Faculty Research Profile: Dr. Marc Olano

Dr. Marc Olano is the director of the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department's Game Development Track and has been pursuing research in computer graphics and computer hardware for more than twenty years. Currently, he is working at Firaxis Games on texture compression for the Civilization V video game and collaborating with Dr. Erle Ellis of the Geography and Environmental Systems Department on a project dubbed Ecosynth.

To read more about Dr. Olano's research pursuits, see his full research profile

Faculty research profile: Dr. Tim Oates

Dr. Tim Oates, associate professor of computer science, does research in the field of machine learning and is interested in understanding the development of the human brain. Dr. Oates is also fascinated by the idea of making robots that are capable of learning and exhibiting human characteristics.  “I don’t know if we’ll ever have androids walking among us that are indistinguishable from humans,” says Dr. Oates, “but I bet we’ll get pretty darn close."

To read more about Dr. Oates' research pursuits, see his full research profile.

CSEE Department celebrates faculty research

The UMBC CSEE Department will be publishing a series of short research profiles describing the research activities of its faculty and students. The first features Professor Marie desJardins and the work of her Multi-Agent, Planning and Learning Lab at UMBC, where she works on developing A.I. solutions to real world problems. Dr. desJardins is especially interested in collaborating with students and helping them develop their own research interests. She says that nearly ninety-five percent of her research is with students. “I like the students to learn about a problem and find something that they think is interesting,” she says.

Dr. Marie desJardins

 

Dr. desJardins runs the Multi-Agent, Planning and Learning Lab (MAPLE) at UMBC, where she works on developing A.I. solutions to real world problems.

Dr. Marie desJardins, professor of computer science, is fascinated by the concept of Artificial Intelligence. She explains what she does as “trying to get computers to do things that you would think were smart if people did them.” Dr. desJardins runs the Multi-Agent, Planning and Learning Lab (MAPLE) at UMBC, which focuses on developing A.I. solutions to real world problems. Within the realm of artificial intelligence, she has divided her research interests into the three areas within in her lab: Multiagent systems, Planning, and Machine Learning.

Multiagent systems deals with the task of getting multiple intelligence systems, like humans or A.I.s, to solve problems together. Currently, Dr. desJardins is interested in the problem of trust. She is working to understand how to know which agents—for example, restaurant or movie reviews, or travel services– in an online community are trustworthy and which are not. At the moment, she is working with a referring agent that she knows will overestimate an individual’s ability and provide her with biased positive referrals. A biased agent, she explains, leads to the phenomenon of optimistic and pessimistic referrals.

Planning focuses on the “problem of trying to pre-plan in complex domains where planning is hard,” says desJardins. She compares her work to the job of a logistics planner for a FedEx fleet who is bombarded with last minutes pick-ups and deliveries that dynamically change his anticipated plan. In both cases, the task is the same: “What can you do in advance to anticipate what the likely kinds of requests are and be prepared to change things quickly?”

Machine Learning deals with building models to classify data or to make predictions. desJardins explains the concept with an example, no doubt, close to home: predicting whether or not students will pass a class. “What are the attributes that actually lead to success or failure in that context,” she says, “That’s the model building question.” But, in some cases, there is not enough data to build a model. If, for example, the model-builder does not know information like the amount of hours each student spends doing homework, it becomes difficult to predict their success in class. That’s where “cost sensitive feature acquisition” comes into play. This means that certain information can be collected, but if the model relies on that acquired information, then the model becomes severely limited by its necessity to have that information for all future predictions.

Dr. desJardins is especially interested in collaborating with students and helping them develop their own research interests. She says that nearly ninety-five percent of her research is with students. “I like the students to learn about a problem and find something that they think is interesting,” she says.

“The methodologies we use to identify and try to solve problems are things I’m starting to think about more explicitly,” says desJardins, who mentions that in the future she is interested in writing about how to do research effectively. Her ultimate vision, though she says it is probably too ambitious to realize, is an all-purpose A.I. that helps with computer maintenance and other tasks. “What I would love to exist by the time that I retire is a true intelligent agent that would live on your laptop and monitor your life,” she says.  

 

Three CSEE faculty and staff retire

                               

Three long-time members of the CSEE community retired at the end of the Spring 2011 semester: Professor Sue Evans, Senior Lecturer, has taught Computer Science 201 since she began her teaching career at UMBC in 1997. Dr. John Pinkston, Professor, also came to UMBC in 1997 and served as the first Chair of the newly combined Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department for seven years. Donna Myers, Business Services Specialist for the Computer Science Department, has kept CSEE payroll in order since she joineed the staff in 2001. These three invaluable members of the CSEE Faculty and Staff will be missed and the CSEE Department extends its congratulations and wishes for relaxing and fulfilling futures.  You can read more about their contributions and future plans here

CSEE faculty and staff say goodbye to UMBC

Three members of the CSEE community retired at the end of the Spring 2011 semester: Professor Sue Evans, Senior Lecturer, has taught Computer Science 201 since she began her teaching career at UMBC in 1997. Dr. John Pinkston, Professor, also came to UMBC in 1997 and served as the first Chair of the newly combined Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department for seven years until he decided to teach. Donna Myers, Business Services Specialist for the Computer Science Department, has kept CSEE payroll in order since she joineed the staff in 2001. These three invaluable members of the CSEE Faculty and Staff will be missed and the CSEE Department extends its congratulations and wishes for relaxing and fulfilling futures.

 

Sue Evans, Senior Lecturer, Computer Science

In 1980, Sue Evans got her first computer system—an Atari 400—and began to teach herself how to write basic programs. Her first programming success was a daily planner that reminded her of important events like birthdays and that played songs. “What that taught me was that I loved computer science,” says Evans, “I loved to code. It was like solving puzzles.”

Evans’ first foray into the computer science world was as a programmer for Crown Tool and Circuits Company. Afterwards, she spent five years working as a freelance application writer for small businesses. Her years of freelancing reignited an interest in teaching present since childhood. “I really enjoyed teaching the secretaries in all these little companies how to use the program I just wrote,” says Evans.

In order to pursue a teaching career, Evans enrolled at UMBC in 1991 as a Computer Science student, receiving her bachelor’s and finally a master’s degree in Computer Science in January 1998. Evans began teaching as a lecturer at UMBC in September 1997 and remembers telling Dr. Joel Morris, the department Chair at the time, that teaching Computer Science (CMSC) 201 was her goal.

“I was scared to death at first,” says Evans of teaching CMSC 201, “but over the years I have certainly gotten the hang of it.” Teaching a lecture hall filled with over two-hundred students takes some finesse, and Evans explains that she has to be “half-entertainer and half lecturer.” “One of my favorite things to do is demonstrate binary search by ripping up a phone book,” says Evans, “and the students just go crazy for it.” Apart from CMSC 201, Evans taught the First Year Seminar entitled Investigating Everyday Problems and their Current IT Solutions, and will continue to teach the course at UMBC every Spring.

Post retirement, Evans and her husband look forward to relaxing. “We’re just going to stay home and do gardening and work on craft projects,” she says. Plus, she has a computer application in the works that combines her love for programming and country cross stitch.  

To the students she’s leaving behind, Evan’s advice is to “work hard and go for help to your TA or instructor as soon as you need it.” She says what she will miss most about UMBC are the friends she has made over the years. “It has been great,” says Evans. “I have loved this place and my job and certainly my students and it’s going to be sad to go.”

 

John Pinkston, Professor, Computer Engineering

Dr. John Pinkston grew up in the small college town of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. In 1964, he graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and later received his Ph.D. from MIT. Since then, Dr. Pinkston has actively been pursuing research, with a focus on superconducting electronics.

When Dr. Pinkston retired as head of the office of research for the Federal Government in 1997, he was interested in a position in a university setting. “I had always had a soft spot in my heart for academics,” says Pinkston, “and having done research all my life, I knew the business.” So, when he learned that UMBC was searching for a Chair for their newly combined Computer Science and Electrical Engineering department, he jumped at the chance. Pinkston served as chair for seven years until he stepped down to become a professor.

“The culture shock was essentially zero,” says Pinkston of the transition between the governmental sphere and academia, “Research is research.” During his teaching career at UMBC, Dr. Pinkston has taught roughly fourteen different courses, his favorites being CMPE 323: Signals and Systems and the Computer Engineering Capstone course. “The idea is to give the students an experience of actually designing and building something” says Pinkston of the Capstone course, which he says is a rewarding experience when students get excited about their design projects.

Dr. Pinkston will continue to ‘dabble’ in research after retirement, he says. He is currently interested in cybersecurity, residue number systems and the future of computer transistors. “Semiconductors are really approaching hitting the wall now and people are beginning to think hard about what comes after silicon transistors for making computer systems go even faster,” he says. Apart from research, Dr. Pinkston looks forward to spending time with his family, the flexibility to travel and pursuing his hobbies, like ham radio.

 

Donna Myers, Business Services Specialist

Donna Myers first began working at UMBC’s Systems Payroll office in March 1997. But, two years later, when colleague, Anne Pfrogner, said she was retiring from her job in the CSEE payroll office, Myers jumped at the chance to work in a more intimate work setting. Processing payroll was not something that Myers was especially interested in, but the position turned out to be a good fit. “I’m a very logical kind of person,” explains Myers, “So, I like the logic of it, the routine of it.”

In October 2001, Myers began her decade-long position as the Business Services Specialist for the Computer Science Department. The highlight of her job, she says, has been interacting with the Graduate Assistants who come to UMBC from around the globe. “I find it fascinating,” says Myers of the foreign students she meets daily, “I think they each have a story to tell and I just love talking to them and helping them out.”

In the Fall, Myers plans to continue taking courses at UMBC in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in Management of Aging Services. Her interest in Senior healthcare was sparked in High School when she worked in the Pinky program at Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital. Myers specifically remembers the day when Medicare started and suddenly the elderly were in beds filling the hallways. “That made such an impact on me,” says Myers, who became instantly inspired to help the elderly population.

After retiring, Myers hopes to relax with her husband who will also retire. Although she considers herself a Baltimore Girl, plans to move away from the area are still a lingering prospect. “I like Maryland but I’m ready to get out of the city and move to somewhere slower-paced” she says. To the friends and colleges that she’s leaving behind, Myers has a few words of parting advice: “Everyone should get to retire because it’s a great feeling. Don’t ignore it. Go for it. It’s great.”

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