Scully's path to research started with robotics; provides blueprint for others

April 12, 2023

Christopher Scully with Spot, the robots from Boston Dynamics.

Christopher Scully’s journey to graduate school started in high school when he joined a robotics club. That led him to pursue a degree in information technology and computer science at Mizzou Engineering. While an undergraduate, he was president of MU Robotics, an experience that introduced him to research. And that led him to pursue a master’s degree at Mizzou, where he’s researching leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence for situational awareness.

Scully’s story is truly Mizzou Made. It’s winding and unique. But he also thinks it provides a blueprint other students can follow. That’s why he’s helping support an effort to build a pipeline connecting students to research through clubs and organizations, starting with robotics.

“Robotics is such a large field and covers so many different areas,” he said. “It’s no longer the humanoid robot associated with science fiction. It can range from something as small as an automatic door opener, to something as advanced as a software robot like ChatGPT.”

Mizzou Robotics is an umbrella organization to smaller teams such as BattleBots, where students design fighting robots; autonomy, where students work on the Spot robot from Boston Dynamics; and teams focused on machine learning, navigation and industrial robotics. Teams meet weekly to not only work on projects but also network and socialize.

Scully sees opportunities for students involved in those groups to get a better understanding of the research happening around related areas.

“There are many professors who specialize in the very technology that we seek to apply to solve problems. From computer vision to explainable AI, there are areas where the student experience can be enriched through a mastery of these fields.” he said. “Student orgs provide a social platform, but they can also double as a way to introduce students to research projects, students who may be intimidated by the idea of doing research.”

Scully plans to invite faculty members to student meetings to share their work and connect with undergraduates and inspire students. The hope is to get more professors involved and invested in organizations to help set the foundation for a research pipeline.

“I want to invest in people and help build them up,” Scully said. “I’m driven by the idea of having more ways to connect students with the research opportunities we have at Mizzou. Student organizations can be the lynchpin to tie those resources together.”

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