KAMSC girls blow out male competitors at recent programming contest


Shannon Houtrouw decided to use a recent competition at Michigan State University to make a statement about female students’ success at computer coding.


Houtrouw,  teacher at the Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center and advisor to its computing programming team, deliberately took only female students to the MSU event.


Although the event was coed, computer competitions tended to be dominated by males.


But the KAMSC female teams decisively defeated their male competitors, Houtrouw said, taking three of the top five and six of the top 10 places.


““Anyone who has ever bought into the myth that girls cannot code as well
as boys hasn’t met our girls! We didn’t just beat those boy teams. My Lady Warriors destroyed them,” Houtrouw said.


KAMSC girls recently dominated the state awards presented by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, but this was a chance from them to prove themselves against male peers, Houtrouw said.


“Computer science isn’t just a boy thing any more,”he said. “It really is a co-ed sport. These girls have just set a powerful example for other girls to follow. Heck, people of all ages, regardless of gender could learn a thing or two from them.”


Houtrouw said he got the idea of taking only girls to the event when he learned he was limited to bringing 18 students to the MSU event.


That created a dilemma.


“KAMSC has a large programming team,” he explained. “The juniors and seniors alone number close to 60.”


He decided to turn the dilemma into an opportunity to make a point.


“I told the organizers that I would only be bringing teams of girls this year,” he said. “I asked our male programmers to sit this one out. The boys didn’t like it, but they understood. A couple of them even wanted to come along for support.”


The first-place team at the competition was the KAMSC trio of Dhara Patel, Maria Stull and Katherine Wu, all seniors at Portage Public Schools.


The group, who called themselves the Lady Warriors, solved the first of five challenge problems at 13 minutes into the 3-hour competition. They finished four of the five problems while the other teams were still solving their first and second problems.


The Lady Warriors went on to solve the fifth and final problem and prevailed as the first place team, solving all the problems with a combined total time of 376 minutes. This was well ahead of runner-up Midland High School that finished their last problem with 3 minutes left in the contest for a combined total of 556 minutes, Houtrouw said.


And another KAMSC team of Rachel Polus, Katherine Rothe and Hanna Rumora, also Portage seniors — i.e., the Cats Pajamas —  actually completed the set of five problems before any of the other teams, Houtouw said.


“They finished shortly before the Lady Warriors did, but when the amount of time it took to solve each problem was added together, the Cats-Pajamas finished third overall with 563 minutes — a mere 7 minutes behind Midland,” Houtrouw said.


Patel, who along with two of her male classmates recently placed first at the Saginaw Valley State University ACM High School Programming Contest, was asked how it felt to be on two winning teams.


“This one was better!” she replied.


Other KAMSC girls at the event were seniors Rachel Chang, Amber Salome, Genevieve Sertic, and Taryn Withers, and juniors Kathleen D’Souza, Carolyn Hamman, Kimberly Kwon, Cydney Martell, Chloe Mendez, Ellie Reid, and Abby Shirey.


The top three teams all received Best Buy gift cards of $50, $25, and $15.


A magnet high school open to all students who live in the nine school districts based in Kalamazoo County, KAMSC provides math, science and technology classes to high-achieving students, who spend half of their
school day at KAMSC and the other half at their home high school. It serves about 300 students in grades 9-12.

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