunity to travel to places I otherwise would not have been and to work with top coaches from all around the world.”

Riedesel may feel lucky, but his students are equally fortunate. As a coach and an academic adviser, Riedesel’s commitment to their success has consistently been recognized, most recently with a 2009 James V. Griesen Award for Exemplary Service to Students.

– By Sara Gilliam, University Communications

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