Applied computing students compete in capture-the-flag competition, placing in top 15% of nation


Courtesy of Nicholas Ridpath

The participants of the capture-the-flag team that placed in the top 15% of the nation. From left to right, Nicholas Ridpath, Nathan Wallace, Brendan Albright and Matthew Minter.

In a recent capture-the-flag competition, the Applied Computing team continued their history of high-placing wins, placing in the top 15% of over 1,000 student teams across the nation.

In Spring 2021, a team with different members placed 47th out of more than 300 colleges and universities, beating schools such as K-State and Texas A&M.  The top team placed 45th out of 922, placing in the top 95th percentile.

Team member Nicholas Ridpath said that this was his first competition.  He described CTF competitions as a big list of puzzles that teams try to solve.  Winning can be based on how fast they are solved or how many attempts needed to solve.  

What I took away was [that] it is different being in classes than going and being in a competition and seeing how you do compared to other people, so I thought it was a good skills assessment and I also thought that it was really fun,” Ridpath said.  

Getting practical experience about what he likes in the Applied Computing field is Ridpath’s favorite thing about CTF competitions.  Getting the chance to find a niche before taking a job that you don’t like was also beneficial for him.

“It’s important to figure out what you like, and you might not always find that out in class,” Ridpath said.  You might have to get involved in things outside of class to find that.”

One of the Ridpath’s highlights of the competition was when all of the team members came together to solve the challenge worth the most amount of points and solved it.

“When you are in a capture the flag it’s all kind of broken up in different categories,” Rudpath said.  “You can attack whatever you want to learn … and then taking that to your class, it really helps a lot.  It makes it so that you really understand why you are learning what you are learning.”

Mentor Joe Jabara said that the team was novice and was really excited about the results. He is currently working on building three to four all-female teams to promote women in STEM. In terms of team members, anyone can join, but they are looking for psychology, computer science, applied computing and criminal justice majors.

“Applied computing is still a small program, although it is growing,” Ridpath said.  “They’ve built up a kind of camaraderie, you know, growing up in the program.  You grew up with each other, and forms a continuity, makes for great team members.”

Jabara, who has a law degree and 30 years of military experience, said that he helps teams find the right competition for their skill level and provides online tools to practice.

“Again, really though it’s me standing back as a cheerleader and making sure they stay motivated,” Jabara said. 

Jabara said that getting involved in an extracurricular similar to this does prepare students for their future careers.

“Unfortunately, especially during Covid, We think of education being a bunch of separate bubbles or silos, and I think this [team] encourages socializing, where you are doing something relevant to your major or career field,” Jabara said. “It encourages teamwork and one person’s strengths might be another person’s weaknesses and vice versa.”