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  • CSE Hosts Inaugural New Computer Science Faculty Workshop

    CSE teaching faculty Beth Simon and Leo Porter, along with Mark Guzdial (Georgia Tech) and Cynthia Lee (Stanford), led a new annual workshop devised to help new faculty excel in teaching.  Starting with a keynote address from Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, participants plunged into a fast-paced series of activities and lessons on evidence-based teaching practices.

    Fundamentally, the goal of the workshop is to help newly-hired CS faculty be better and more efficient teachers. By providing new faculty with a small number of effective teaching practices before their first year, the workshop aims to:

    1. Make teaching more efficient for new faculty, so that they save time for research;
    2. Make their teaching more effective (e.g., improved student learning); and,
    3. Make teaching more enjoyable and increase teacher confidence.

    “I can't believe how much actionable knowledge I picked up about teaching in just a day and a half,” said one participant, speaking to the value of the workshop.

    Organizer Leo Porter was impressed with the level of engagement on the part of faculty. “Our participants could not have possibly given us better feedback,” said Porter. “That was precisely our goal.  We are very impressed by all our participants’ dedication to their students and willingness to adopt new practices for their students’ benefit.”

    The workshop aimed for a small audience in its first year and saw eight faculty from around the country come together for two intense days of activities.  CSE Assistant Professor Julian McAuley was among the attendees.  After the workshop, participants will receive continuing support from the organizers and their peers.

    The workshop is funded by the National Science Foundation and mirrors highly successful workshops in other STEM disciplines, many of which have been running for decades. 

  • Campus Supports CSE Initiative to Serve Students Interested in Computational Sciences

    In an era of restrictions on the number of freshman and transfer students accepted into computer science and engineering majors, the CSE department has embarked on what it calls a "targeted effort to build and disseminate resources for students interested in studying the computational sciences at UC San Diego." The project recently received a $75,000 grant following a highly competitive round of proposals submitted to the university's Academic Advising Innovation Grant Initiative.

    Principal investigators Mia Minnes (pictured at right), who is a CSE Assistant Teaching Professor, and CSE Student Affairs Director Lynne Keith-McMullin were notified of the selection committee's decision in late June. According to Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez, the committee "awarded those proposals that most clearly demonstrated sustainability and impact on student retention and success."

    With the new grant, Minnes and Keith-McMullin will develop a brochure and online, interactive resource available to prospective and current students interested in computational sciences with information they should take into consideration before picking a major. They will also engage an interdepartmental group of UC San Diego faculty, advisers, current students and alumni to reach out to local community colleges and high schools to host informational events, while also staging community briefing sessions, e.g., on Triton Day and Transfer Admit Day.

    "The end goal of this initiative is to encourage students to consider their career goals and find the best majors to attain them," said Prof. Minnes. "We will engage advisers across campus to build the resources they need to advise their students who are interested in computational sciences. The colleges at UC San Diego are major advising partners and this project will strengthen the connection between them and departments.” 

    The most obvious alternate majors might include Biology (for computational biology or bioinformatics), and Cognitive Science, which has a specialization in computation. Roughly a dozen other alternatives range from Mathematics and Physics to Biology, Music and Visual Arts. They include the recently launched major in Speculative Design, and the pending Data Sciences majors proposed by CSE and Mathematics.

    Prior to submitting the grant proposal, CSE staged several information sessions to convey the new goals-based approach to advising students interested in computational sciences. "The feedback in assessments was very positive from those attendees who filled out the survey," added McMullin, "even from those students who came to the realization that another major was a better fit for their academic and long-term goals."

    Even as more students are channeled to other majors, CSE is making it possible for many more students from across campus to take classes offered by the department. "CSE is committed to serving all students, who can take computer science courses and study computer science material," noted Keith-McMullin. "Our class enrollments have tripled as we make room for everyone to explore the CSE major" in courses that in some cases require few or no pre-requisites.

  • UC San Diego Ranked #4 Among U.S. Public Universities

    New rankings name UC San Diego the fourth best public university in the U.S. and the 21st best university in the world. The rankings by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) are based on quality of research, faculty, influence, enterprise and successful alumni.

    The fourth annual global rankings also list UC San Diego as the 16th best university in the U.S. among both private and public colleges. In the category of “influence,” which measures the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals, UC San Diego places as the fifth best university in the world.

    The methodology for CWUR’s 2015 rankings analyzed the world’s top 1,000 universities, measuring eight indicators designed to give the most accurate assessment of their quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of faculty members and quality of their research. According to CWUR, the rankings do not rely on opinion-based surveys, but instead rely on a purely data-driven approach to measure academic and research excellence.

    In addition to its fifth-place finish for influence, UC San Diego also ranks highly in the categories of broad impact (15th), citations (15th), publications (16th), patents (17th) and quality of faculty (19th). The only area where UC San Diego fell among the bottom half of the 1,000 universities was in 'alumni employment', which is based on the number of alumni who have held CEO positions at the world's top companies relative to the university's size.

    Read the complete list of CWUR’s top 1,000 universities in the world.

  • Computational Biologist Faculty-Affiliate Joins UC San Diego

    UC San Diego recently announced the hiring of computational biologist Jill Mesirov as associate vice chancellor for computational health sciences, with a primary appointment in the School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center. But now the CSE department has appointed Mesirov as a faculty-affiliate as well. Until recently, the heavy hitter in academia and industry directed the computational biology and bioinformatics programs at the Broad Institute, a partnership of MIT and Harvard. Before that, she managed computational biology and bioinformatics at IBM.

    Mesirov’s own research focuses on applying machine-learning methods to functional genomics data in two main areas: cancer and infectious disease. In cancer, Mesirov’s team is analyzing molecular data to determine the underlying biological mechanisms of specific tumor subtypes and to stratify patients according to their relative risks of relapse. In infectious disease, her team is using functional data to better understand the host-pathogen relationship in malaria, as well as to identify biomarkers for differential diagnosis of viral and bacterial diseases and biomarkers of vaccine efficacy.

    In addition to applying computational methods to biomedical research, Mesirov is committed to developing “biologist-friendly” software tools and making them freely accessible to the entire biomedical research community. To this end, her team has developed several popular analysis and visualization software packages, such as Gene Set Enrichment Analysis, GenePattern and the Integrative Genomics Viewer. These tools are used by tens of thousands of investigators worldwide to aid in their research.

  • Bellare, Co-authors Honored for Paper on Encryption vs. Mass Surveillance

    On Tuesday, June 30 in Philadelphia, CSE Prof. Mihir Bellare was among the recipients of the 2015 Privacy-Enhancing Technologies Award. The ceremony was part of the annual Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PET) Symposium. The award honored the three co-authors of a 2014 paper on "Security of Symmetric Encryption Against Mass Surveillance." In their paper, Bellare and his co-authors Phillip Rogaway from UC Davis and Kenneth Paterson at Royal Holloway University of London, described how they were "motivated by revelations concerning population-wide surveillance of encrypted communications" by the National Security Agency, as disclosed in documents released by Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks. [Picturedt: UCSD's Bellare, at left, and Rogaway from UC Davis accepting the PET Award in Philadelphia.] 

    In their paper, Bellare and his colleagues formalized and investigated the resistance of symmetric encryption schemes to mass surveillance, focusing primarily on one type: so-called algorithm-substitution attacks, or ASAs. This involves "big brother" replacing an existing algorithm for encryption with a subverted encryption algorithm. The computer scientists offered both attacks and defenses to ASAs. Among the latter, they showed "how to design symmetric encryption schemes that avoid [ASA] attacks and meet our notion of security."

  • CSE Professor Launches Online Courses in Interaction Design

    Learners around the world, regardless of background, will have the opportunity online to learn how to design great user experiences and what it takes to design technologies that “bring people joy rather than frustration.” The courses were developed by University of California, San Diego Professor Scott Klemmer, who will begin teaching the sequence of seven online courses on “Interaction Design” on the Coursera platform on June 24.

    CSE Prof. Klemmer (pictured) is also a professor of cognitive science in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences.The sequence of courses is the first offered by UC San Diego on Coursera since the platform began offering specializations in 2014 for closely related courses – allowing students to master a skill and apply it to a capstone project. Although the courses do not count for credit at UC San Diego, students passing all the courses and getting a Verified Certificate for each can complete a capstone project to earn a Specialization Certificate that demonstrates mastery over the broader skillset.

    “Design is a critical component of the development process in every industry, so we took this opportunity to create a sequence of courses open to everyone, with no particular background required,” said Klemmer, who is also associate director of the Design Lab at UC San Diego. “We are also delighted to be partnering with Instagram co-founder and Director of Engineering Mike Krieger.” Instagram’s Krieger helped Klemmer (his former professor) create the requirements for the final capstone project: to design a creative, end-to-end social user experience using professional interaction design and user-experience (UX) tools. Krieger and Klemmer will judge the projects and provide personalized feedback to the creators of the best designs.

    “Here you get to do an open-ended project where you get to show the world and yourself what you can do with all these design materials,” said Klemmer. “This is a great opportunity to put together a portfolio piece or something you can use to impress your family and friends, or get a job in the design field.”

    The full sequence of courses is geared to students who want to be designers or product managers, but it’s open to anyone. Klemmer covers key elements in the design process. “We start out with need-finding, go through rapid prototyping, make something that is higher fidelity, and test it both in-person and online,” explains Klemmer. “Then students can revise and iterate while polishing the design. Students will be able to experience the whole cycle in the specialization.”  Students learn techniques for brainstorming and generating ideas, how to prototype designs rapidly before implementing them, and how to gather meaningful feedback from users. Students also learn principles of effective visual design, perception and cognition, and how to organize a team’s design process to maximize creative output.

    The seven courses will cover: Human-Centered Design: An Introduction; Design Principles: An Introduction; Social Computing; input and Interaction; User Experience Design; Information Design; and Designing, Running and Analyzing Experiments. The courses are self-paced, with an estimated workload of 10-12 hours per week. The lectures are pre-recorded and they don’t have to be taken in order, although initially only the first two courses are available. Course three is due in July, course four in August, and the remaining courses in the fall.

  • Adjunct CSE Professor Divulges Google's Network Strategy

    This week Google partially lifted the curtain of secrecy surrounding the homegrown network architecture it built over the past decade to handle the massive amount of Internet traffic through the search giant's servers. To divulge the details, Google selected an adjunct CSE professor to go public. Amin Vahdat, who started advising Google while he was still teaching at UC San Diego and leading the university's Center for Networked Systems (CNS), is now a full-time Google Fellow and Technical Lead for Networking at the company, and he remains an adjunct member of the CSE faculty. [Vahdat is pictured below during the 2013 CNS Research Review.]

    Vahdat gave a presentation at the 2015 Open Network Summit on June 17, "revealing for the first time the details of five generations of our in-house network technology," according to Google. While Vahdat was careful about not divulging too many proprietary details, he presented a first look into Google's data center network design and implementation, focusing on the data, control and management plane principles underpinning five generations of our network architecture." Vahdat told the conference that around 2005, the hardware didn't exist that Google required to build a network of the size and speed the company needed. So  instead of buying networking from companies such as Cisco Systems, Google designed its own equipment and had it made to order in Asia and elsewhere. Today, he said, Google designs 100 percent of the networking hardware used inside its data centers. As a result, the company has been able to boost the capacity of a single datacenter network more than 100-fold in 10 years. The current generation of cluster switches, called Jupiter, provide about 40 terabits of bandwidth per second, the equivalent of 40 million home Internet connections. That capability, Vahdat said, is critical to meeting Google's bandwidth and scale demands that are growing exponentially -- doubling approximately every year.

    Timed to coincide with his talk, Vahdat posted an article on the Google Cloud Platform blog. "Our datacenter networks are shared infrastructure," he wrote. "This means that the same networks that power all of Google's internal infrastructure and services also power Google Cloud Platform. We are most excited about opening this capability up to developers across the world so that the next great Internet service or platform can leverage world-class network infrastructure without having to invent it."

    The hallmark of Google's network approach involved moving the complexity out of the hardware and into the software -- so-called software-defined networking -- which allowed the company to build complex networks on top of relatively cheap and abundant microchips. "Taken together, our network control stack has more in common with Google's distributed computing architectures than traditional router-centric Internet protocols," added Vahdat. "Some might even say that we've been deploying and enjoying the benefits of software-defined networking at Google for a decade... these systems come from our early work in datacenter networking." While Vahdat was talking about Google's early work specifically, it's clear that his own early work in CSE and the Center for Networked Systems pointed to the importance of software-defined networking for datacenters -- and he put theory into practice when given the opportunity to create what may be the largest computer network in the world... giving CSE some bragging rights by association. 

  • CSE Student Turn Satellite Images into Policy Analysis

    Recently, over 50 students – 17 of them from CSE – showed up for the day-long Big Pixel Hackathon organized by the Qualcomm Institute's Big Pixel Initiative (BPI) to showcase what can happen when you let students loose on the largest private collection of high-resolution satellite imagery on earth. The three interdisciplinary winning teams each had at least one member from the CSE department, and students tackled subjects ranging from urban slums and natural disasters to human traficking and illegal fishing.

    UC San Diego is one of only two universities offered free access to the entire DigitalGlobe Basemap archive for one year. In addition to nine faculty projects approved so far, the BPI staged a May 23 hackathon that was unlike most hackathons. The teams were not asked to come up with a finished app or clean-cut solution, but rather, to ask big policy questions that might be addressed with satellite imagery that is accurate down to a resolution of half a meter (about 16 inches). Depending on the research question resolved by each team, they were given access to download specific image tiles from the earth database, covering areas including Tijuana and San Diego, French Polynesia, Gujarat and Mumbai in India, oil and gas regions in Texas and Alberta, Canada, Brazil, and so on.

    CSE’s graduate and undergraduate students accounted for the largest number in the hackathon. The next largest contingent after CSE's 17 came from Economics, with eight students. The hackathon distributed $1,500 in cash prizes to the 13 members of the three winning teams.

    In the first category, teams competed to come up with the Best Research Question. The diverse group included CSE sophomore Liz Izhikevich. The team looked at whether satellite images can help predict the impact of small-scale fisheries on the environment. The team came up with a neat computer vision-based solution for detecting hotspots of activity by small fishing boats, often in places where fishing is supposed to be restricted.

    The Most Compelling Visualization/Strategy award went to a five-member team including CSE Master's student Dev Agarwal.  The team set out to track unregistered (i.e., possibly illegitimate) global sea traffic. In principle, this would include the identification of ships carrying migrants (they showed one example of a ship in the Mediterranean crowded with passengers – visible even from a satellite in space).

    Finally, the prize for Most Insightful Discovery went to a team including graduating senior Kevin Hung, a double major in CSE and Mathematics (who is also co-founder of the relatively new Data Science Student Society at UC San Diego). Hung and colleagues asked why some areas recover from natural disaster more quickly than others. The team looked at before-and-after satellite images for differences in color and shape, particularly focusing on the rate at which vegetation grows back. Looking at satellite images of hard-hit Tacloban City before and after Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines in November 2013, they came up with a “compute disaster damage” index applied to the before-and-after images. They also looked at other factors that are likely to have an impact on the speed of recovery, ranging from median incomes (which spell faster recovery) to census data.

    On June 17-18, experts from the Big Pixel Initiative including Jessica Block and Ran Goldblatt will visit Digital Globe headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO, to deliver a preliminary report on the UCSD projects that are using Basemap imagery. By next March, Digital Globe will decide whether to continue, expand or disband the university's free access to the Basemap.

  • $2 Million Gift from Alumnus Supports Computer Science Undergraduate Engineering Education at UC San Diego

    A $2 million gift from a University of California, San Diego alumnus will provide critical support for undergraduate education in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The funds will help recruit, retain and support the professors and lecturers whose primary mission is to teach and mentor students.   

    “This gift goes to the heart of our mission: to transform the lives of our students through an exceptional educational experience provided in the classrooms and laboratories at UC San Diego. It’s extremely gratifying when an alumnus draws on the success achieved after graduation to ensure that the next generation of leaders and innovators will share all that we have to offer,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.

    “Today, we are celebrating our ability —thanks to this gift— to make a financial commitment to recognize the educators who engage and inspire our students,” said Rajesh Gupta, chair of computer science and engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

    [Watch a video on YouTube about the $2M gift.]

    The gift comes at a time of tremendous growth for the computer science department, now the largest in the University of California system, with close to 2,200 undergraduates enrolled as of fall 2014. The department is currently ranked 7th in the United States and 11th in the word, according to U.S. News and World Report.

    “I want to give the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego the resources it needs to teach students and the ability to serve as many aspiring students as possible,” said Taner Halicioglu (far left, with CSE chair Rajesh Gupta), the computer science alumnus who gave the generous $2 million gift. “These teachers truly inspire students.”

    Half of the gift will go to establish UC San Diego’s first-ever endowed chair for a teaching professor. The other half will go to attract and retain the best lecturers, allowing them to engage more with students, mentor them and develop new courses and programs.

    “We are working hard to engage all of our undergraduate computer science and engineering students in hands-on or experiential education, starting in their very first year,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “I am sincerely grateful for this gift. It will help our computer science educators innovate in their classrooms and teaching labs.”

    Giving Opportunities

    The Jacobs School of Engineering offers a variety of ways to support the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Please consider giving online to the CSE Engineering Tutor Program or the Paul R. Kube Chair of Computer Science. Honor your favorite teacher when you donate to the CSE Teaching Endowment Fund.

    Gift from an alumnus

    It was a lecturer who left the greatest impression on Halicioglu when he was an undergraduate majoring in computer science. He graduated from UC San Diego in 1996 with a bachelor of science and a passion for systems and data science. The lecturer was Keith Muller and he was working at ATT Labs while teaching here on campus. “He always had an anecdote from his work life about why you wanted to know what he was teaching you,” Halicioglu recalled. “I remember a good portion of the students stayed after class and talked to him.”

    Muller, who is now a Fellow and lead architect at Teradata, inspired Halicioglu to come back and teach in the department. Halicioglu currently teaches an undergraduate seminar in computer operations and production engineering, where he imparts some of the wisdom he’s gained over the years working in the tech industry. His resume includes stints at eBay, Facebook and Blizzard Entertainment, the popular video game company that created World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo.

    The purpose of the gift

    The Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego is home to 51 faculty, including four teaching professors, whose research focuses on computer science education rather than on a specific discipline of computer science. The gift funds a new $1 million endowed chair, named after retired teaching professor Paul Kube, to add a fifth teaching professor. It will be used as a recruiting tool to hire a teaching superstar, Gupta said. (Read more about the Kube teaching chair here.)

    “This gift allows us to attract phenomenal teachers to our ranks—excellent teachers from anywhere in the world,” Gupta said. “The market for teaching talent is extremely competitive. With the distinction that this new endowed chair affords, we hope we can tip the scales in our favor in attracting that talent.”

    In addition, Halicioglu said he wanted to give renowned and well-liked lecturers the ability to devote part of their time to activities beyond classroom teaching, such as mentoring students, training tutors, and developing new courses and programs. The gift establishes a $1 million endowment fund that will pay for at least two distinguished lecturerships each year. The lecturerships will be named at a later date. The lecturerships will relieve their recipients of teaching one course per quarter. The recipients will then have more time to focus on mentoring students and refining innovative teaching techniques in their classrooms.

  • UC San Diego Students Spend Summer in Japan on PRIME Program

    CSE undergraduate Michelle Wu is one of four UC San Diego students who will be spending the summer in Japan as part of the Pacific Rim Experiences for Undergraduates (PRIME) program. PRIME's internship program promotes undergraduate research experiences on projects related to cyberinfrastructure.

    Wu (at right) and three other students depart for Japan on June 20, where they will work with "host" mentors for 10 weeks while embedded in research organizations in Osaka or Nara. For Wu, who is going into her senior year, the host institution is Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) in Osaka, and her mentor is Dr. Jason Haga. Haga is a former postdoctoral fellow and project scientist in UC San Diego's Institute for Engineering in Medicine (IEM), but he left UCSD a year ago to be a senior researcher at NICT and Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). 

    Using an EEG scanner and 200-inch glasses-free 3D HD display, both developed at NICT, Wu aims to investigate how linking up a person's emotions can be supported by a virtual-reality application running on the 3D HD display. Emotions are invisible entities, so the end-goal is to build an artistic dynamic virtual environment, complete with audio and visual components, representative of the user's emotional state. Accompanied by samples of music by Mozart, the environment will be comprised of particles appearing in gradients of colors and moving at fluctuating speeds dependent on the type of emotion detected. Further exploration will be conducted as to whether or not placing the user in an environment constructed from his or her emotions can have a therapeutic effect (for example, might it induce the user to cheer up when he or she becomes aware of feeling unhappy?). The capabilities of this visual application will depend on which emotions can be distinguished with the EEG scanner.

    Wu will be joined at NICT in Osaka by Richard Hsiao, another PRIME student who is a senior majoring in Bioengineering. He will work on a browser-based disaster management application to run on SAGE2, a middleware that facilitates collaboration in shared display environments. The other two PRIME students will work at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Nara: Curtis Sera is a biochemistry/cell biology junior (with a minor in Japanese studies), and senior Nimish Pratha has dual majors in Physiology and Neuroscience. 

    Pictured are (l-r) Richard Hsiao, Nimish Pratha and Curtis Sera.

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