MHS Debuts at Siena College’s Annual Computer Science Programming Contest

MHS Students and Faculty return from Siena
MHS Students and Faculty return from Siena
Photo Courtesy of Ms. Heather Thibodaux

Since 1986, Siena College’s computer science department has hosted an annual programming competition to assess and challenge high school students’ algorithmic and coding aptitudes. This year, Math Department Chair Heather Rinaldi, math teacher Heather Thibodaux, and Director of STEM Robert Hohn, organized MHS’s first-ever trip to compete in the event. 

When asked what inspired this field trip, Ms. Thibodaux explained that over the summer, she and Ms. Rinaldi attended a jumpstart computer science course at Siena College and met Jim Matthews, Robin Flatland and Pauline White, some of the chief organizers of the competition, who encouraged them to enroll Mamaroneck in the contest this school year. Ms. Thibodaux points out that such competitions are impactful opportunities for students “to see campuses, gain exposure to computer science and develop problem solving skills that are helpful in school and real-world situations.”

On April 12, sixteen MHS students split into four programming teams and took the bus to Siena College’s campus in Loudonville, New York, to participate. Half of the MHS teams competed at the contest’s Green level, which is designed for students who have taken only one year of computer science classes, while the other two teams competed at the contest’s Gold level, which targeted students who have been enrolled in programming classes for multiple years. 

The Siena competition challenges students to solve a problem set of seven questions, designed specifically for each level, graded on the basis of accuracy and efficiency. The problems require computer science, math, and logic to solve; for instance, one of this year’s problems prompted Gold teams to code a program that returned the greatest amount of postage which an unlimited supply of several user-inputted stamp cent quantities could not provide. Maya Okochu (’25), who participated in the Siena competition, notes that although this “competition pushed us to solve challenges in a short period of time, working through the problems was very rewarding.”

During the three-hour competition, students are provided with two spaces to compete in: a planning room to design their algorithms, and a computer lab where they can program their code. Although most teams choose to code in only one language during the contest for consistency, the competition’s judges allow students to code in either Python or Java for each question. In the “judges’ room, Siena College computer science students and faculty tested students’ code solutions, providing students with simple feedback if their code failed, and adjusting their scores each time they completed a problem successfully. 

Scarsdale High School ultimately won the Gold level competition, and an Emma Willard school team won the Green competition. Despite it being MHS’s first contest, one of the school’s Gold teams was ranked 7th place out of all the teams, and listed as 3rd place in all 32 of the competing schools. MHS was also recognized for its success as a school competing for its first time. 

“Both of the trips allowed me to use the computer science skills I learned at MHS in real world applications.”

— Mikey Sullivan (’25)

MHS students agree that the Siena competition is an exciting way to enrich students’ computer science skills, and are already hoping to return to the competition next year. On April 28, several MHS students participated in Ardsley High School’s fourth hackathon, which had the theme of “Hacking for Social Good!” Mikey Sullivan (’25), who competed at both the Siena competition and the Hackathon, explains that to fit this theme, “our group…made a chatbot that could be used to help someone apply for SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] by estimating their eligibility and benefits.” Sullivan notes that “both of the trips allowed me to use the computer science skills I learned at MHS in real world applications.” Mustafa Khan (’26), member of one of the MHS Gold teams at the Siena competition, and also a competitor at the Ardsley hackathon, shares that “For [him] personally, the competitions and projects [he has] worked on have been the primary experiences which have driven [him] to learn more.” Okochu participated in the hackathon as well, and says that she hopes “the computer science department will organize more of these types of trips in the future.” 

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