Ultimately Academic

New CSEE lecturer John Park shares a little bit about his research and teaching career, and what he loves most about being a professor.

Even though this will be my first real term as a full-time lecturer at UMBC, I'm actually an old hand here.  I have been teaching part-time at UMBC for 4 years, during which I've taken turns at teaching CMSC 104, 202, and 331, in various forms, including developing and teaching CMSC 202H, the new honors section of that course.  I've had extensive industry experience in many subfields of Computer Science, including operating systems, real-time control systems, artificial intelligence/machine learning, digital imaging and graphics, and bioinformatics.  I'm now eager to apply that experience to a much broader range of courses in the department, combining sound theory with practical considerations and applications.  This coming fall, however, I'm easing into the new job by starting with CMSC 104 and 201.

A thumbnail autobiography: I received an A.B. in Biochemistry from Harvard University, with every intention of going on to medical school.  However, I got completely sidetracked by an accidental introduction to computers late in college–back in the early days when most computers still had dozens of toggle switches on the front panel.  Medical school was postponed.

Since then, I've been on an extended professional and academic arc, which has included working at a variety of software and hardware companies, universities, research firms, and startups, including my own.  Along the way, I helped develop a fault-tolerant parallel computer, a next-generation MRI scanner, one of the earliest autonomous land vehicles, and drugs that may one day help you breathe easier.  I was also a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Informatics program at Stanford Medical School, but left ABD ("all but dissertation") to start up a bioinformatics company with some colleagues.

Most recently, I've been doing research at UM College Park, but that project was coming to an end, and I was ready to try something different.  I decided to teach, for three reasons: First, in my part-time teaching here, I found that I was becoming quite attached to the fate of my students, despite my very limited involvement in the program. Now, I’d like to do it more seriously: get more involved with the students, the department, and the university.  Second, I want to leverage my years of practical experience in building software systems to help mold the next generation of computer scientists and software engineers.  Third, and most important, I'm annoyed that my cellphone, my TV, and even my blender, keep crashing, Although I could hack it myself, I'm too lazy to.  So, I want to train more good programmers, so that my stuff will just work, and I won't have to.




CSEE professor Hillol Kargupta featured in Journeys to Data Mining

CSEE professor Hillol Kargupta is one of fifteen Data Mining experts featured in a new book: Journeys to Data Mining: Experiences from 15 Renowned Researchers (Springer, 2012).

The book assembles the career journeys of fifteen experts in the field, answering questions like: “What are your notable success stories”, “What did you learn from your failures”, and “How would you advise a young researcher to make an impact?” Written in a narrative style, the book is a great tool for current Ph.D. students who are trying to find their own success in the field of Data Mining.

Kargupta, who has been teaching at UMBC since January 2001 is also the co-founder of AGNIK INC, a data analytics company for mobile, distributed, and embedded environments. An IEEE fellow, Kargupta has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. He has a host of awards to his name including the IBM Innovation Award (2008), an NSF CAREER award in 2001 for his research on ubiquitous and distributed data mining, and 2010 IEEE Top-10 Data Mining Case Studies Award for his work at Agnik. More information about Dr. Kargupta’s research accomplishments can be found on his website.

In the book, Kargupta’s personal account is called: “Making Data Analysis Ubiquitous: My Journey Through Academia and Industry.”

His account begins:

“It was one of those late fall mornings in Urbana. I was working on some of the final pages of my dissertation. I got a note from Mike Welge of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) whom I came to know during the course of my work with my Ph.D. advisor David Goldberg. Mike was leading a data mining project for Caterpillar, the US heavy duty equipment manufacturer. Caterpillar clients bring their equipment to their worldwide service center for maintenance and repair. Their service staff types in short descriptions of the work done on the equipment and saves that information in the computer. Caterpillar wanted to link this data from different service centers, analyze, and identify which equipment and parts are failing frequently and related decision support tasks. The problem became more challenging because their employees often used different abbreviations and spelled names incorrectly to describe the work done on the equipment. Mike wanted to address this as an unstructured text data mining problem and asked me if I would like to collaborate. I joined their meetings and started thinking about the problem in a bigger context.”

You can continue reading on Springer’s website.

Marie desJardins in UMBC Magazine

Photo: UMBC Magazine

CSEE Professor Marie desJardins' success at the 2012 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament last March was highlighted in the latest issue of UMBC Magazine:

"I didn't realize I could be this good at crossword puzzles," says desJardins. She adds that her development as a crossword competitor also highlights the hurdles to bringing more women into the sciences.

"A lot of girls think that they must not be intrinsically good at that stuff," argures desJardins, who adds that the biggest impediments are "the psychological blocks we put up for ourselves."

Check out the full write-up on UMBC Magazine's website.



Treat yourself to CWIT's Ice Cream Social

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) invites all students, and the faculty and staff in the College of Engineering and Information Technology to their annual beginning of the year Ice Cream Social. It takes place tomorrow Wednesday, September 5 from 11:30-1:30 p.m. in the atrium of the Engineering/Computer Science (ECS) Building.

Stop to meet other women and men majoring in Engineering, Computer Science, and Information Technology. Plus, who can say no to free ice cream?

Dr.desJardins and Dr. Rheingans in USA Today College on the importance of understanding how computers work

Should an introductory Computer Science course fall within the cadre of General Education Requirements (GEP)—like Math, Science, and English—that are required of all undergrads?

According to a USA Today College article, the answer is yes.

In the article, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering professors Marie desJardins and Penny Rheingans talk about the importance of having, at least, a basic knowledge of how computers work, especially in a world that is quickly evolving in the hands of technology: 

“Inevitably, by the time today’s college students are middle-aged, technology will be unimaginably faster, more powerful and more integrated into our daily lives,” said desJardins, “and the people who understand how it works are the ones who will be helping society to take advantage of it and use it to improve people’s lives.”

For non-technical students who recoil at the thought of taking a computer course, Dr. Rheingans is an example of what can happen when you take a chance. Originally planning to major in the social sciences, says the article, a computer science course during Dr. Rheingans' first semester changed her entire career projection:

“I found computing to be both incredibly frustrating and incredibly addicting,” Rheingans said in an email. “I love the challenge of building something to solve a problem and the satisfaction of figuring out why my creation isn’t working and fixing it.”

Check out the entire article, “The Power of Computing,” to hear more of what professors desJardins and Rheingans have to say about the increasing importance of computer science comprehension. 

CSEE Lecturer Susan Mitchell successfully defends Ph.D. dissertation


Congratulations to CSEE lecturer Susan Mitchell who, on April 6, 2012, successfully defended her Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Software Process Improvement through the Removal of Project-level Knowledge Flow Obstacles: The Perceptions of Software Engineers.”

Eight years ago, Dr. Mitchell began working toward her Ph.D. in Software Engineering through UMBC’s Information Systems Department. Working as a lecturer in the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department while pursuing her degree part-time, Dr. Mitchell’s triumph is an inspiration to all those working stiffs who someday dream of doing the same.

Dr. Mitchell's incentive to go back to school was closely tied to her work as a lecturer. “I teach CMSC 345, Software Design and Development, and I wanted to further my knowledge in the software engineering field,” she says. Designed around the completion of a software-design project, the course mimics a job in the software industry.

Her dissertation—“Software Process Improvement through the Removal of Project-level Knowledge Flow Obstacles: The Perceptions of Software Engineers”—is a case study of a software development team at a major U.S. Department of Defense contracting organization. “Through qualitative methods, such as interviews and focus groups, I was able to locate obstacles to the flow of knowledge within the team that, as perceived by the software engineers, if mitigated or removed, would increase individual efficiency and end-product quality.”

Dr. Mitchell describes software development as a "very human-centric, knowledge intensive endeavor.” “I believe that the major strides in software process improvement (i.e. efficiency and end-product improvements) will not come from process automation or standardization or from the introduction of new development tools, but from changes in the ways that software engineers and managers approach development,” she explains.

Though her title may have changed, Dr. Mitchell's plans are to remain at UMBC as a lecturer. She does hope, however, to continue her research in the area of software process improvement. 

Dr. Tim Oates Promoted to Full Professor

The Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department wishes to extend its congratulations to Dr. Tim Oates for his promotion from associate professor to full professor.

In 2001, after receiving his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Dr. Oates began teaching at UMBC. His course repertoire includes Introduction to Machine Learning, Discrete Structures, Data Structures, and the ever-popular Robotics.

As the director of UMBC’s Cognition, Robotics, and Learning (CoRal) Lab, his research centers on machine learning. The vision of the lab is to “understand how artificial systems can acquire grounded knowledge from sensori-motor interaction with their environment that enables cognitive activities like natural language communication and planning,” says the lab’s website. More about his research interests can be found in his research profile.  

In addition to his academic work, Dr. Oates contributed to the department last year as chair of the ABET Assessment committee. He is also the advisor for UMBC’s student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.

UMBC chess team ties for second place at 2012 President's Cup

UMBC’s legendary chess team tied for second place last Sunday in the 2012 President’s Cup in Herndon, Virginia. UMBC tied with the University of Texas-Dallas with a final score of 7.5 points. Both schools were bypassed for first place by Texas Tech University with a mere ½ point lead.

Started by CSEE professor Dr. Alan Sherman in the early 90’s, UMBC’s chess team has gained a reputation that rivals that of many Ivy League schools. Since its inception, the team has won or tied for first nine times at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship (Pan-Am) and six times at the President’s Cup.

When Dr. Sherman started the chess program, he never dreamed that its success would become such an iconic part of UMBC's idenitity. “Eventually, I realized that I was the right person, at the right place, at the right time, to make some significant contributions to college chess, while helping students, the community, and UMBC along the way,” writes Sherman on his website where he chronicles the history of chess at UMBC.

Sherman began by recruiting students with strong backgrounds in chess. Then, in 1994, he convinced Igor Epshteyn, a former coach of the Olympic Reserve Team, to coach at UMBC. From then on, the program continued to gain momentum.

Now, like any other college sport, the program offers prestigious scholarships for its members. The current team members, made up of Grand Master Leonid Kritz, Grand Master Giorgi Margvelashvili, International Master Sasha Kaplan, and Woman Grand Master Sabina Foisor, are all attending the university on chess scholarships.

In a Baltimore Sun article, Dr. Sherman commented on the team's performance last weekend:

"It was an extremely close event, and it could have gone to either of the top teams," Alan T. Sherman, director of UMBC's Chess program, said after the President's Cup. "The team is overall happy with its performance."










Left: Grand Master Giorgi Margvelashvili (right)–a Sophomore majoring in Financial Economics– competes in the President's Cup last Sunday.

Right: International Master Sasha Kaplan (left)–a Junior majoring in Mathematics–at the President's Cup last Sunday.

CSEE Professor Dr. Penny Rheingans receives USM Regents Faculty Award for Mentoring

Dr. Rheingans has been the Director of UMBC’s Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) since the summer of 2009. Since then, she has mentored over a hundred students within the CWIT and SITE scholarship programs.

Congratulations to Dr. Penny Rheingans, the recipient of one of this year’s University System of Maryland (USM) Regents’ Faculty Awards for Mentoring.

Awarded to no more than four USM professors each year, the USM Regents’ Faculty Award for Mentoring is regarded as the highest honor that the Board gives out to recognize outstanding faculty achievement. Mentoring is one of the five award categories, which includes Teaching, Scholarship, Research, or creative activity, Public Service, and Innovation.

“I feel humbled by being honored this way,” says Dr. Rheingans. “Most of the things I'm being honored for are the result of the inspiration and hard work of a whole team of people. I could not have done nearly so much without them.”

Each year, nominees for the mentoring award are chosen who have not only fulfilled their university-sanctioned obligations, but have “clearly exceed[ed] ordinary expectations,” says the USM website. Mentoring nominees are recognized for their influence in areas like developing their students’ careers, aiding with retention and graduation rates, and improving post-baccalaureate progression and employment rates. After being nominated by the Regents’ Faculty Awards Committee, nominees are ultimately chosen by the Board of Regents.

Dr. Rheingans’ most notable mentoring contributions have been her work as the Director of UMBC’s Center for Women in Technology (CWIT). In 2008, troubled by the obstacles facing women in the field and the fact that they made up a mere 10% of Computer Science majors at UMBC, Dr. Rheingans accepted an invitation to become Interim Director of CWIT. The position was a good fit, and in the summer of 2009, she became Director.

“My core goal has been to make the College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) a more welcoming place for a broad array of students, in particular for women and those who support them,” wrote Dr. Rheingans in an essay to the award’s Institutional Faculty Nominating Committee (IFNC) that details her mentoring contributions. “My role as CWIT Director is to continue to inspire ripples of positive change, reaching well beyond my personal grasp.” 

As Director, Dr. Rheingans has helped scholars succeed by serving as a personal mentor and maintaining an infrastructure for student support. She will soon take on a similar role with the Transfer-Scholarships in Information Technology and Engineering program (T-SITE). Debuting next Fall, the T-SITE scholarship program targets transfer students majoring in technology fields.  

 “I chose to become a professor, in large part, because I wanted to help students learn new things, explore new fields, and develop new skills,” says Rheingans, who has been teaching in some capacity since high school. Teaching was something that always interested Rheingans, who came to UMBC in 1998 as an assistant professor. 

“Mentoring just seemed like a natural extension of teaching,” says Rheingans. “A good teacher inspires individual interactions beyond the classroom — that's the heart of mentoring.”

Dr. Rheingans will be recognized for this honor at UMBC’s Annual Faculty and Staff Awards Ceremony on April 4.

















Dr. desJardins competes in American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

Congratulations to Dr. Marie desJardins, who placed 44th out of 593 competitors in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn, New York last weekend. The tournament—directed by New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz—is the nation’s oldest and largest crossword competition.

Competitors are judged based on their accuracy and speed while solving eight original crossword puzzles. Dr. desJardins placed 5th of the 87 Mid-Atlantic competitors, she was the 8th ranked woman in the entire tournament, and the top-ranked woman from the Mid-Atlantic.

Dr. desJardins was also awarded an “I Beat Dr. Fill” button for scoring higher than Dr. Fill, a crossword-solving program designed by software engineer Matt Ginsberg. The program pulls answers from databases of old crosswords, dictionaries, and sources like Wikipedia, but can sometimes get caught up on tricky clues, says a Boston Globe article.

Photo Courtesy www.crosswordtournament.com

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