Computer science students share success stories
In 2013, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was quoted as saying that the world was in the midst of the golden age of computer science. “It’s amazing to me to see how that’s being applied, whether it’s user interface with vision, speech, pen; with modeling in rich data; areas with machine learning,” he told a group of 300 researchers from around the world at Microsoft’s 14th annual Faculty Summit.
It’s a great time to be a computer scientist and the MU College of Engineering has attracted many very talented students who are successfully working their way toward that goal.
Freshman honors student has outstanding first year of research and involvement
Computer science freshman Luke Guerdan was most interested in speech and debate as a high school student in St. Charles, Mo., and had no background or experience in computer science. When he decided on MU, he applied to and was accepted into the MU Honors College Discovery Fellows Program, a unique opportunity to pair high achieving first and second year students with a faculty mentor to conduct research. The opportunity includes a stipend and the potential to be a fellow for another year.
“I specified computer science and data analysis on my application because it’s easy to make a big impact,” Guerdan said of his choice.
Guerdan was paired with computer science Professor Yi Shang and began working in his research lab immediately.
“It was pretty intimidating because I didn’t have a lot of experience,” Guerdan said. “The hardest part is knowing what you don’t know but everyone in the lab has been really helpful.”
Guerdan is working on a collaborative project with the psychology department that looks at mood and alcohol craving. Participants wear a chest sensor, not unlike other wearable devices that collect data.
“It measures all sorts of physiological data,” Guerdan said, explaining that participants report when they drink and that combined with the collected data will allow the researchers to develop a predictive model.
“We can use it as a therapeutic model. That’s the goal,” Guerdan said. “Mobile computing devices are becoming so powerful.”
“It’s been a pleasure working with Luke in the past year,” said Shang. “He is a nice young man — energetic, enthusiastic, eager to learn, eager to help and hard working. Without a doubt, he will have a great future.”
Guerdan has enjoyed the research so much that he is considering picking up psychology as a second major. He is a co-author on one of the research group’s papers that was accepted by the international IEEE SMARTCOMP 2016 conference in May and received a travel grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to attend.
“The ceiling here is really high. If you’re motivated, you can do anything,” he said.
In addition to his coursework and research, Guerdan has been active in the Mizzou Computing Association and was elected vice president. He additionally is being honored this spring as one of four Outstanding Discovery Fellows. He also has been accepted in the Computer Science Department’s summer consumer networking program, a NSF Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) initiative.
“I want to solve challenges and interesting problems that make a big impact on people. Whatever allows me to do that is what I will do.”
Graduating senior uses competition, entrepreneurial skills to land job
Babafemi Odugbesan made his way to Mizzou from Chicago and will return to his hometown this spring with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a job at AT&T Inc.
“He is a highly motivated student,” said Professor Dong Xu, Computer Science Department Chair and the James C. Dowell Professor of the graduating senior. “He likes to seek challenging courses and content, instead of doing the minimum to graduate.”
Last spring, Odugbesan and two teammates earned first prize at the Mizzou chapter of Upsilon Pi Epsilon’s Computer Science and IT Showcase. Their project, Gistory, was developed in an effort to encourage local journalists to upload their stories to provide a broad look at individual issues.
“The hardest part about this is coming up with the ideas,” Odugbesan said about choosing a project. “We’re technologically sound enough to develop anything. And working on a team gives real-world experience.”
Judges for the projects were industry representatives, one of whom works for AT&T.
“[The AT&T judge] told me to apply,” Odugbesan said, adding that although he wasn’t able to attend the communication giant’s “Experience Weekend” that introduces promising STEM students to the work being done at AT&T, he did set up an interview and was hired as a developer. He starts work in June.
Odugbesan and one of his co-developers on the Gistory project, Aleks Sverdlovs, went on to collaborate on their own small web consulting company, “Devetectus.” They started by working on projects for MU’s Reynolds Journalism Institute and word of mouth got them more work. He said he and Sverdlovs will most likely continue working together even after he begins his job with AT&T.
Odugbesan, who hopes to someday live and work in California, received a NSF PRISM Life Sciences scholarship to attend MU and also worked a semester in the lab of Associate Professor Dale Musser on a drone project that involved image recognition.
December grad believes work outside the classroom helped land his job at Google
After graduating from the MU Computer Science Department in December 2015, Ryan Endacott went to work as a mission control software engineer for Google’s Project Loon.
“It’s a Google[x] project,” Endacott said. “They’re crazy ideas that could radically change the world.
“Two out of three people in the world don’t have access to the Internet,” Endacott went on to explain. “Google has this idea to provide Internet to 4 billion people using weather balloons. Satellites, cables — building the [standard] infrastructure is super expensive. But Project Loon is way cheaper.”
Endacott said his role on the project is to keep track of where the balloons should go. Floating in the stratosphere, there are many layers of variable wind that will allow mission control to move the balloons where they are needed.
While at MU, Endacott did undergraduate research with computer science Professor Dong Xu on the SoyKB project — a comprehensive web resource and tools with an increasing amount of soybean genetic data and research from around the world.
“SoyKB got me working on projects outside the classroom,” Endacott said. “Companies want to know, ‘What did you actually build?’ A lot of people don’t know what’s possible. But finding a group of peers that can help you is important.”
Endacott served as president of the Association for Computing Machinery and said that he enjoyed getting students involved outside of the classroom building in “a community of people who want to code and have fun doing it. I think it’s what you have to do,” he said.
“To me, computer science is empowering because you can build technology that improves the lives of billions,” Endacott said.