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Computer science REU evolves with its technology

Wenjun “Kevin” Zeng has directed the MU College of Engineering Computer Science Department’s NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program for the last five years. In that time, about 60 students from Mizzou and other universities have taken part in the 10-week-long program.

As frequently as computer age technology evolves, so does research that delves into new and advancing networks. Such is the case with a National Science Foundation-funded program administered by the University of Missouri College of Engineering Computer Science Department.

Wenjun Zeng is the program director for the Computer Science Department’s NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) in Home and Consumer Networking Technologies. The program takes aim at giving undergraduate researchers a chance to work with faculty members on a project involving computing and networking that could, one day, affect our lives.

Since 2007, this annual program has enabled students to spend 10 weeks at MU during the summer working on research projects that range from phone apps to network security.

“We started classifying the program as ‘Home Networking Technologies,’” Zeng said. “But the field itself has evolved a lot, so the program did, too. We looked at the convergence of different technologies — computer, telecom and consumer electronics — they aren’t just in the home, but everywhere. We realized this was the trend.”

Dmitry Karpman, an MU alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2012, participated in the REU in 2010. He worked with Zeng, computer science Associate Professor Ye Duan and a student from Eastern Illinois University on a research project that focused on compressing LiDAR imaging data in an efficient manner. The final paper from this project was later published in the “Proceedings of SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing, Conference on Laser Radar Technology and Applications.”

“I knew I wanted to do undergraduate research, especially for when I began applying to grad schools,” Karpman said.

The computer science REU includes collaboration with four faculty members from the Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering departments. Since the program began more than five years ago, 60 undergraduates from MU Engineering and other schools have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Zeng said applicants are chosen based on their individual achievements and by taking into consideration the opportunities available at MU that may not be available at the students’ home institutions.

“NSF programs encourage opportunities for underrepresented undergraduates,” Zeng said. “We focus on students not just at MU, but at other Missouri universities that may not have research opportunities for undergraduate students.”

Zeng said that only two or three students each year are from Mizzou, while the rest are from other Missouri schools, such as Southeast Missouri State University, Truman State University, University of Central Missouri, Central Missouri State University, Lincoln University and Lindenwood University, as well as a couple of out-of-state universities.

Computer science, math and statistics alumnus Dmitriy Karpman participated in the CS REU in 2010. He says the REU experience is valuable for any student considering graduate school. Karpman is now in a doctoral program in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University.

Karpman, who began a doctoral program with Stanford University’s Computer Science Department in the fall, said the experience was most valuable to him on his grad school applications. He also used the experience on his application for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which he was awarded last spring.

“The REU can be a pretty valuable resource if you’re considering grad school,” he said. “Because you’re in a grad school-like setting, and working with some grad students, some participants learned that it was really something they wanted to pursue.”

During the 10 weeks of the REU, Karpman said participants formulated their own projects and spoke fondly of the chance to work on a project “from conception to the final paper.”

Zeng said encouraging students to pursue a graduate degree is one of the REU’s goals.

“In general, the projects get them exposed to this process: identifying the project and working through the milestones to presenting the final data,” he said.

Additionally, there’s the chance to get published as an undergraduate. Zeng said he isn’t the only one proud of those accomplishments.

“Those who publish papers or present their research are extremely excited and proud,” he said.