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CSE News

  • CSE Professor Has Role in State Assembly Resolution

    It's not often that computer science professors get involved with government resolutions, but that's what happened April 21. CSE Prof. Ronald Graham (pictured at left with Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski) was in Sacramento at a reception to mark April as Mathematics Awareness Month in California. The State Assembly approved the resolution authored by Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and publicly supported by UC San Diego's Graham, a former president of the American Mathematical Society. Graham was one of the guests introduced on the Assembly floor. Later Graham attended a reception co-hosted by Assembly member Cristina Garcia, a self-avowed "math enthusiast," and by Wieckowski, who gave Graham a certificate of recognition for his support. "By shining a spotlight on Mathematics Awareness Month, we are supporting the increased awareness and importance of mathematics in our society," said Wieckowski. "We are also advocating for more outreach and recruitment of girls and women into STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -- fields." The Assembly resolution notes that "although women fill close to half the jobs in the United States economy, they make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce." Prof. Graham is chief scientist of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), Irwin and Joan Jacobs Professor in CSE, and is cited in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the largest number ever used in a mathematical proof. 


  • Graduate Students Honor Voelker with Teaching Award

    CSE Prof. Geoffrey Voelker is being honored on Tuesday, April 22 from 5-7pm at The Loft in the Price Center. That's when Voelker (at left) accepts the Faculty Teaching Award as part of the 2014 UC San Diego Graduate Student Association (GSA) Community Awards.  The awards honor individuals for their outstanding contributions to the graduate student community at UCSD. Voelker is no stranger to best-teaching awards at the departmental level, and this all-campus award adds a campus-wide feather to his cap. Among the nominations, a student in CSE 221 (Graduate Operating Systems) last quarter "found professor Voelker to be an exceptional teacher," citing his "ownership of the material" and willingness to "share his knowledge freely to enable us to appreciate how things tie into the larger scheme." "He is very courteous and respectful of every student and question which gives us confidence." "He likes students to think about advanced topics and encourages their curiosity by raising some open-ended questions as well... Voelker's treatment of the course sets a standard for other courses and instructors." 

  • Minnes Joins CSE Teaching Faculty

    In a note to the CSE community today, Chair Rajesh Gupta said he is "thrilled to announce that Dr. Mia Minnes has accepted position of a lecturer in the LPSOE series."  Minnes received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Cornell in 2008, and she was a CLE Moore Instructor at MIT. In 2010 she joined as SE Warschawski Visiting Assistant Professor in the department of mathematics at UC San Diego, where she has worked on automata theory and algorithmic randomness. Yet her teaching load has primarily involved math in the Computer Science and Engineering department (e.g., in Fall 2013, when she taught Intro to Discrete Mathematics CSE 20, and Mathematics for Algorithm and Systems Analysis CSE 21). Also last year, Minnes was a key instructor and mentor to high school students participating in CSE's Summer Program for Incoming Students (SPIS). (She is pictured at right with one of the SPIS students and UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.) Minnes now formally moves from Math to CSE. "Mia joins our fantastic team of professors in teaching, Beth Simon and Christine Alvarado," said Gupta. Prof. Mia Minnes can be reached at and in CSE 4206.

    Visit Mia Minnes' Math website.  
    Read more about the SPIS program.

  • CSE Students Win Moxie Center PitchFest Award

    You don't have to be in grad school or even an upper-division undergrad to win a business pitch competition. Take the winning team of CSE freshmen who won the Audience Choice Award on April 14 in the Moxie Center's PitchFest. Computer science major Rajiv Pasricha (pictured at center, flanked by Moxie Center director Jay Kunin at left, and teammate, computer engineering major Ganesh Datta) and Datta won over the audience with their 60-second pitch for "Study Groups," a web service that lets students form ad-hoc study groups. A panel of judges provided feedback on the contestants' presentation style, business pitch, and technology plausibility. Students from across campus attended and competed in the quarterly event, and awards were given for both the audience choice and the pick of a judging panel (which went to a Ph.D. student from ECE, Jason Juang).

    Pasricha is one of less than a dozen students who arrived at UC San Diego this academic year as Jacobs Scholars. They were selected based on academic achievement, leadership potential and commitment to community service, and recipients get a free ride in the form of full tuition and living expenses, invitations to cultural and other social events, and access to a network of current and former Jacobs Scholars. The scholarships were funded by Irwin and Joan Jacobs to attract world-class students who are highly likely to contribute to engineering innovation -- and who are also likely to encourage and inspire other students to do the same. "My current plan is to pursue a graduate degree in computer science," said Pasricha in the fall. "I felt that an undergraduate program that emphasizes research experience is essential in preparing for this goal."

    Datta's long-term goal is to be an entrepreneur in the general field of computer science. Despite only being a freshman, he has specific research interests, including cryptography, distributed computing, and big data. This year he plans to develop an array of web applications, including WordPress plug-ins and Python web applications. Judging from their success in the PitchFest competition, it's not impossible that Pasricha and Datta will end up establishing startups before they even finish their undergraduate education.

    Visit the Moxie Center website.

  • UCSD-TV to Begin Airing Big Data Symposium with CSE Experts

    For anyone who missed the recent Big Data at Work Symposium in March, now you can watch it on-demand. Two of the four speakers are CSE faculty members: Prof. Stefan Savage and Prof. Larry Smarr. Savage was the security expert on the panel, warning that there are substantial security risks when data becomes Big Data, but he also expanded on the potential opportunities inherent in the growth of Big Data (including for CSE graduates who specialize in cybersecurity!). For his part, Smarr  – who directs Calit2 as well – addressed the overall impact of Big Data, especially in health care sector, as millions of Americans join the ranks of the 'quantitative health' movement (like Smarr himself) generating petabytes of data to help the patient and his or her doctor manage the patient's health on a 24/7 basis. The event continues to receive rave reviews, and now there are two ways to watch the one-hour program: it's available immediately on UCTV's website. Alternatively, it will begin airing during the week of April 21 on the UCTV channel itself (with the first primetime showing planned for 9pm April 24). Set your DVR, or watch the complete edited video online at the link below. 

    Watch Big Data at Work Symposium online.

  • Record Applications Lead to 44% Higher Admission Offers

    The popularity of computer science in general, and in the Computer Science and Engineering department at UC San Diego as a hot destination for graduating high school seniors, resulted in a record number of applications from students eager to become part of CSE’s freshman class in September. As reported in January, more than 5,200 students took the time and trouble to apply for Fall 2014 – up 38% from a year earlier – even though it was already clear that it would be a tight race to get in this year.  Now, according to UC San Diego admissions figures released on April 18, CSE has offered freshman admission this fall to more than 1,200 applicants, up 44% from last year’s ‘admits’. Yet far fewer will show up in September.

    The department is not expecting the cohort of incoming students to be very different from the 200 first-year undergraduates who made up the freshman class for the 2013-14 academic year. (Shown above, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla at right, with some of the incoming freshmen who showed up in August 2013 to get an early taste of CSE and campus life in the department's residential Summer Program for Incoming Students, or SPIS.). Many applicants to CSE are among the highest-ranking applicants to UC San Diego, so a large number will end up selecting a different top school on their wish list. Furthermore, there is a limit on the number of students that CSE can let in. “Two-hundred students is the upper limit set by impaction,” says CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta (pictured below), referring to the current cap on the number of students allowed to major in computer science or computer engineering, to prevent overcrowding. “As a result, even with nearly 400 more admits than last year, the department is expecting to welcome roughly the same actual number of freshmen [this September] as last year.”

    Assuming that the freshman class is limited to 200 students, they would represent only 4% of the applicant pool this year. Students who were admitted to UCSD but not allowed to major in computer science or computer engineering could still come – they would just have to switch to a non-impacted major.

    Although admission statistics are not an accurate reflection of the number of freshmen arriving on campus, they can be illustrative in relative terms. For example, this year at least one out of four students offered admission to the Jacobs School of Engineering was offered admission to CSE, which accounts for 5% of total campus-wide admits.  Comparing departments based on the largest number of admission offers, the top three for Fall 2014 were, in order, Economics, CSE, and Mathematics. (The comparison excludes the Division of Biological Sciences, whose admission figures were published at the divisional rather than departmental level.)

    With the jump in applications this year, the CSE department is preparing for a rising tide of freshmen over the next few years. "The department has planned to offer nearly 190 courses throughout the year, compared to a rated capacity of 142,” says the CSE chair. “We have hired lecturers and professors to meet the demand, but we’re also gated by the availability of class-room space." As Gupta recalls, last fall CSE classes occupied every single lecture hall on the campus with 200-or-more capacity for two days of the week.

    Meanwhile, campus officials are tabulating admission figures for transfer students. What we know so far is that, like with incoming freshmen, applications were through the roof: up nearly 50% to 1,110 for this fall, with one in every three applicants to the Jacobs School applying to CSE. Admission figures for transfer students are due soon.

    Looking to the campus overall, the university anticipates enrolling a diverse freshman class of 4,900 students with an average 4.13 GPA (up fractionally from a year ago).

    “We are proud to welcome this bright and dynamic group of students to UC San Diego,” says Khosla. “As a student-centered public university, it is our goal to provide opportunities and a world-class education to these amazingly accomplished and talented students from diverse backgrounds.”

    UC San Diego has offered admission to 9% more students who are the first in their family to attend college, and to 4% more students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Compared to a year ago, admission letters went out to approximately 8% more Chicano/Latino students – the fastest-growing ethnic group among California high school graduates – offsetting a drop in the number of African-American applicants offered admission compared to Fall 2013.

    Graduating high school students now have until May 1 to indicate whether they will attend UC San Diego this fall, but it’s not until the freshmen arrive that the department will get a precise fix on the size of CSE’s Class of ’18.

  • 'Poster Boys' for Computer Science and Engineering

    The Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo 2014 is now history, including heavy turnout of visitors eager to stroll through the crowded aisles between roughly 200 research posters. Graduate students provided commentary on their respective posters, and in the end, a panel of judges awarded first prizes and honorable mentions for each of the six Jacobs School departments. CSE's Best Poster award went to Matthew Jacobsen (at left), who works in the lab of Prof. Ryan Kastner. Jacobsen's topic: "Hardware-Accelerated Online Boosting for Tracking." Tracking gestures or autonomous cars require input from tracking systems, and it gets harder if there is simultaneous, real-time tracking of multiple targets. Jacobsen tested two hardware-accelerated architectures (GPU vs FPGA) against how software only performs. The GPU design did better than software only, but the FPGA design was able to track a single target at 1,160 frames per second -- a 68-time speed-up compared to software only.

    The CSE student earning an Honorable Mention was Nima Nizad (at right), who works with Prof. Bill Griswold on continuous, wireless health and exposure monitoring systems and the challanges that arise when building such systems. Nikzad's poster focused on "APE", an annotation language and middleware for energy-efficient mobile application development. The grad student did a case study using APE annotations in a real mobile-sensing application, which showed that "annotations can cleanly specify a power management policy and reduce the complexity of their implementation." A paper by the same name has been accepted to the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2014), slated for Hyderabad, India at the beginning of June.

    Read Matthew Jacobsen's poster abstract.   
    View the abstract for Nima Nikzad's poster.

  • Apply to Moxie Center Incubator Program and Compete for $20,000

    There's still time for UC San Diego student startups to apply for the Moxie Center Incubator Program in order to be eligible to compete in this year's $20,000 Zahn Prize competition on May 21. The deadline for applications is this Wednesday, April 23 at noon. For more on the Zahn Prize, see below. Separately, last week the Entrepreneur's Academy kicked off its pilot program, "Startup Your Idea: An Experiential Class in Entrepreneurship." Some two-dozen students were in attendance, many of whom came with ideas that they were ready to jump-start into action. Students were introduced to effective customer interview strategies, and were then assigned to interview at least five prospective customers for the next class meeting. This is an important facet of the course, as students are encouraged to take what they learned and put it into action, "getting out of the building" for hands-on experience. Some upcoming topics include team and company formation,  intellectual property, competitive analysis, and funding.

    Read more about the Zahn Prize competition.
    Learn about the Entrepreneur's Academy course, Startup Your Idea.

  • Computer Software Accurately Predicts Student Test Performance

    Results of a new study led by CSE alumnus Jacob Whitehill (Ph.D., '12) demonstrates that a real-time, automatic method for identifying and analyzing facial expressions can perform with an accuracy comparable to that of human observers when tracking how engaged students are in the classroom. (Pictured at left: Student engagement levels are tracked in real time by the automatic system for recognizing facial expressions; photo copyright 2014 IEEE.) The study also revealed that engagement levels were a better predictor of students' post-test performance that the students' pre-test scores.

    Whitehill is the first author on the paper "The Faces of Engagement: Automatic Recognition of Student Engagement," which was published April 15 in the early online edition of the journal IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing. Whitehill -- who now works at Emotient, Inc., a startup he co-founded with the paper's senior author, Javier Movellan -- did much of his work on the study while part of the Machine Perception Laboratory in Calit2's Qualcomm Institute (co-directed by Movellan). The project was funded, in part, by the UCSD-based Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC), led by CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell. TDLC also enabled the key partnership between Movellan and another co-author on the paper, Virginia Commonwealth professor of developmental psychology Zewelanji Serpell, because both are PIs on TDLC's Social Interaction Network. In addition to Movellan, Whitehill and Serpell, the study’s co-authors include  Yi-Ching Lin and Aysha Foster from the department of psychology at Virginia State.

    “Automatic recognition of student engagement could revolutionize education by increasing understanding of when and why students get disengaged,” said Whitehill (pictured below right). “Automatic engagement detection provides an opportunity for educators to adjust their curriculum for higher impact, either in real time or in subsequent lessons. Automatic engagement detection could be a valuable asset for developing adaptive educational games, improving intelligent tutoring systems and tailoring massive open online courses, or MOOCs.” 

    The study consisted of training an automatic detector, which measures how engaged a student appears in a webcam video while undergoing cognitive skills training on an iPad®. The study used automatic expression recognition technology to analyze students’ facial expressions on a frame-by-frame basis and estimate their engagement level. “This study is one of the most thorough to date in the application of computer vision and machine learning technologies for automatic student engagement detection,” said Javier Movellan. “The possibilities for its application in education and beyond are tremendous. By understanding what parts of a lecture, conversation, game, advertisement or promotion produced different levels of engagement, an individual or business can obtain valuable feedback to fine-tune the material to something more impactful.”

    Read the full news release.
    Read  "The Faces of Engagement" article on the Machine Perception Laboratory website.
    Visit the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center website.

  • Computer Scientist Has Underwater (3D) Vision

    In its April 14 edition, the UTSanDiego featured an article about "Scientists set to roam the world" this summer. "If you toss a dart at a map of the world, there's a good chance it'll land in a region where scientists from San Diego County will do research this summer," wrote science editor Gary Robbins, adding that "summer field research is a cherished part of science." Case in point: the first researcher featured in the article was CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner, who is photographed (at right) displaying an underwater stereo camera system that he developed for producing 3D reconstructions of underwater objects. Kastner "will use high-resolution imaging tools in June to help archaeologists map Mayan ruins in Guatemala and a sunken ship in Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay Underwater Park," according to the article. Kastner will be joined on the Lake Tahoe expedition by undergraduate participants in the Engineers for Exploration program, which is co-directed by Kastner.

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