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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Great Computer Challenge is Inspiring to Former ITS Director Grace Little

Shortly after she started her career at Old Dominion University, Grace Little had an opportunity to help create a computer programming contest, hosted at the University, for local high school students.

Twenty teams of local high school students were invited to compete in basic computer programming using ODU's mainframe computer. ODU faculty members came up with the programming problems and judged the students' solutions.

This was in the early 1980s, when computers were just starting to receive mainstream popularity, and Little was an early adopter of the technology. "I always thought, 'This is something people should love as much as I love,'" Little said.

The modest competition has grown into a long-standing partnership between ODU, WHRO and the Consortium for Interactive Instruction (CII). The senior competition of the 30th annual Great Computer Challenge (GCC) will be hosted Saturday, March 7, in Old Dominion University's Webb Center.

After 30 years at Old Dominion, Little retired late last year from her position as director of academic and web technologies for Information Technologies Services. She is making a trip back to Norfolk to participate in this year's event, which holds three decades of special memories for her.

"The mission of demonstrating to students what can be done in the technology fields is the same as it was 30 years ago," Little said. "But it is so exciting and gratifying that the event has had so many successful years. We've had participants come back as judges, retired employees continue to serve as judges. It's a very special event."

The 30th GCC almost didn't happen. In 1986, as the programming contest began to build momentum, the University faced financial challenges and decided to drop the competition. School divisions, as well as ODU faculty, complained publicly. Once word got out, WHRO and the C.I.I. contacted Little about taking over the competition. Meanwhile, ODU asked Little to bring the contest back.

"WHRO is proud to be part of the Great Computer Challenge since it was first held 30 years ago," said Bert Schmidt, President and CEO of WHRO Public Media. "Students from across our region who participate gain experience that prepares them for today's jobs that require technical knowledge, communication and teamwork. This unique partnership with ODU makes it possible to produce an event that neither organization could do alone."

This year's GCC begins at 9 a.m. in the North Café of Webb University Center with greetings from Old Dominion University Provost Carol Simpson.

In the day-long competition, students will demonstrate skills in various computer applications and computer programming, including graphic arts, desktop publishing, music composition, desktop presentations, web design, Internet scavenger hunt, integrated applications, scientific/non-business programming, Visual Basic, CAD, JAVA and video editing.

Last year 143 teams participated in the senior GCC, with two to five students per team, from the Greater Hampton Roads area, including Isle of Wight, Williamsburg and York.

At the 2:30 p.m. awards ceremony in North Café, WHRO will present the Annie Gilstrap Volunteer Service Award posthumously to Samuel Coppage, associate professor of information technology and decision sciences in the Strome College of Business, who died March 9, 2014 at age 65, following a lengthy battle with cancer.

During the awards ceremony, a first-time award will be presented to participants as well. The Grace Little Technology Enthusiasm Award will honor the vision and dedication of someone without whom there wouldn't be a Great Computer Challenge.

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