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

Dr. Hillol Kargupta to speak at VERGE

Dr. Hillol Kargupta will be one of over 80 speakers at GreenBiz's VERGE conference in Washinton D.C., which takes place this Wednesay, March 14–16.

The conference foucses on sustainability by exploring technological advances that deal with energy, information, buildings, and transportation.

Speakers include the likes of AOL Co-founder, Steve Case, Robin Chase, founder of carsharing revolution, Zipcar,  textbook publishing mogul Tim O'Reilly, and other executives working at the intersection of technology and enivronmental awareness.

The VERGE website credits Dr. Kargupta as a "Guru" for Data Mining for M2M Applications. He is the president of Agnik, a data analytics company for distributed, mobile, and embedded environments that has been developing vehicle performance monitoring software.

On Thursday, March 15 at 1:30 p.m., Dr. Kargupta will discuss "Connected Cars and Beyond" with Shelby Clark Founder & Chief Community Officer of RelayRides, Tim Johnson Strategic Opportunity Manager of Sprint, Nick Pudar Vice President of Planning and Business Development at OnStar, and Marc Gunther Senior Writer at the GreenBiz Group. Register at the VERGE website to watch a live stream of Dr. Kargupta's and other presentations for free.

New T-SITE scholarship program targets tech transfer students

Next fall, a new scholarship program geared toward transfer students majoring in technology fields will offer ten students the support—both financial and otherwise—that they need. It’s called T-SITE (Transfer-Scholarships in Information Technology and Engineering), and similar to the previous SITE (Scholars in Information Technology and Engineering) program, is supported by an NSF S-STEM grant.

The program is the brainchild of a team of seven women sprinkled throughout IT and Engineering departments in the College of Engineering and Information Technology at UMBC. Dr. Penny Rheingans, Director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) and a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, is the Principal Investigator for the project. Five professors will serve as faculty mentors for the future scholars: Dr. Marie desJardins (Computer Science), Dr. Gymama Slaughter (Computer Engineering), Dr. Anne Spence (Mechanical Engineering), Dr. Taryn Bayles (Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering), and Dr. Carolyn Seaman (Information Systems). Dr. Susan Martin, the Associate Director of CWIT, has been reaching out to Maryland community colleges and will teach a transfer student seminar for the selected scholars. “I don’t think any of us could do it without the others,” says Dr. Rheingans of her team of dedicated collaborators.

“It’s particularly hard for transfer students to really become an integrated part of the community,” says Dr. Penny Rheingans. Transfer students often are at a disadvantage because they miss out on all the orientating activities showered on freshman, she explains. As a result, they’re less aware of campus resources and tend to feel disconnected from the campus community. T-SITE aims to change all that.

Starting in the fall of 2012, the grant will award ten financially needy transfer students with partial scholarships: $6,700 each, capped by an individual student's financial need. Eligible students must intend to major in one of the five IT or Engineering majors: Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, and Information Systems. In addition to financial support, future T-SITE scholars will be warmly integrated into the CWIT Scholars community, where they can take advantage of its outpouring of resources and community events.  

“We are leveraging CWIT to make this work and we’re taking advantage of CWIT infrastructure. It’s an extension of CWIT in that we’re looking at it as a vehicle for increasing diversity in these fields,” says Dr. Rheingans. “Not just gender,” she adds, “but gender’s what we’re particularly good at.”

Like the CWIT program, T-SITE won’t limit the scholarship pool by gender. “We would want men that we bring in as part of the T-SITE program to be supportive of increasing gender diversity,” says Dr. Rheingans. “Having allies that believe in the mission is part of what makes it work.”

Dr. Rheingans’ experience with the successes of the CWIT and SITE programs makes her confident that the T-SITE programs will give its scholars a leg up. “The support network makes a huge difference,” says Dr. Rheingans, who explains that the CWIT and SITE programs had nearly 90% retention in the major compared to the nationwide statistic of around 50%.

In addition to community support, the team has conceived a transfer student transition seminar to ensure that T-SITE scholars have the means to make a smooth transition. Taught by Dr. Martin, the seminar will have students connect with campus resources, identify and apply for internships, develop a career portfolio, learn about their own leadership styles, practice collaboration, and get insights from industry speakers. “The real purpose is to help them with the transition to UMBC and to address the professional development issues that are on the minds of transfer students,” says Dr. Martin.

Dr. Martin has been collaborating with UMBC’s Transfer Student Alliance to reach out to Montgomery College, the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), and Prince George’s Community College for help identifying qualified students. Application materials are available on the CWIT website and transfer students entering UMBC for the Fall 2012 semester must apply by April 20, 2012. The scholarship committee—made up of the band of five faculty mentors, Dr. Rheingans, and Dr. Martin—will then interview candidates to select the first cohort of ten T-SITE scholars.

Though the current NSF grant will support the T-SITE program for three years (30 students in all), Dr. Rheingans hopes the program will extend well beyond that. “This is something for which the need will not go away,” she says about supporting transfer students. Though the renewal of the program into future years isn’t a certainty, chances are that when the time comes, the team will re-submit a proposal to seek further funding. “It’s hard to imagine not wanting to do that.”

To apply for the T-SITE scholarship program by April 20, 2012, take a look at the application materials.

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