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STAIRSTEP students present computer science research

STAIRSTEP studentsLamar University STAIRSTEP undergraduate students presented research in computer science at SIGITE 2015, the 16th Annual Conference on Information Technology Education in Chicago, an international conference on IT education hosted by DePaul University spanning from Sept 30 to Oct 3.

All four students who presented are members of Lamar’s STAIRSTEP, or STudents Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Program, aimed at the retention and excellence of underrepresented groups in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Students work in teams with others in the program on research projects under the direction of STAIRSTEP faculty mentor and computer science professor Peggy Doerschuk. Their research is supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation and ExxonMobil and the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR).

Computer Science Chair Stefan Andrei, Arts and Sciences Dean Brenda Nichols and Kumer Das, director of the OUR, also helped the students with travel expenses.

Members of the research team are computer science seniors Greg Yera of Armada, Michigan, Timothy Holcombe of Lumberton and Alexander Strong of Beaumont; and juniors Hannah Leleux of Bridge City, Logan Smith of Lumberton, Timothy Gonzales of Beaumont and Colin Smith of Bridge City.  

“Attending the SIGITE 2015 conference in Chicago had a huge impact on me, not only as a student and aspiring computer scientist, but also as a person,” Strong said. “It was an invaluable opportunity to serve as an ambassador for Lamar and STAIRSTEP in order to showcase their merits at an international level.”

Strong believes the conference was an invaluable opportunity for the group to act as international ambassadors for Lamar and STAIRSTEP and is excited to share what he’s learned from global computer scientists and educators.

Leleux, who was awarded a scholarship to the conference from the Association for Computing Machinery–Women (ACM-W) presented, “Work in Progress: Programming is a SNAP! Increasing Knowledge and Interest in Computer Science,” by Hannah Leleux, Timothy Holcombe, Alexander Strong, Greg Yera, Colin Smith, and Timothy Gonzales. 

According to Doerschuk, this work develops and evaluates a set of instructional materials that can be used to teach basic programming concepts to high school students in an undergraduate led, hands-on game programming workshop.

Leleux said that she found the conference to be very informative and the keynote speaker, founder and CEO of the education and textbook website Packback, inspiring.

“The people were welcoming and gave good advice for the professional and academic worlds. Overall the trip was an amazing experience and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to attend,” Leleux said. “I would like to thank the Office of Undergraduate research at Lamar University, ACM-W, the Lamar University Computer Science Department and STAIRSTEP for providing me with the means to attend.”

Strong presented, “Work in Progress: Improving the Performance of the Radial Basis Function Network,” by Alexander Strong, Timothy Gonzales, and Logan Smith. 

“This work investigates several novel variations of the Radial Basis Function Neural Network (RBFNN) machine-learning algorithm, with a view to improving accuracy in large dimensional classification problems without increasing the amount of training data,” Doerschuk said.

Yera and Holcombe presented, “Work In Progress: Machine Learning in Robotics,” by Greg Yera, Alexander Strong, Hannah Leleux, Timothy Holcombe, Colin Smith, and Timothy Gonzales. The research investigates combining reinforcement learning and RBFNN learning to improve the performance of a simulated robot that learns to perform its task.

“I better understand now the importance of not just publishing your paper, but getting out there and sharing the knowledge with like-minded researchers,” Yera said.

In addition to professional enrichment, students said it was invaluable to be able to interact with different cultures and broaden their worldview by attending such a conference at the international level.

“The [trip and conference] have helped to make me a more well rounded individual,” Strong said.