Frustrated by the lack of competitive and networking opportunities for high school students interested in information technology, Middleton High School senior Balaji Veeramani organized his own contest.
Called Project Boolean, it was named after a concept in computer science and mathematics.
The event Saturday at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus drew 66 students from nine schools. They formed 21 teams of two to four students each. The winners were Langston Nashold, Anna Arpaci-Dusseau and Felix Jiang, all juniors at West High School.
“Project Boolean was a vision of mine that stems from a lack of opportunities for high school students interested in (information technology),” Veeramani said. “Because of this, I was encouraged to make a difference.”
Veeramani, who plans to study computer science in college, said he is so impassioned about making sure future students have the same chance to compete that another event is being planned for the spring, with the idea of training younger students to run the contests in the future.
While Veeramani had been mulling the idea of an IT contest since he was a freshman, the majority of the planning for Project Boolean spanned only about six weeks. He said he expected students from Dane County and Milwaukee but Veeramani was surprised that the contest attracted students from as far away as Ashland.
Daniel Pope, a junior at Ashland High School, said he had to meet up at 6:30 a.m. to get to Madison on time. He also had to make a tough decision between going to Project Boolean or attending a Halloween party put on by 4-H with which he also is involved.
“I wanted to come here since it’s more of my forte,” he said.
Khrystyna Yadvinska, a junior at Baraboo High School, said she and her team members were encouraged by their computer science teacher, Dan Rhode, to take part in the competition. It appealed to her because it’s up to the team to decide what programming would be the most effective for solving the problems.
Each team received 19 problems that varied in difficulty and required implementing algorithms and using computational thinking and math to arrive at a solution. Points were awarded according to the difficulty of the problem during the 2½ hours of the contest.
Members within each team wore the same colored headbands that were handed out at the contest.
Lori Hunt, computer science teacher at Middleton High School, said she was serving as the staff representative and spread the word of the contest through her involvement as vice president of the Wisconsin chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association.
But she said Veeramani did all the rest of the organizing along with help from his team — Haiwen Dai, Umer Sohail and Anton Tung, all seniors at Middleton High School.
The team obtained sponsors including primary funder CUNA Mutual Group. Veeramani wrote 80 percent of the problems and got help with the others from his older brother, who is studying computer science at UW Madison.
Hunt was impressed by the response for the contest, especially given the short time frame students had to sign up, showing her how much such a contest is needed. She also was happy to see the number of girls taking part. While still small at about 10, participation was better than it would have been a few years ago, she said.
Joe Holt, a senior at McFarland High School, said his team was hovering around fifth place while the leaderboard was up during the contest but didn’t have enough at the end and finished in the top seven.
“I’d do it again,” Holt said. “We would be a lot more successful knowing how the whole format works.”