Clark math and computer science students shine at national, regional competitions; move on to internships and jobs

July 31, 2014
Clark contest participants at the 2014 Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) — Northeastern Region Conference

Clark contest participants at the 2014 Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) —Northeastern Region Conference

The hard work and dedication of members of Clark's Department of Mathematics and Computer Science is borne out by the successes of its students over the course of the 2013–2014 academic year. Several 2014 graduates are moving on to prestigious companies or graduate programs, including (Elena Zhizhimontova), Microsoft (Zachary Herman), Carnegie-Mellon University (Evan Palmer) and University of California at Berkeley (Hoang Duong Trong). Meanwhile, other students still at Clark are involved in summer internships and research:

  • Internship at Google (Alex Williams '15)
  • Internship at Wayfair (Rehan Rasool '15 and Neil Orzechowski '14) A participant in Clark's 3-2 engineering program, Orzechowski will study electrical engineering at Columbia University, beginning this fall.
  • National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Connecticut (Viktoria Grindle '15)
  • U.S. Department of Energy Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program at the Joint Genome Institute at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Samuel Kovaka '16)
  • Distributed Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (Courtney Pharr '17)

"In general, our alumni and students have gotten very good full-time positions and summer internships," notes computer science professor Li Han. "Computer science and math are hard, but provide very valuable training and great job prospects. We work hard with our students to prepare them for the future."

Students also performed well at mathematics and computer science competitions. In the fall semester a team comprising Clark mathematics students El Mehdi Ainasse '16, Binh Tang '16 and Hoang Duong Trong '14 placed in the top 30 percent of 430 mathematics teams in the prestigious William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Participating as individuals were Evelyn Nitch-Griffin '14 and Dana Ferranti '14.

"This is a competition for the brightest college students in the land," explains department chair and professor Natalia Sternberg. "The ranking achieved by our team is historically one of the best results for Clark, and it is even more significant considering the size of our school and the number of our mathematics majors."

The Putnam Competition, held annually since 1938, is administered by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). More than 4,000 students from 557 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada participated in the 2013 competition. According to the MAA's website, contest questions are designed to test originality and technical competence, with some problems crossing disciplinary boundaries.

For a second year Clark professor emeritus of mathematics, John Kennison, worked with the Clark students in their spare time to prepare for the competition, and Sternberg expressed hope that he would continue in this role next year.

"It really benefits the students that our Professor Emeritus is still so engaged," she says. "We are so lucky."

Team participant Trong, a veteran of high school math competitions, says that he hoped participation in the Putnam Competition would stand him in good stead when applying to a doctoral program. He also enjoyed preparing for the competition.

"Solving math problems with other students and taking classes with Professor Kennison was fun," he comments.

In the spring semester, two teams of Clark computer science students took first and fourth places (see all results) in a computer programming contest at the 2014 Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) — Northeastern Region Conference. The first-place (B) team consisted of Bingkun Fang '15, Hoang Nguyen '16 and Binh Tang '16, while Samuel Kovaka '16, Evan Palmer '14 and Sarjan Shrestha '16 formed the fourth-place (A) team.

In all, 31 teams representing 29 colleges throughout the Northeast took part, and Clark and Wellesley College were the only schools to field two teams.

Professor Han prepared the Clark students for the contest, and, with fellow computer science professor John Magee, accompanied them to the conference held at Providence College in Providence, R.I. According to Magee, the Consortium holds the conference yearly as a way for computer science educators to collaborate on effective and innovative teaching approaches that increase student achievement, engagement, and diversity.

"It's a great way to share best practices and successes in the classroom," he explains. "The programming contest and student poster session allow students to participate in the conference and engage with students from other colleges and universities in the region. It's a fantastic experience for the students to see what's going on outside their own universities."

Han is full of praise for the Clark students. "This is Clark University's first participation in this collegiate programming contest and our students did very well," she says. "They worked hard in their preparations and spent many Saturday afternoons on problem sets, including some of the most beautiful Saturdays in early spring when everybody wanted to be outside after a long winter. Their strong work ethic and outstanding performances are inspiring, and we are very proud of them."

These wins were in addition to those garnered by Zhizhimontova and Herman at the New England Undergraduate Computing Symposium at Boston University on March 29. Sternberg summed up the department's pleasure in the achievements of its students.

"It was a good year for our students who have achieved those results," she says, "and for the faculty who supported them along the way."

Anne Gibson - Marketing and Communications - Clark University