Communications team covers international programming event in Morocco

A contingent from Elon University’s School of Communications traveled in May to Marrakesh, Morocco, to provide news coverage of the world’s largest collegiate programming contest.

For the fifth year a team from Elon University's School of Communications covered the Association for Computing Machinery – International Collegiate Programming Contest. Pictured (front, from left) are Jacob LaPlante ’17, Bettina Johnson ’06, G’11, Randy Piland, (back) Youssef Osman, Max Negin and Amanda Sturgill. Absent from the photo is Jon D’Amato G’15.
​A team of students, faculty and alumni from Elon University’s School of Communications spent a week in May in Marrakesh, Morocco, reporting on the 2015 Association for Computing Machinery – International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC). Elon’s multimedia crew highlighted the worldwide competition through video, photos, text, social media and a live broadcast.

Sponsored by IBM, ACM-ICPC is the world’s oldest and most prestigious programming competition, pitting three-member teams – mostly math and computer science students – from universities around the world. In fact, team representatives hailed from six different continents.

This year’s Elon contingent included Associate Professor Amanda Sturgill, Assistant Professors Max Negin and Youssef Osman, and Senior Lecturer Randy Piland. Interactive Media student Jon D’Amato G’15, cinema and television arts major Jacob LaPlante ’17 and Interactive Media alumna Bettina Johnson ’06, G’11 joined the faculty members. Johnson, who lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark, is ACM-ICPC’s director of social media.

“This was our fifth year of having Elon folks work at the ACM-ICPC, and our involvement has grown each year,” said Sturgill. “Elon was an integral part of ICPCNews, which provides coverage of the ICPC in text, photo, video and in social media. We also work with the live broadcast of the contest and with a global, interactive game that goes along with it.”

In addition to posting their work on ACM-ICPC’s news page,, the Elon team’s content was widely promoted by IBM.

While the event’s audience is relatively small, it’s a passionate group – particularly in Asia and the Slavic countries, Sturgill noted. Last year’s ACM-ICPC content generated more than 340 million verified press impressions.

Online traffic for this year’s competition was equally as strong with 73 registered watch parties around the globe interacting on social media. The videos produced by the Elon group garnered 15,000 views in their first week online.

Many hands make light work

While in Morocco, the Elon team members took on different leadership roles and responsibilities to bring the competition to its audience.

Sturgill served as director of ICPCNews, responsible for scheduling and assigning all work, as well as assisting team members and facilitating production.

While in Morocco providing ACM-ICPC news coverage, cinema and television arts major Jacob LaPlante ’17 (right) conducted interviews and performed stand-ups. Senior Lecturer Randy Piland took the photograph, which is courtesy of
​Functioning as the director of videography, Negin coached the video reporters and editors, established and managed the workflow, and directed the editing process. Osman, D’Amato and LaPlante worked as videographers, filming interviews and compiling B-roll. With Osman leading the editing, D’Amato oversaw graphics and animations, and LaPlante served as the group’s on-camera talent, conducting interviews and writing and performing stand-ups.

Piland was one of two on-site photographers who shot both the environmental aspects around Morocco and the contest’s events. While he snapped thousands of images, Piland edited the pictures and published them online in “near real time,” Sturgill said. Piland’s work is included in a photo gallery on the ICPCNews website.

Having led the annual competition’s on-the-ground coverage for several years, Sturgill explained she returns again and again because the experience is remarkable for both students and seasoned communicators.

“First and foremost, going to the ICPC is a phenomenal experience for students,” she said. “It’s a chance to be treated as a professional and a peer – with professional expectations – and gain skill in a real-world, global context, with all of the issues that it brings.”

LaPlante’s visit to Morocco is a prime example of the trip’s value. Before May the sophomore didn’t even have a passport and had never traveled abroad. But on his first night in Morocco, he interviewed people from 14 different countries. See a sample of LaPlante’s on-camera work in this video recap.

For faculty members, the ACM-ICPC trip provides an opportunity to reconnect with their professional background. “While we all love teaching, we also all feel a strong tie back to our core professions,” said Sturgill, noting her past journalism experience. “It’s a chance to go and be a professional again, meet some of the smartest people in the world, and practice some creative problem solving.”

For Sturgill, the 2015 event stands out because of the involvement of several local Moroccan volunteers on Elon’s media team. “It was so interesting to spend a lot of time with them and to learn about their perspectives and life in their country,” she said.

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