Student Team Ties for Top Honors in IBM's Great Mind Challenge Watson Edition

Thursday, March 20, 2014

IBM Contest Winners: Tying for top honors in IBM's Fall 2013 The Great Mind Challenge-Watson Technical Edition was the team of (from left) Teddy Sterne, Gabe Glenn, and Kenneth Faulkner. Daniel Nam is not pictured. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

A team of Rose-Hulman computer science and software engineering students has once again showcased keen programming and problem-solving skills by tying for first-place honors in IBM's The Great Mind Challenge (TGMC)-Watson Technical Edition. The national competition was created to better prepare students for high-tech careers in such fast-emerging fields as cognitive systems and machine learning.

After making a public debut when it triumphed on the television quiz show Jeopardy!, IBM Watson is now a cloud-delivered commercial technology that helps users make decisions with insights it uncovers from massive amounts of data. TGMC Watson Edition Fall 2013 was a competition between five universities, including Rose Hulman, in which students applied their knowledge and skills to an exercise based on a core technology Watson employs to learn and develop confidence in its data-driven recommendations.

IBM challenged the collegiate teams to write machine learning algorithms to identify correct answers in a dataset of question-answer pairs.

Rose-Hulman's top scoring team tied with a team from Vanderbilt University for first place in the competition of 37 U.S. collegiate teams. Rose-Hulman's team featured junior computer science and software engineering double majors Kenneth Faulkner and Teddy Sterne, junior software engineering student Gabe Glenn, and senior mechanical engineering major Daniel Nam.

"There was an enormous amount of data that was gathered and processed in a short amount of time, and you had to consider several variables in coming up with the correct answer," says Glenn.

Sterne adds, "This was extreme problem solving."

Another Rose-Hulman team placed third in the competition. Team members were senior computer science student Nick Kamper, senior computer science and mathematics double major Laura Moss, and junior software engineering and computer science double majors Frank Roetker and Jordon Phillips.

"The IBM Great Mind Challenge includes undergraduate- and graduate-level students, and that's what makes our teams' achievements so gratifying," states Michael Wollowski, PhD, associate professor of computer science and software engineering.

Wollowski incorporated the challenge into his fall academic quarter's artificial intelligence course.

"Several of the machines learning algorithms were quite complex and needed to utilize some of the most powerful computers on campus," says the professor.

"Lessons learned throughout the class built up to this project. It was quite a learning experience," states Roetker.

Excelling in collegiate competitions is nothing new for Rose-Hulman computer science and software engineering students. The college's cyber defense team placed third in the 2013 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and a team represented the United States at the 2013 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals.