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HelloResearch workshop showcases possible paths for undergrads

2018-11-05
HelloResearch1

More than 90 women from 47 schools attended the HelloResearch workshop, a three-day event held Oct. 26-28 at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering that brought together undergraduate computer science majors to work on exploratory problems in teams led by researchers from academia and industry.

HelloResearch was made possible through a grant from Google’s Explore Computer Science Research program and major support from Oracle Academy. Speakers for the workshop included SICE Associate Dean for Research Kay Connelly, Maggie Oates, a Ph.D. student in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, and Haley MacLeod, a SICE graduate and UX researcher for Facebook. The keynote speaker for the event was Timnit Gebru, a research scientist at Google AI.

“We wanted to give them an authentic experience in an open-ended research project with world-class researchers and mentors,” said Suzanne Menzel, a senior lecturer in computer science and one of the organizers of the event along with Associate Professor Katie Siek and Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing David Crandall. “It’s only three days, so it’s an intensive research experience. Most students don’t have the opportunity to learn about research in an immersive way. This gave them the opportunity.”

Some of the research projects offered for attendees included the design and implementation of domain-specific programming languages, augmented reality visualizations of IoT data, goal-based task planning and adaption with aerial unmanned vehicles, activity recognition through deep learning through sound and video, wireless device privacy, creating custom technology to improve one’s quality of life, and a half-dozen other subjects. Attendees of the event also had the opportunity to learn about life in graduate school from the perspective of current students, present a poster, and work side-by-side with faculty and researchers in computer science and informatics.

“I’m hoping to discover what I really want to do with my career,” said Obuchi Adikema, a sophomore at Grinnell College in Iowa studying computer science and theater and dance. “I was recommended for the conference by a faculty member because I was interested in what else you can do with computer science besides programming. I’m hoping to eventually do something that will create interactive experiences for people, and I want to bring performances and technology together to help tell stories and solve problems.”

Abigail Alwine, a junior majoring in computer science at SICE, didn’t have to travel for HelloResearch, but she was excited by how far the event could take her.

“It was recommended to me by one of my professors,” Alwine said. “She thought it would be a good fit for me. I don’t have a lot of experience in research, so I thought this would be a good chance to see what it was all about and explore new topics. There’s so much you can do, and it can be hard to pick a focus on what you want to do after graduation. This gives me an opportunity interact with a lot of different topics.”

Susan Monsey, a computer science major at SICE, won the poster competition with “Monitoring Heat Stress through Environmental Sensing,” which studied how urban vegetation and different types of land cover affect Urban Heat Islands, and also how well low-cost, wearable sensors measure our heat exposure.

“The HelloResearch conference was an amazing opportunity to network with faculty and fellow computer science students from around the country,” Monsey said. “The collaborative team-based, hands-on research was exactly what I hope to pursue once I graduate.”

The HelloResearch event was modeled after the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research in Computer Science program and targeted underrepresented students and minorities from institutions small or large, including students with varying levels of physical ability. Sign language interpreters and travel scholarships were provided through the generosity of Access Computing. Beckman Coulter, Access Computing, SICE, and the IU Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs also provides support for the workshop.

The research workshop also will serve as an element of research. The career paths of the students will be studied to judge the impact of such events on the future development of attendees.

“This provides research about research, and everybody benefits,” Menzel said. “We had such enthusiasm and momentum that built during this workshop. We had students attending the optional sessions, and they were staying late into the night. It was so empowering. Every woman spoke at the presentations, and we told them, ‘Look at what you accomplished in three days. Imagine what you could do in a summer research program or five years in a Ph.D. program.’ They could see the steps in front of them, and it was great to bring them to the point where they could see the path.”

Although the initial plan was to make HelloResearch a biennial event, the overwhelming positive response has some of the leaders thinking about making the workshop an annual proposition.

“Providing opportunities for women in computing is one of our main objectives at SICE,” Connelly said. “HelloResearch was a fantastic opportunity for women to explore the world of research by interacting with faculty and mentors who can provide guidance about what careers they may want to pursue in the future. This was an important event, and we’re thrilled SICE could play a role in this novel initiative.”

For more information on research at SICE, visit our website. Photos courtesy Andreas Bueckle.

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