Two students of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University received National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships that will provide three years of research funding while they attend graduate school. This prestigious award recognizes and supports outstanding early career graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.
Christopher Mendez, a graduate student, and Alannah Oleson, an undergraduate, received the awards for research in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). There were a total of eight students across the U.S. to receive the award for HCI research.
This prestigious award recognizes and supports outstanding early career graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. A total of 2,000 fellowships are awarded per year across all STEM fields.
Both Mendez and Oleson are advised by Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnett who co-founded the area of end-user software engineering, which aims to improve software for computer users who are not trained in programming. Her current research investigates gender-neutral software, uncovering gender inclusiveness issues in software from spreadsheets to programming environments.
Mendez and Oleson are extending Burnett’s research into different areas: Mendez is investigating how technology can empower people of low socioeconomic status; and Oleson is researching how best to teach inclusive software design methods and principles to university-level computer science students.
Mendez is continuing his research with Burnett at Oregon State, and Oleson will be starting graduate school next fall at the University of Washington.
The competition simulates a real-world situation in which the teams defend a corporate network infrastructure from professional hackers. Each team built a mock infrastructure including a web server, a file server, a database server, email, and other network operations. During the competition, a group of users utilized the services while the hackers launched attacks. The defending teams had to monitor and respond to the cyberattacks throughout the day and were scored on how well they defended their infrastructure and how well they documented what they had done.
The Oregon State team placed first among six teams from the western U.S. at the regional competition, and placed fourth nationally among 29 teams.
“The competition was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun,” said Zander Work, a freshman in computer science who led the team. “The team put in many long nights leading up to the competition to finish hardening our defenses, and it paid off.”
Zander and the other five students who competed — Aidan Grimshaw, Cody Holliday, Khuong Luu, Hadi Rahal-Arabi and Zach Rogers — are all members of the OSU Security Club.
“Although it was a very first time the students participated in such a competition, they did a great job,” said Yeongjin Jang, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering who advised the team. “I was very happy to see the students working hard for an entire month of preparation, not hesitating to tackle difficult tasks, and working well as a team at the competition venue.”
For the past three years Oleson has been working with Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, who studies human computer interaction. Oleson has worked on two different areas of research with Burnett: end-user programming and gender-inclusive software.
Oleson’s involvement has been extensive, including helping to plan and program the studies, debug procedures, collect and analyze data, and write up the results. She is co-author on six research papers and is one of the primary co-authors of a document describing the foundations of GenderMag, which is a software inspection process for programmers to uncover gender inclusiveness issues in software.
In the nomination letter for the CRA award Burnett wrote of Oleson: “In my 25 years as a faculty member, she is one of the very best undergraduate students I have seen.”
Danny Dig with his students and collaborators won four prestigious research paper awards at international conferences this year. Dig, an associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, researches software engineering. His focus is on interactive program transformations that improve programmer productivity and software quality.
Distinguished Paper Award (awarded by ACM SIGSOFT at FSE ’17)
Mike Rosulek, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, received a Visa Faculty Research Award to advance methods of customer privacy and fraud detection.
“We’ve known for several decades that cryptography can protect not just data at rest, but also data in use, at least in principle. Finally, in the last several years these cryptographic ideas have been improved to become truly practical,” Rosulek said.
Rosulek and his colleague at Visa, Payman Mohassel, will be working to improve a tool from cryptology called private set intersection, which allows two parties to find items in common on two separate lists without revealing any other information from the lists.
Their research will help make complicated queries faster to process. For example, a company may want to know how many customers they have in common with another company without revealing who those customers are.
The funds will support one graduate student for a year who will be helping to develop new prototypes that would make advanced cryptography practical for companies.
“This award demonstrates that industry leaders see the potential of advanced cryptography to protect data during use and solve real-world privacy challenges,” Rosulek said.
Three Oregon State University students working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory received the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) Startup Allocation based on their senior design capstone project.
Taylor Alexander Brown (computer science), Heidi Ann Clayton (computer science), and Xiaomei Wang (finance), also won the CH2M Multidisciplinary Collaboration Award at the 2017 Undergraduate Engineering Expo at Oregon State for their project called Coal and Open-pit surface mining impacts on American Lands (COAL).
The team created a system to process remote-sensing data to identify land surface types, coal mining operations, and the environmental impacts on water resources to help NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory study the effects of coal mining on the environment.
The XSEDE award will allow the team to continue development on the project including the use of XSEDE resources for benchmarking, evaluation and experimentation. Funded by the National Science Foundation, XSEDE is a collection of integrated advanced digital resources and services.
“The availability and opportunity to use computational infrastructure of this caliber will further enable the development of a science gateway to continue foundational COAL research,” said Lewis John McGibbney, data scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the client for the project.
“I am extremely proud of the team’s achievements and know that such endeavors set a high standard for each and every one of them as they progress further through their journey in higher education and beyond.”
Five students in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will be heading to Germany this summer to compete in the 2017 Rohde & Schwarz Engineering Competition. Their performance in the U.S. preliminary round earned them a spot at the world league competition.
Aaron Schraner, an electrical and computer engineering student, was motivated to compete since he participated last year on a team from the Oregon Institute of Technology that won the 2016 regional competition. Based on his experience there, he recruited Karen Harper for additional electrical engineering knowledge. All the other team members are in computer science: Braxton Cuneo, Erich Kramer, and Andy Tolvstad.
Their task was to make improvements to software for a digital-signal processing application that could ultimately make video streaming better. Specifically, they were asked to speed up the processing of the software-based DVB-T2-Coder, based on the open source GNU Radio project, while maintaining accuracy.
“Signal processing is traditionally very, very computationally intensive, so any optimizations you can get out of something like that are going to be very beneficial to your workflow,” Andrew Tolvstad said.
“There was one loop we optimized that was run about 1.2 million times,” Karen Harper agreed.
“Just by changing a data type that was 32-bits wide to one that was 64-bits wide, we took another 5 to 10 percent off the total amount of time it took to run the program,” Aaron Schraner said.
During the competition, students made improvements to the code that was then automatically compiled and tested for performance once they submitted it via Git. Rohde & Schwarz continuously published a leader board of the top performing teams so the teams could watch their ranking move up or down.
The team members are excited to have an all-expenses paid trip to Germany, and are squeezing the trip into very busy lives of classes and internships. They also have a chance to win $3,000 for the top prize, $1,500 for second place, and $750 for third place.
But the money was not the only objective.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Tolvstad said. “Just the thrill of trying to take something and make it the best it can possibly be by just rearranging its parts.”
This final will be held in Munich, Germany at the Rohde & Schwarz headquarters. Rohde & Schwarz is a privately held company with over 10,000 employees worldwide, including a design center in Beaverton.
“Gadgets and Gizmos” was the theme for the first HWeekend of 2017 on January 20-22, jointly sponsored by the College of Business and the College of Engineering.
In just one weekend, forty-seven students from business and engineering designed, built, and pitched their idea for a marketable product including temperature based alarm clock, a computer controlled potato launcher, a 3-D printed longboard fender, and a self-playing guitar.
It was the seventh iteration of the popular event that provides students from different disciplines an opportunity to work together in teams. Students came from a variety majors including business, bioengineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, environmental engineering, and mechanical engineering.
“This event is really cool, because I get to do things that I normally don’t get to do in my major,” said Alec Westbrook, a chemical engineering student who worked on the 3D printed longboard fender project. “I mean, how often can a guy that is mixing chemicals all day work with his hands and create something new?”
Mentors for this HWeekend included six industry members from Intel and two from Microsemi.
“People here are really excited about the things they are making,” said Aayush Pathak, a silicon architecture engineer from Intel who attended HWeekend as a mentor. “And to be a part of it and share what I have seen in my school and life — it’s a proud feeling.”
Staff from both the College of Business and the College of Engineering also helped mentor students through the creation and marketing of their projects.
“It’s an incredibly valuable partnership between business and engineering,” said Dale McCauley, the makerspace manager for the College of Business. “The students are getting the chance to build relationships that ordinarily wouldn’t form. If you get business students to understand how engineers think and vice versa, I think that is valuable.”
At the end of the weekend, the students received group awards for their dedication and hard work. The Executors award goes to the team that produces the best engineering execution of their idea to create the most polished final product, the Helping Hand is for the team that contributes the most to other teams, and the InnovationX Pitch awards go to two teams who had the best business pitches for selling their prototypes.
Executor: Temperature Based Alarm Clock team. The team included members Noah Hoffman, Taylor Johnston, Alexia Patterson, and Abdurrahman Elmaghbub.
Helping Hands: Checkpoint team. The team included members Andrey Kornilovich and Graham Barber
InnovationX Pitch: Checkpoint team and Temperature Based Alarm Clock team.
The following quote comes from the the Education Committee of the Computing Research Association award announcement:
Margaret Burnett, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Oregon State University (OSU), a member of the ACM CHI Academy, and an ACM Distinguished Scientist. Burnett has contributed pioneering research on how ordinary users interact with software and optimizing that interaction. This resulted, in part, in the development of a new subarea, which is at the intersection of human-computer interaction and software engineering, called end-user software engineering.
Throughout her academic career, Burnett has continuously worked with undergraduate researchers and even accommodated high school students in her lab. She has mentored 39 undergraduate students in research; 21 were from underrepresented groups in computing, 32 co-authored published research papers, and 25 went on to graduate studies. A selection of the honors of her highly accomplished mentees includes three Google Scholarships, three NSF Graduate Fellowships, and two National Physical Sciences Consortium Graduate Fellowships. In her nomination, several mentees attested to her personal influence on and involvement in their lives and careers.
Impressively, Burnett influenced the culture of faculty undergraduate research mentoring in her school, increasing it to 50% participation. She has also led efforts to better support a diverse undergraduate population through trips to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the adoption of a diversity plan, and new experimental scholarships for incoming freshmen women in computing. She has received awards from NCWIT, Microsoft, and OSU for her mentoring and research.
As a freshman it’s pretty difficult to land an internship because most companies are looking for people with more experience or students who will be graduating soon. But it is possible! This summer I had the opportunity to work for Metal Toad, a software consulting company in Portland, Oregon that offers technical consulting, product development, application support, and managed cloud services to a broad set of clients such as major TV networks, non-profits, health institutions, cultural institutions (such as The Emmys and Golden Globes), and corporations in the technology sector.
I took the initiative to email the marketing manager which eventually led to a phone conversation. I found that professionals in the Portland software community are surprisingly very willing to spend time talking with you. We talked about what the company did and the culture of the company. After some time I was able to speak to the director of human resources and we talked about the internship program, the logistics, and how I could fit into the company as an intern. This led to a phone interview and then a second interview at the company site.
The interview was different from what I had expected — it was less technical, and more centered on cultural fit. I then followed up with email thanking them all for their time and saying that I was looking forward to hearing back to them about the position. About a week later they replied to me asking me if I was still available to take the position.
It was a learning experience for all of us. The company is relatively small and their internship program is still growing and changing, so I was their first intern “guinea pig.” I was new to the formal workplace and was doing something completely new to me — DevOps.
My First Day
I took the internship without having seen the office where I’d be working. It was not what I expected. There were no cubicles, but rather it had an open floor plan. Software developers and other professionals sat next to each other. I was to contribute my expertise to the cloud services (or DevOps) team. Our job was to configure custom cloud services to help align with what the software developers are doing and what the clients want.
I immediately asked for things to do and I was given task after task by my mentor, who was the senior engineer on the team. It seemed like there was an endless amount of things for me to do if I was willing to learn, so I took on whatever I could, even if I had no knowledge about it.
Our team used the Kanban methodology, which produces tickets or tasks from a list of things to do. The Kanban methodology is similar to having a wall covered in sticky “to-do” notes. Members of teams then finished tasks on a first come first serve basis. This methodology worked very well for the small and experienced DevOps team. Everyone on the team was capable of taking on anything coming their way.
I took advantage of the resources that I had to learn as much as I could over the 12-week internship. I contributed to several internal DevOps along with working on some client side projects. One experience that students don’t always have access to during undergraduate course work is seeing how a consulting firm, such as Metal Toad, interacts with the clients continuously to create and maintain great products. Being at a small software company allowed me to see all sides of the operations, which was invaluable. Not only was I able to learn and get advice from my mentors, but I was able to learn about the business end of things along with how our work affects our clients and software developers.
Being in the city exposed me to other software companies in the area. Our company was part of the Portland Tech Intern Experience which is a collaborative effort to give a voice to Portland’s growing and diverse tech industry. I would highly recommend this organization to gain greater access to players in the Portland tech industry. The program offered several different networking events and lunch learning sessions that helped unite and nurture the Portland tech scene. During these network events, I met and learned from former interns, and was exposed to future technologies areas of computer science such as deep learning. I also met CEOs, angel investors, and recruiters.
The networking experience that I gained from this internship is invaluable to me. It really opened my eyes to the special software company culture that Portland has. The CEO of Metal Toad encouraged the interns to message people on LinkedIn who they want to learn more about, and ask them for 30 minutes of their time for coffee, or for anything. Driven interns, even “guinea pigs” who can convince companies they’re able to learn and tackle just about any new task, will find that people are more than willing to help you.
Rey Pocius grew up in Elmhurst, IL, where he attended York Community High School. He moved to Oregon in pursuit of the growing tech scene in Portland and the thriving programs at Oregon State. He is also the President of the Oregon State University Association for Computing Machinery student chapter (OSU ACM).
He is very passionate about informing others about the ever growing tech field and helping people find the help they need to launch their careers. He is also particularly interested in deep learning and robotics. He hopes to focus his research and efforts into those two areas.
Outside of academia he enjoys playing tennis and spending a lot of time hiking around the Corvallis area. So don’t be surprised if you find him on some of the local trails. He also enjoys painting and working on software side projects.