WEST WINDSOR: Computer club organizes event for 2,000 students

By Geena Molinaro, Special Writer
The Computer Science Club from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North created and executed a computer science competition for more than 2,000 middle and high school students from across the world.
The event, High School Capture the Flag (HSCTF), ran from May 18 through 25 and was the first computer competition created by high school students for high school students.
Founder and president of the Computer Science Club Jacob Edelman said this type of competition is "regular for colleges but not high schools. Our group was interested in making this for the high school community."
The club, which was founded this January, wanted to share their passion for and knowledge of computer science with their peers by creating this educational opportunity, Jacob said.
And, as it turns out, the learning went both ways.
Jacob said he and fellow club members Alok Tripathy, Aaron Berger, Ernest Chiu, Ben Edelman and Aaron Weiss made all of the problems and created the security for the HSCTF on their own.
The opportunity to go "above and beyond" what students learn in class is why the Computer Science Club formed, he said. High School North offers computer science courses at three different levels, but, Jacob said, "the classes are about introducing computer science to students."
To create the problems for this event, the group used a variety of methods that involved creating their own programs, he said.
The only outside help they used, Jacob said, was the general website and scoreboard, which was created by Carnegie Mellon University for a similar competition.
The club’s adviser and computer technology teacher Tom Connolly said the group spent countless hours preparing for the HSCTF.
"In the fall Jacob proposed a very ambitious plan to host an on-line computer security competition," Mr. Connolly said. "His idea developed into a tremendous event."
Originally, the program was supposed to be for just the West Windsor-Plainsboro area, said Jacob, but after a successful run locally, the group decided to open it up to others.
"We didn’t imagine that 2,000 people would participate," Jacob said. "We expected to get around 100 teams, maybe 150. But we had 700 plus teams participating."
Jacob said people from Belgium, Switzerland, South Korea and Ukraine competed.
While most of the people competing were high school students, there were a few middle school students who joined as well. The Computer Science Club also created a non-competitive division for people who wanted to participate but were not in middle or high school.
Participant Zach Wade, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, said the competition was a great opportunity for high school students and thought the West Windsor-Plainsboro students ran the program well.
"HSCTF was a refreshing change of pace from primarily collegiate competitions where high school students are drowned out by waves of older teams with much more experience and skill," he said.
Zach also said he appreciated the variety of questions used and said this was something that college competitions do not normally have.
The competition was a type of computer security competition called "Capture the Flag," or "CTS." According to a press release from the group, "certain pieces of information, called "flags," are placed on servers, encrypted, hidden or otherwise stored somewhere difficult to access."
Participants are supposed to use their computer skills to capture these flags, and each successfully completed problem earns teams a certain number of points, it stated. Jacob said the team that accumulated the most points won the event.
He mentioned the Computer Science Club also networked to get sponsors for the event so they could distribute prizes to the winners. They worked with Facebook, Trail of Bits and EduCoin.
According to Jacob, the competition "went very well." So well, in fact, that the group has already announced the event will run again next spring. "We received good feedback, and had a lot of teachers involved," he said.
Jacob noticed many students participated in the competition as a part of their computer science classes and said next year he "would like to reach out to teachers" to provide resources to these classes.
Mr. Connolly said the contest was a huge success for the group. "I have heard from teachers from all over the country who plan to use the questions and website in their classrooms," he said. "I could not be more impressed with their efforts and ingenuity."
He said he looks forward to working with them in future years and thinks they are a "great bunch of kids."
As a sophomore, Jacob still has two more years to organize this event and develop the Computer Science Club. He said he "wants the club to live on and continue to provide the program" in the years to come.