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UNF trio use computer science and math knowledge to perfect the art of winning

Furio Gerwitz, Troy Kidd and Jake Sutton posed around two open laptopsWorking under pressure is no problem for three University of North Florida seniors. In fact, the students who are double majoring in computer science and mathematics, say the thrill of the challenge to beat the clock gives them added motivation.  

Teammates, students and friends, Jake Sutton, Furio Gerwitz and Troy Kidd, who are all from Jacksonville and are set to graduate from UNF in May with their bachelor’s degrees, are a trio who have perfected the art of winning. 

Throughout their educational journey at UNF, they have competed both individually or as a team and either won or placed in the top three in programming competitions at UNF and around the Southeast.  

They are quick to say the experience gives them a chance to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world problems – not to mention the bonus of winning cash prizes.  

In February, the three teamed up to compete in the International Collegiate Programming Competition (ICPC) at Florida State University, securing the top prize in Division 2 for solving eight out of 13 programming problems within the allotted time. As a team, they are ranked third in the Southeast Region out of 45 teams and sixth in the South Division out of 100-plus teams.   

Known as Resources Ltd., the three are a force to be reckoned with. They are 2023 and 2024 repeat winners of UNF’s NestForAWhile, a 3-hour, in-person programming competition that challenges students to put forth their best coding and problem-solving capabilities under the constraints of time.  

Last October, Resources Ltd. participated in the 2023 IEEEXtreme Programming Competition 17.0, a global, 24-hour programming challenge. They were the top team from Florida, ranked 8 out of 117 teams from the U.S., and finished in the top 12% of more than 4,200 teams worldwide.  

Armed with their own unique skills, Sutton, Gerwitz and Kidd strategize the best way to utilize their expertise prior to the competition, then each works through a series of programming challenges within the given time limit — a proven winning formula. 

“We divvy up the problems between us to determine who could best solve the most and according to what we each like to do best,” said Sutton. “It seems to work.”  

Dr. Anirban Ghosh, associate professor in the School of Computing and the faculty advisor of the Osprey Competitive Programming Club (OCP), of which the three serve as officers, said the students have the competitions down to a science, each drawing upon their individual skills to accomplish their winning streak.  

“These students have extensive knowledge of coding along with algorithmic thinking,” said Ghosh. "Their computing and math courses have set them up for success. They work as a team to solve and master several complicated coding problems.”

UNF faculty guide students 

Furio Gerwitz and Jake Sutton working together on a computerWhile their successes with coding and programming competitions outside the classroom is notable, they attribute their achievements to having a solid educational foundation in both computer science and mathematics from their UNF courses and instructors. 

All three have taken several math courses from Dr. Daniela Genova, professor of mathematics, and credit her educational leadership, encouragement and guidance for their success. She was also instrumental in encouraging them to earn a double major.  

“About 15 years ago, the Mathematics and Statistics Department along with the School of Computing developed a joint concentration under the math major which requires courses from both departments,” Genova said. “The concentration is based on discrete math-type courses because they provide the theoretical foundation of computer science. It’s very natural for computer science students interested in theory to take these math courses. On the other hand, math students who are interested in discrete math courses are also often interested in computer science.” 

Gerwitz, Sutton and Kidd agreed and said looking at the bigger picture, double majoring made sense to them.  

“Having good math and computer science skills and qualifications can be very helpful in solving real-world problems and are highly valued in the workplace,” said Kidd, who took several junior level math classes with Genova through dual enrollment.  

Genova said all three are highly motivated students who want to learn as much as possible to succeed.  

All three students say the main reason they score high and win so many programming competitions is that they are good mathematicians, and especially credit graph theory and combinatorics for their success in solving the hard programming problems.  

“Most of the moderate to difficult problems at these competitions are math problems in disguise,” said Genova. “They take each problem, abstract it to a math problem, solve it, then design the algorithm and program it.”   

UNF was the right fit 

Troy Kidd working on a laptopsSince January 2023, Kidd has worked as a data science intern at NLP Logix and was offered a full-time position after graduation. In addition, to interning full-time, he serves as treasurer of the OCP club, president of the Artificial Intelligence Research Organization (AIRO) student club and vice president of the UNF Game Appreciation and Development Club (UGAD).  

Familiar with UNF since he was a child, having attended both Eco Camp and iD Tech camp at UNF, and whose grandfather taught at UNF years ago, Kidd said UNF felt like the right fit for him.  

Jake Sutton working on a computerThe same is true for Sutton, who was awarded UNF’s Presidential Silver scholarship. He also tutored his peers during his freshman year at UNF and completed an internship last year with a small tech management firm in St. Augustine. He plans to attend graduate school down the road. 

Proof that he enjoys attending classes, Sutton decided to register for an extra math class this semester “just for the fun of it” because he couldn’t decide between the two — Abstract Algebra 2 or Advanced Calculus 2 and enrolled in both. In addition to managing a full course load, he serves as president of the OCP and has maintained his No. 1 ranking on UNF’s KATTIS leaderboard for solving the most difficult problems — a designation he’s held since summer 2021.  

“I like staying busy with classes and participating in competitions,” explained Sutton. “It puts things into perspective like what to expect from some job interviews. The programming problems are math and computer science rolled into one and mastering them is like putting together a puzzle.” 

Furio Gerwitz working on a computerGerwitz, who serves as vice president of OCP, completed an internship with CSX last December and was offered a full-time position with the company after graduation. He attributes his success to having a good understanding of both math and coding processes.   

“Dr. Genova is a great advocate for her students,” said Gerwitz. “She wants you to succeed and shows you the benefit of how math and computer science are both deeply intertwined. It has been a good pairing for me professionally.” 

Choosing to attend UNF was also a good pairing for him. “I liked the fact that I could stay in town and get a degree in a field that I loved, virtually debt-free,” said Gerwitz, who is a recipient of the Presidential Gold scholarship and a peer tutor for Student Academic Success Services (SASS).  

“Competing in programming competitions helps to reinforce my skills,” Gerwitz explained. “Working as a team to strategize how to solve the math problems and algorithms, proves to me that what I am learning in my algorithms classes — theory and math — is beneficial.” 

Gerwitz also enrolls in math competitions occasionally and brought home third place from the Problem-Solving Contest at the Florida Section of the Mathematical Association of America conference in February 2023, and third place from the Problem-Solving Competition at the First Ospreys Mathematics Conference at UNF in April 2023.   

Genova said Gerwitz, Sutton and Kidd are highly motivated students. 

“I am so proud of Troy, Jake and Furio and I’m confident they can handle whatever comes their way in their professional lives,” Genova said. “Such success cannot be achieved through one course. It’s a product of a lot of passion, talent, and a great deal of effort through multiple semesters to acquire the knowledge and skills set they have.”