Carl Beery photo
Carl Beery shows the project that earned him four achievements in the Mastery Challenge.

Carl Beery, a junior in electrical and computer engineering, took first place and a cash prize of $150 in the Mastery Challenge for winter term.

The Mastery Challenge is a new extracurricular program hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Oregon State University to provide more hands-on learning opportunities for all students, regardless of major. The program is based on a concept called gamification which uses elements of game playing, such as leader boards and badges, to motivate participants to gain new abilities such as 3D modeling and Python programming.

Beery had already been working on projects on his own, but he realized the Mastery Challenge would give him a better framework for learning new abilities and more motivation for completing tasks.

“The Mastery Challenge is a good starting point to learn about topics you wouldn’t have thought about trying on your own,” Beery says. “Without it, I wouldn’t have learned how to laser cut, and laser cutting is pretty cool.”

To participate, students login to the Mastery Challenge website with their university account to see the list of challenges for which they can earn achievements. In winter term two cash prizes were awarded — one for the highest number of achievements, and a second was awarded randomly to anyone earning at least one achievement.

Beery had completed eight achievements and was tied for first place when he realized a project he had been working on for class — an audio amplifier — would qualify him for four more achievements. He simply videotaped his class presentation and uploaded it to the Mastery Challenge website as proof of completion.

“The experience Carl had was what I was hoping for — a fun way to gain new skills that will benefit him in the future as he enters the job market,” says Don Heer, creator of the Mastery Challenge program and instructor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering.

Mike Rosulek

Mike Rosulek, assistant professor of computer science, was selected for a Google Research Award for a grant to advance methods of customer privacy. The award will allow Rosulek to hire a graduate student to work on the project, and give them the opportunity to collaborate with Google researchers and engineers.

“I have lots of ideas in this space, and it will allow me and a student to dive in head first exploring them,” Rosulek says.

Companies are looking for inexpensive ways to share information with each other without violating the privacy of their customers. For example, two companies may want to find out which customers they have in common. A tool from cryptology called private set intersection allows two parties to find items in common on two separate lists without revealing anything else from those lists.

One part of Rosulek’s research seeks to strengthen the security of private set intersection tools while keeping the costs reasonable so that companies are more likely to adopt good practices for keeping their customer’s information secure.

Another part of the project will work on flexible (or “fuzzy”) matching of items on lists such as addresses. Names and street addresses may have differences in spelling, so looking for exact matches between two sets can be too restrictive. Rosulek’s research will seek to modify current techniques to allow for “close enough” matches.

“I’m excited to see that Google is interested in these advanced cryptographic tools. I’m excited that the techniques can be used to protect sensitive user information. And I’m excited about the new technical and mathematical challenges on the roadmap,” Rosulek says.

Margaret BurnettMargaret Burnett, a professor of computer science at Oregon State University, is one of eight researchers worldwide to be inducted into the CHI Academy in 2016 for pioneering contributions to the field of human-computer interaction. It is one of the highest awards given by the Association for Computing Machinery, SIGCHI.

When Burnett began her career in 1971, there were few female computer scientists, indeed, she was the first woman software developer hired at Procter & Gamble Ivorydale. A few degrees and start-ups later, she joined academia with a research focus on people who are engaged in some form of software development. She was the principal architect of the Forms/3 visual programming language, and pioneered the use of information foraging theory in the domain of software debugging.

Burnett co-founded the area of end-user software engineering, which aims to improve software for computer users that are not trained in programming. She established the EUSES Consortium, a multi-university collaboration which through her leadership has garnered international recognition.

Her current research investigates “gender-neutral” software, uncovering gender inclusiveness issues in software from spreadsheets to programming environments. She has published more than 200 papers, with several receiving best paper awards and honorable mentions, and has presented invited talks and keynotes on her research in 14 countries.

Burnett is also an award winning mentor, and recently received the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

team photo
dEATS team: Vahid Ghadakchi (computer science), Elijah Mcgowen (finance), Josh Cosio (marketing), and Dylan Gould (entrepreneurship).

Computer science graduate student, Vahid Ghadakchi, decided to step out of his normal life one weekend this fall and try something new. So, he put aside his Ph.D. thesis work and attended the Willamette Startup Weekend at Oregon State University — a 50 hour event to inspire entrepreneurship.

Not only did his team win the second place prize for their app, but they are continuing to develop it into a business.

At the event, Vahid was quickly snapped up by business students Dylan Gould (entrepreneurship), Josh Cosio (marketing) and Elijah Mcgowen (finance) for their team. The three came to the event together with an idea for an app that restaurants could use to help bring in business during slow times. Vahid filled the team’s need for a computer scientist to implement their idea.

Initially the team just wanted to have some fun and learn some skills, but once they started market testing the app with businesses and potential users they realized their product could go farther than a weekend contest. Nearly all of the businesses they talked to said they would use the app, and one expressed interest being a beta tester.  Customer responses were very positive as well.

Restaurants could use the app, called dEATS, to post discount deals that would last for a limited amount of time, such as 30 minutes. The app would have a count-down timer so customers would know how long the deal would be active. The product would help businesses drive customers to their restaurants during slow times, and customers could get ideas for where to go by checking the app for deals.

The team is planning to apply to the OSU’s Advantage Accelerator to help develop their idea into a business, and is looking for more engineers to join the team to make the business a reality.

Vahid said that the experience was a great break from working on his thesis and he also learned some valuable skills that go beyond what can be learned in the classroom.

“I realized how important it is for a computer science student to learn to communicate with people in business and other areas, because they have a different perspective that can help you develop a better product,” Vahid said.

Story by Rachel Robertson

Phylicia Cicilio

Phylicia Cicilio’s project to help a rural Alaskan community improve the reliability and cost of their electric power microgrid will be funded by the Evans Family Graduate Fellowship in Humanitarian Engineering at Oregon State University. The fellowship will pay for her travel next summer to Alaska to meet with the community and work out the details of the project.

“I’m really excited to travel there and work with the people. I’m from rural Vermont, so I love rural communities,” said Cicilio, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, advised by Professor Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez.

Cicilio’s move to Oregon State this fall marked a switch in her career. Her undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering, but after a year of working in the field she realized that electrical engineering would allow her to better pursue her broad interests in renewable energy.

The project in Alaska will allow her to integrate her focus on renewables with her other interests in energy storage and microgrids, and her desire to help rural communities. Although she has not yet settled on which community she will be helping, there are several options where she can make an impact.

“People in rural Alaska pay 15 times more than everyone else in the U.S., so one goal could be to see how inexpensively we can produce electricity,” she said. “They also live a subsistence lifestyle and don’t deal with money, so paying for utilities can be a problem. Having a system that can be run by the people would be a huge benefit.”

Photo of Liang HuangLiang Huang, assistant professor of computer science at Oregon State University, received the 2015 Yahoo Faculty Research and Engagement Program Award. Yahoo gave 24 faculty awards worldwide in 2015 to “produce the highest quality scientific collaborations and outcomes by engaging with faculty and students conducting research in areas of mutual interest.” It is the first time an Oregon State faculty member has received this award.

The award was granted for Huang’s proposal on “Fast Semantic Parsing with Applications in Question Answering,” based on preliminary work by his Ph.D. student Kai Zhao. Yahoo and many other internet companies are interested in furthering research in the field of semantic parsing to improve their search results.

Semantic parsing is the process of mapping a natural-language sentence into a formal representation of its meaning, and has applications in understanding natural questions, especially resolving ambiguity.

For example, the query, “How can I book Paris Hilton?” could be about either the hotel or the person, while “How to upgrade to El Capitan?” is definitely about OS X rather than Yosemite. A more complicated query such as “flights leaving after 5 from New York City to Tokyo with a layover of 1 to 3 hours” can be turned into an SQL-like query to be executed on a database or knowledge base.

burnett-extractedFor the second time in the last four years, Margaret Burnett, computer science professor at Oregon State University, has won the Most Influential Paper Award from the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing. The awards demonstrate the leadership role Burnett has taken in the field in human computer interaction (HCI).

Last week at the annual conference hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, she received the award for her 2004 paper, co-authored with her then Ph.D. student, Laura Beckwith, and entitled “Gender: An Important Factor in End-User Programming Environments?

Ten years ago, the paper brought attention to the issue of gender differences in software itself, which has now led to a growing subfield in gender HCI.

From the nomination letter: “This paper was the first to address the topic of gender differences in programming environments. There had previously been work on software to target females (e.g., video games for girls), but no one had focused a lens on gender inclusiveness in ostensibly “neutral” software. The paper combined theories from five different fields and showed how they apply to end-user programming environments. This seminal paper started a line of work that attracted a considerable number of other researchers.”

This is the third such award for researchers at Oregon State. Just last year, Chris Scaffidi won it for his 2005 paper, “Estimating the Number of End-Users and End-User Programmers,” co-authored with Mary Shaw, and Brad Myers.

Burnett was also recognized this year for her outstanding mentoring by the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Pranjal Mittal
Pranjal Mittal, computer science graduate student at Oregon State.

Pranjal Mittal was initially thwarted from studying computer science in college, but never lost his excitement for it. Now a master’s student in computer science at Oregon State University, he was honored this year with an Intel fellowship.

Mittal wanted to pursue computer science as early as high school, but the determining factor for his major was an entrance examination for the Indian Institute of Technology. After studying for two years for the exam that one million people take, he was selected to be an electronics engineering major instead of his first choice.

But he did not give up his passion for computer science. He was able to take courses in computer science while in college and sought out other opportunities to learn on his own. He started by building websites for college events and then moved on to writing more complex web applications.

It was what he did next that changed the course of his career.

During his junior year, he was confident enough in his programming skills to apply for the Google Summer of Code, a global program that offers stipends to students to work remotely on open source projects with a mentoring organization. The project he applied for was with Oregon State’s Open Source Lab (OSL) to work on tool for the Ganeti Web Manager. He enjoyed it so much that he returned to the OSL through Google Summer of Code the following year. The experience of working with the people at OSL encouraged him to apply to graduate school at Oregon State.

“The Open Source Lab is very famous in the open source community and I thought if an Oregon State lab and its members were so amazing then the university should be amazing too,” Mittal said.

At the time of his decision to move to the U.S. for graduate school, Mittal had other opportunities. He already had a job with Citrix in India, and he and three other teammates were finalists in the Google Cloud Developer Challenge, which led to an opportunity to develop the application into a commercial product.

He decided to pursue a master’s because it was an opportunity to advance his knowledge in computer science and it also offered him a chance to be a teaching assistant. It was his first teaching experience and he has really enjoyed helping new students learn about web and cloud computing.

As part of his fellowship with Intel, Mittal will mentor three senior capstone project teams (nine students) who are working on a cloud computing project; an extension of the work he did as an Intel intern. “It feels great to be a link between Oregon State and Intel for further industrial collaboration on research and development,” he said.

Mittal is also conducting research work in cloud computing related to container-based clouds and plans to write his master’s thesis in this area.

“Most of the technology you see today is somehow connected to the cloud, it is the backbone of so many fields, making it an area in which even small research advances can have a huge impact,” he said.

Story by Rachel Robertson

Danny Dig, assistant professor of computer science at Oregon State, received two awards this year at the top software maintenance conference, the IEEE International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution (ICSME) hosted in Bremen, Germany.

Dig was also a keynote speaker at the conference, in recognition of the award for Most Influential Paper in the last ten years. The paper, co-authored with Ralph Johnson and entitled, “The Role of Refactorings in API Evolution,” opened a new area of research. It was the first quantitative and qualitative analysis on the evolution of Application Program Interfaces (API) which has inspired researchers all over the world to build on the seminal study.

Mihai Codoban and Danny Dig at ICSME
Mihai Codoban (center-left) and Danny Dig (center-right) accept the award for best paper from the technical program co-chairs at ICSME.

The second award was for Best Paper which Dig shares with Oregon State graduate students, Mihai Codoban and Sruti Srinivasa Ragavan; and Brian Bailey, associate professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The paper, entitled “Software History Under the Lens: A Study on Why and How Developers Examine It,” received perfect marks from the judges.

Most Influential Paper:
The Role of Refactorings in API Evolution

Danny Dig (Oregon State University) and Ralph Johnson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Abstract—Frameworks and libraries change their APIs. Migrating an application to the new API is tedious and disrupts the development process. Although some tools and ideas have been proposed to solve the evolution of APIs, most updates are done manually. To better understand the requirements for migration tools we studied the API changes of three frameworks and one library. We discovered that the changes that break existing applications are not random, but they tend to fall into particular categories. Over 80% of these changes are refactorings. This suggests that refactoring-based migration tools should be used to update applications.

Best Paper Award:
Software History Under the Lens: A Study on Why and How Developers Examine It

Mihai Codoban, Sruti Srinivasa Ragavan, Danny Dig (Oregon State University) and Brian Bailey (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Abstract—Despite software history being indispensable for developers, there is little empirical knowledge about how they examine software history. Without such knowledge, researchers and tool builders are in danger of making wrong assumptions and building inadequate tools. In this paper we present an in-depth empirical study about the motivations developers have for examining software history, the strategies they use, and the challenges they encounter. To learn these, we interviewed 14 experienced developers from industry, and then extended our findings by surveying 217 developers. We found that history does not begin with the latest commit but with uncommitted changes. Moreover, we found that developers had different motivations for examining recent and old history. Based on these findings we propose 3-LENS HISTORY, a novel unified model for reasoning about software history.

 

Danny Dig

Danny Dig, assistant professor of computer science at Oregon State University, was awarded a Google Faculty Research Award for a project to improve responsiveness of Android apps.

Google selected 113 proposals of the 805 submitted this summer on computer science topics such as systems, machine learning, software engineering, security and mobile.

“The biggest significance of the award is the chance to have strong collaboration with researchers at Google and to integrate our research into large-scale infrastructure at Google that all Android app developers will use in the future. This will multiply the impact of our research many fold,” Dig said. “The monetary part of the award will help me invest into grad students and grow them into world-class leaders.”

Developing tools for Android app programmers is a relatively new line of research for Dig who is a national leader on techniques for transforming sequential code into parallel code.