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Summer Research Features: Machine Learning for Natural Language Processing

The Department of Computer Science is excited to feature our summer research groups and take a look at what they are working on! Today, we are highlighting the work of Dr. Michael Bloodgood’s research group.

Dr. Bloodgood’s group includes Michael Giordano (‘23) and Vihan Patel (‘22). The research team is investigating new methods for optimizing the usage of data for building machine learned NLP (Natural Language Processing) systems. The goal is to enable NLP systems to be trained and tested with lower cost and time, while maximizing performance. Applications of their research include text classification, information extraction, and machine translation.

The research team is using TCNJ’s ELSA (Electronic Laboratory for Science and Analysis) high performance computing cluster to conduct their experiments. This cluster is funded by the National Science Foundation under NSF Award #1828163. The research project is supported by TCNJ’s MUSE (Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience) program.

 

Clockwise from left to right: Michael Giordano, Vihan Patel, Dr. Michael Bloodgood

Summer Research Features: VR Cybersickness

The Department of Computer Science is excited to feature our summer research groups and take a look at what they are working on! Today, we are highlighting the work of Dr. Sharif Mohammad Shahnewaz Ferdous’ research group.

Dr. Ferdous’ group includes Andrew Michael (‘24) and Kyla Ramos (‘23). The project is investigating the effectiveness of a visual cybersickness questionnaire.

The research objective of this project is to expand our understanding of how children perceive cybersickness in virtual reality (VR). Cybersickness is discomforts experienced by a user during or after the VR exposure. The most popular method for measuring cybersickness is via a Simulator Sickness Questionnaire (SSQ), developed using data obtained from navy pilots. The SSQ may not be suitable to measure cybersickness in children, as some of its questions (e.g., fullness of head, stomach awareness, etc.) can be difficult for children to comprehend.

To correctly measure cybersickness in children, it is crucial to develop a child-friendly questionnaire. Therefore, during MUSE 2021, Dr. Ferdous’ group will implement a web application that augments existing SSQ questions with animation that makes it easier to understand the symptoms.

Funding for this research project is provided by MUSE (Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience) at TCNJ.

Clockwise from top left: Andrew Michael, Dr. Sharif Mohammad Shahnewaz Ferdous, Kyla Ramos

Summer Research Features: CABPortal

The Department of Computer Science is excited to feature our summer research groups and take a look at what they are working on!

Dr. Monisha Pulimood’s research group includes Kiera Gill (’23), Matthew Hannum (’23), and Jenna Stiesi (’22). The students are supported through Dr. Pulimood’s Barbara Meyers Pelson Chair in Faculty-Student engagement (AY 2018-2021) award. This summer, the students are working together to conduct research and continue development of CABPortal, a web-based application designed to make researches associated with the Collaborating Across Boundaries (CAB) pedagogical model publicly available.

The application leverages concepts from human computation, collective intelligence, and open collaboration to enable current and potential adopters to find interdisciplinary courses and project ideas of interest, and to become motivated to participate in the dissemination and sustainability of hosted projects. They are also continuing development on some of the applications developed by students in Dr. Pulimood’s Software Engineering classes in previous semesters.

The CAB Project was supported by two grants:

  1. The Barbara Meyers Pelson Chair in Faculty-Student Engagement Endowment Fund in academic years 2018 – 2021, during which time Dr. Pulimood was the endowed chair.
  2. NSF Award #1914869, Collaborating Across Boundaries (CAB) to Engage Undergraduates in STEM Learning, for which Dr. Pulimood is the principal investigator (PI), along with Professor Kim Pearson (Journalism & Professional Writing) and Professor Diane Bates (Sociology & Anthropology) who are the co-PIs.
Clockwise from left: Jenna Stiesi, Kiera Gill, Dr. Monisha Pulimood, Matthew Hannum
Conducting Robots

Conducting Robots

The National Science Foundation’s CreativeIT Program has awarded four TCNJ professors a $360,000 three-year grant to develop a new, research-based multidisciplinary course entitled “Conducting Robots.”

Andrea Salgian, assistant professor of computer science; Teresa Nakra, assistant professor of music; Christopher Ault, assistant professor of interactive multimedia; and Jennifer Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering, collaborated on the proposal, called “RUI: Giving the Maestro a Human Heart—Fostering Creativity in a Multi-Disciplinary Undergraduate Environment.”

The resultant course is allowing students from each professor’s discipline to construct artificial systems capable of conducting an orchestra and visualizing feedback. In essence, the students will create a robotic “maestro” that mimics the arm movements and facial expressions of a human conductor at work.

Salgian contrasted her ideal conductor with Honda’s “Asimo” robot, programmed to conduct an orchestra in 2008. That robot merely conducted the beat—and lost it. “We want [TCNJ’s] system to have more information about the music,” she said. “Ideally it would also get some feedback and it would be able to use what it hears.”

“Asimo was very cute,” Salgian admitted, “but we want to introduce a different aspect to it.” She speculated on some design possibilities—a “face” represented by computer visualization, for example—but said that the product will ultimately depend on the students. Each of the four or five mixed-major student teams will turn out their own design.

Salgian stressed the focus on collaboration: “The entire system is not necessarily the goal of our research project, it’s more of a vehicle to use to teach students to work together. Our hope is that they will all become more creative by having to integrate knowledge from different fields,” she said.

Philip Tate, director of the TCNJ orchestra, will act as a consultant on the project. The first course will be offered this fall.

Modified from TCNJ Magazine, In Focus, September 2009. By Matt Huston ’12 • Aug 13th, 2009.

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Women in Computing and Science

Women in Computing and Science

Advocates for Equal Opportunity

Women make up almost half of the total United States workforce, but only 25% of women are currently working in the computer and mathematics fields according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. At The College of New Jersey, wics profile 1the Women in Computing and Science (WICS) club has aimed to increase that number by raising awareness of sexism in the workplace and encouraging young women to realize that both men and women can be successful in computer science.

“It’s not enough for the women to be present; they have to be given an opportunity to speak,” says Dr. Monisha Pulimood, advisor to the WICS club. Here at TCNJ, Pulimood serves as Chair of the Department of Computer Science, which has an almost equal amount of men and women – an equilibrium that she would like to see expand into the future workforce her students will soon enter.

The WICS club brings together men and women to talk about gender issues in computer science and provide a safe space where they can talk openly about gender microaggressions in the field. President of WICS, sophomore computer science major Brittany Reedman, explains, “What our organization aims to do is to show women that are really interested in technology that they are not alone – we are there for them. We want to provide support when they go to their job and there are no other women there, or they are in a class and it seems like someone’s disrespecting them because of their gender or because someone isn’t listening to their ideas.”

Reedman believes that it is important to include men in the club because the main point of the organization is to promote gender equality in the workforce – and that can only occur if both genders are on the same team. Reedman says, “We want men to understand our mission. Change isn’t going to come by just letting women know that they are not alone. Change is going to come by getting men to understand that we are a presence in this field and having them as allies to support us and encourage us to be in this field.”

wics profile 4The all-inclusive club sparked the interest of junior computer science and interactive multimedia major Kevin Bohinski because he was able to hear how everyone had different challenges within the major. In February 2016, the club hosted TCNJ Hackathon, an event that challenges students to turn an idea into a workable app within 24 hours, and according to Bohinski, 25% of the participants who signed up were women. While he wishes to see that number increase at future events, he knows that the only way that will occur is if men and women in the department support one another. He believes that, “It’s the male’s role to not do anything that’s oppressive and to make sure that everyone feels included.”

The club also hosts events and brings speakers to campus to provide connections and networking opportunities as well as to inform women and men about possible job opportunities and what they can be doing now to prepare for the future job market. This semester the club has brought to campus TCNJ alum Gloria Broeker, Class of ‘93 and Chief Operating Officer of Information Technology for the State of New Jersey, and Lauren Farese from the global wics profile 3computer technology corporation Oracle. The club recently attended a ‘women in computer science’ event hosted by the Google office in New York that, according to Reedman, resembled a “big playground” where WICS members got to meet more women in the computer science field. She believes that “All these top companies are realizing that they are going to be missing out if they don’t encourage these really smart people from both genders to enter the field.” The club has also implemented a “Lean In Circle” on campus, which, according to leanincircles.org, are “small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together” and allow women and men “to talk openly about gender issues.”

WICS’ members also believe it is imperative to discuss relevant events or topics in the news and also practice interviewing skills to complement their computer coding experience. Reedman believes that presentations by speakers and events that WICS has hosted provide hope for women in the major, because these not only educates them on job opportunities in computer science, what skills they need to succeed, and how to combat sexism in the workplace, but also that the sky is the limit for what they can achieve.

For those interested in attending a WICS club meeting, meetings are typically held from 3:30-4:30 pm on Wednesdays.

– Kaitlyn Njoroge

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Association for Computing Machinery

Association for Computing Machinery

ACMEventPhotoThe Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is a student organization for those interested in computer science. Through different activities, ACM helps its members explore further what they have learned from their classes.  Senior and ACM President Brandon Gottlob says, “As a computer science major, there are many different skills to learn and ways to apply and expand upon the concepts from courses. This can take the form of research projects, personal projects, working with different programming languages, and devices to develop on.”

First-year computer science major Henry Shen says, “I wanted to join ACM because I wanted to immerse myself in the field that I probably will spend a lot of my adult life and career in. Any opportunity to gain more knowledge and experience is great.” Jabari Brown, another first-year computer science major, agrees. “I joined ACM to put myself around like-minded individuals. Since then, I have learned so much that can help me in the field.”

Gottlob adds, “The only way to gain awareness of so many topics is to learn about them from others. I saw taking a leadership position in ACM as a great way of creating a more collaborative community among TCNJ students interested in computing and creating a medium where people can be exposed to the wide range of things they can accomplish with computers and programming.”

During weekly meetings, ACM plans varied activities that are both engaging and fun.  Gottlob says, “Most of our meetings are discussions about specific topics in computing or tutorials on programming languages, platforms, and tools.”  Shen adds, “We do tutorials on important computer science topics such as how to use Github (a web-based software hosting service), what the compiler differences are between programming languages, and more.”  In addition, ACM also holds fun events throughout the year such as ice cream socials and game nights to encourage members to interact with each other outside of their primary area of interest.

TCNJHackGroupphoto2The annual Hackathon is an important part of ACM, which this year was held on February 26-28, 2016.  Gottlob explains, “The largest event we hold once per year is HackTCNJ, a 24-hour event known as a hackathon where students from schools all over the northeast come to develop their own software applications. At the end of the 24-hour period, students’ projects are judged and prizes are awarded. Because we are funded by sponsor companies, the event is completely free for all participants and food is provided throughout. We estimated that we hosted about 200 college and high school students with a very large majority from colleges in the tri-state area, like Rutgers, Temple, Drexel, Monmouth, Rowan, West Chester, and TCNJ of course. We had over 30 project submissions as well. It was by far our biggest HackTCNJ to date.”

There are many benefits from joining ACM.  For first-year and transfer students, it is a great way to get involved within the department and learn more about computer science.  Gottlob says, “Joining ACM will help new students gain exposure to a wide range of skills and perspectives that they won’t find in the classroom. This exposure could help them gain interests in specific topics and languages that distinguish them from the rest of their peers and that they could pursue in research and personal projects throughout their time at TCNJ.”

ACM also allows students to get to know the upper-level students on a more personal level.  “Many people transfer out of computer science because it can be very intimidating to beginners, and getting to know the ACM members can show new students that their struggles are actually common since many upper-level students have similar experiences,” adds Gottlob.  Brown agrees. “Freshmen and other students should get involved with ACM because it is a very good way to connect with students and faculty in the department. You share ideas and learn interesting topics related to computer science that will help develop your future.  It is a great way to explore your interests within computer science.”  Shen also hails the benefits of joining ACM.  “If you want to be in an environment that is supportive for new programmers and people with little computer science experience before becoming a CS major, this is a great place to learn and ask questions. In order to gain experience in computer science, taking the plunge is the first step.”

TCNJHackAs a whole, ACM reflects the important values within TCNJ’s computer science department.  As Brown says, “Everyone within the department is really friendly.”  Shen adds, “Everyone is super nice and really fun to be around.”  Gottlob concurs. “All of the CS professors are very approachable and encourage all students to participate. I try to cultivate the same attitude in ACM by establishing an open environment where the ideas and participation of any member is highly valued, no matter his/her level of experience.”

– Gabrielle Okun

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Jake Voytko ’08

Jake Voytko ’08

Google Docs, the suite of web-based productivity tools available through the Internet search giant’s Drive service, is changing the way people work by allowing users anywhere in the world to collaborate in real time on the same spreadsheets, presentations, and word processor documents.

Jake Voytko ’08 is a software engineer at Google, Inc.One of the people making this new way of collaboration possible is 2008 computer science graduate Jake Voytko.

Working as part of a team of developers, Voytko’s primary responsibilities include coding and implementing new features into Google Docs’ word processor. He was part of the group responsible for adding offline-editing functionality, a feature that was incorporated last spring and heralded by tech writers and Docs users everywhere. Voytko said the project was “one of the most difficult” he has worked on at Google, since he was writing code for which the browser support was still in development.

Prior to being recruited by Google, Voytko was on the technical staff at the Sarnoff Corporation, where he had the opportunity to work alongside “a bunch of brilliant researchers” designing computer vision systems for the military. His coworkers in Google’s Manhattan offices are equally brilliant, he notes.

“It’s humbling to come into work each day and talk to people who have such clear focus, and clear thoughts, and who are able to break down problems so cleanly,” Voytko said.

He credits what he learned as a math minor at TCNJ with helping him think more clearly as a programmer.

“Mathematics requires such a degree of precision of thought that there is really no forgiveness there,” Voytko said. Other disciplines allow for some wiggle room in forming arguments, he said, “But in math, if your ultimate result is to get a working proof, then you actually have to prove it. You have to have that rational bridge from your starting point to your finishing point. If I had just gotten a computer science degree, I would have needed to learn that type of precision of thought while I was working, as opposed to having already been exposed to it as a math minor.”

By Tony Marchetti

William Moncrief ’68

William Moncrief ’68

When William Moncrief ’68 and his wife Nancy announced their plans to open a bed and breakfast at the Jersey Shore, no one was particularly shocked. Sure, it was a big change from their 9-to-5 careers in Washington, DC, but Bill’s family and friends already knew he was a man of many talents: Navy pilot, technology management expert—why not add innkeeper to the list?

His kids began buying him books on the B&B business as Christmas and birthday gifts, and before long, the Moncriefs had traded in the “rat race” (Bill’s words) of DC for the serenity of a North Wildwood, NJ, inn. And they’ve done so with great success; earlier this year, Bill and Nancy were named Innkeepers of the Year by Select Registry Distinguished Inns of North America.

While Bill says running the Candlelight Inn isn’t all glamour and glitz—he spends plenty of time unclogging toilets, replacing air conditioners, and servicing hot-water heaters—he also has some remarkable stories from over the last 12 years.

One of his favorites involves a couple who mentioned during check-in that their minister had made the reservation for them. The wife had suffered several consecutive miscarriages, and they’d been going to counseling to try lift the resulting cloud of depression. Bill offered up some extra TLC, and “sure enough,” he says, “nine months later, we got a letter with a photo of a baby that had been conceived while they were here.”

Back in the late 1960s, long before his career as an innkeeper began, Bill was on a very different path. A science major at TCNJ, he had signed a contract to teach in Hammonton, NJ, after graduation. Then, in January 1968, “my friendly neighborhood draft board told me that I wouldn’t be teaching—I would be in the Army,” he says.“The morning I graduated from college, I enlisted in the Navy, and a few days later, I got my draft notice. I’d beaten it by just three days.”

While Bill says he wasn’t sure he’d even make it through flight training, “the next thing I knew, I was flying planes for the Navy. I liked it, so I ended up staying for 20 years.” In that time, he was deployed a handful of times—to Bermuda, Sicily, Iceland, Scotland, and Latin America. “They were paying me to go see all these places,” he says. “It was pretty incredible.”

During those 20 years, he also spent time teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy and earned a master’s degree in computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School. After Moncrief retired from the Navy in 1988, a contact from his military days called to see if he’d be interested in becoming network director at the Bicentennial Commission in Washington, D.C. And that’s how William Moncrief—a teacher-in-training turned naval officer turned technology expert—went to work for former Chief Justice Warren Burger.

“He was a very smart individual and a great listener,” Bill recalls of working under Burger. “He was different from any manager I’d ever had. We could be in an hour-and-a-half meeting, and he might say 20 words at the most.”

After a year with the commission, Bill went on to work at Georgetown University, an international law firm, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Along the way, he and his wife often traveled to California wine country, staying in—you guessed it—bed and breakfasts. After talking to a newly minted pair of innkeepers on one of their trips, owning a B&B started to sound more and more enticing to Bill and Nancy. In 1985, the Moncriefs purchased the Candlelight Inn, and have been living out their dream ever since.

Bill says his workdays couldn’t be more different from the ones he spent in the corporate world. “I didn’t have too many people calling me to say, ‘Thanks, my computer’s working well,’” he says. “They talked to me if there was a problem, and they usually didn’t talk nicely. Here [at the inn], people really appreciate what you do for them. They say, ‘Thank you’ all the time.”

Brian Wanner ’05

Brian Wanner ’05

The president’s cyber squad

Last night, someone tried to break into the White House. Again. It wasn’t the ski-mask-and-crowbar attempt you might be imagining, though. It was the type of attack that Brian Wanner ’05 spends his days fending off: a threat of the digital variety.

Brian Wanner ’05 shields the Executive Office of the President’s computer network from all sorts of digital dangers. Photo (c) Tom O’Dell ’12

When we spoke in early April, Wanner said that a prominent group of hackers had launched a “distributed denial-of-service attack” on the White House’s website the night before, sending numerous requests to the site at the same time in an attempt to crash it. “They don’t like something the White House has commented on, so they’ll try to take down our website,” he says of such groups. “I don’t know the specific reason they were [attacking] last night, but we handled it fine. That kind of thing happens fairly often.”

As branch chief of security operations, Wanner spends his days shielding the Executive Office of the President’s 
computer network from all sorts of digital dangers. His charges include the president and vice president, along with about 3,500 White House employees. “We monitor the firewalls here, any traffic to the Internet, and e-mail traffic to make sure it’s legitimate and that nobody’s trying to 
attack us,” he adds. “And when they are, we try to defend ourselves.”

He offers this “typical” example: An attacker sets up a Gmail account and sends a malicious PDF to someone on the president’s staff. “They craft it a certain way to get past most of the normal virus scanners,” Wanner adds, “so if it gets through to the inbox and [a White House employee] opens it, [the attacker] could potentially compromise the computer and start looking for good data—things like trade negotiations or economic information or the White House’s stance on a piece of legislation. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Wanner’s biggest moment on the job—or at least the most public one—came in early 2009. You may remember some of the headlines: Barack Obama to use BlackBerry as president; Obama to get spy-proof smartphone; President Obama’s super-secret BlackBerry cost $3,300! “The president wanted it,” Wanner says of the phone that launched a thousand news stories, “and we can’t tell him no.”

Still, there were concerns surrounding Obama’s insistence that a BlackBerry serve as his official work phone.

“You’re putting a smartphone on one of the most important people in the world,” Wanner notes, “and along with it comes all those capabilities—a microphone, possible location tracking; all the things you don’t want accessible. The challenge was making sure that all of those things were controlled in some way so we didn’t have to worry about someone tracking the location of the president, for example.”

Though he can’t get into specifics, consider this a testament to Wanner’s success in locking the phone down: Obama is still using it now, more than three years later. As for all the media buzz, “It’s actually pretty cool when you’re working on a project and then you see it in the news,” Wanner says.

A double major in computer science and mathematics, Wanner discovered computer security through a part-time student job at Skyline Security Consulting. After earning a Master’s degree in Information Security and Assurance at George Mason University, he went to work for the White House—first as a subcontractor, then as a prime 
contractor, and eventually as a federal employee. “It’s got some sexy parts to it,” he says of cyber security. “I guess I like the whole adversarial nature where the attacker does something and you have to try to respond and close it out. Then they’ll change tactics and you just keep going back and forth. That whole thing just interests me.”

By

Siobhan Sabino ’12

Siobhan Sabino ’12

Siobhan Sabino is a jack of all trades — writer, photographer, Harry Potter aficionada, web designer, French linguist, and history buff. But it was love at first Google the day her family home hooked into the Internet, thus commencing her love affair with computers.

These days the sophomore computer science major balances a twenty-credit course load with graduate-level research developing a content management system called Collaboration and Facilitation Environment (CAFÉ). Designed to provide a “collaborative environment” for web publishing, the project is funded by two grant programs of the National Science Foundation (Collaborative Research Experience for Undergraduates- CREU, and Broadening Participation in Computing- BPC), and the project consists of three female undergraduates working under the direction of Drs. Monisha Pulimood, Kim Pearson and Ursula Wolz. Throughout the 2009-2010 academic year, Sabino has spearheaded the stabilization and security aspect of the program.

“My job is to get a stable, cleaned-up version that can be packaged and implemented by teachers in the classroom,” said Sabino. “This means combing through the code for mistakes and redundancies, so in the end it will not only work, but will be stable, safe, and difficult to crack.” At the moment, the technology of CAFÉ is designed to manage the content and workflow of the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers (IJIMS) at Fisher Middle School here in Ewing. However, the ultimate goal is for the program to be distributed throughout the country as a new tool of online journalism and creative writing in a digital setting.

Sabino describes CAFÉ as a shared user account database, to which students upload articles and then the teacher edits by means of a color-coded proofreading tool. After completing the suggested revisions, the student resubmits the article and it appears on the front page of the website. “As a writer working on a system for writers, I’m able to put myself in their place to anticipate uploading issues or decide what type of feedback would be most helpful,” noted Sabino. One of the most rewarding aspects of the project, she added, is seeing students, those who might never have had the chance to learn how to write well, create really engaging multimedia story packages.

“In high school, I was fortunate enough to have been given the tools to see how writing is not just about the words on the page but how they look, how to use them to create an image, and how to draw a picture around it,” she said. “I love the creative part of coding, of looking at things in a different way and thinking outside the box.”

Unsurprisingly, this mindset has been indispensable throughout the course of the project. At one point a dilemma arose of how to identify minors on the public website given that parents wanted to view their child’s articles. The creative solution was Sabino’s suggestion: parents would be provided general usernames and passwords to access the site.

When asked the most exciting part of research, Sabino described the sweet satisfaction of solving a problem. “Sometimes you’ll be working on the program, holed up in the lab for hours. The sun may have gone down and though its dark, you just don’t want to stand up and flick on the lights. But then, when you run the program, it miraculously works and you scream ‘YES!’ That pure exhilaration of success is unparalleled.”

Though she is taking things one step at a time, Sabino says an internship or, even better, a career with Google would be a dream come true. “Anything Google I cannot live without,” she exclaimed. “I would be lost without my Google calendar, I absolutely love Gmail, and Google Wave is the most amazing tool I’ve ever seen.” It is in precisely the sort of creative job environment Google boasts that Sabino hopes to work someday, crafting technology that helps people, “a new pay it forward,” she added.

In the meantime, the French and History minor plans to continue working with Dr. Pulimood over the summer as well as into next year, and Sabino is looking forward to attending the fall Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, funded by the CREU grant.

“The emphasis on involving only women and minorities in the CREU program is purposeful, it recognizes that other grants might be unknowingly prejudiced and compensates by giving us the opportunity,” she noted. “With CAFÉ, we are doing something similar: giving minority students the chance to be involved in computer science. It’s absolutely rewarding.”

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