Sophomore Wins Prize to Support New App to Match Students with Social Causes
CSE sophomore Sneha Jayaprakash (at right) is passionate about two things: computer science, and social change. As part of the 2013 Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest, she developed a winning proposal for a mobile app to engage students with volunteerism and social issues - and Jayaprakash walked away with a $2,500 prize to get the project going with six fellow computer science majors. The prize money is in addition to $10,000 awarded to the project by the Microsoft Imagine Fund in February, so the team is revving up to turn the idea into a successful startup. "I've always been passionate about global issues," said Jayaprakash. "I wanted to show people that volunteer service is easy. You don't have to go overseas or make a big commitment. There are simple things you can do every day to make a difference."
The winning idea is a mobile app called Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U). Jayaprakash's app presents simple, service-related challenges for users to complete in order to earn rewards. The challenges are personalized to the interests and skills of the participant. In addition, users can compete with their friends and use their earned points to make real donations to a variety of nonprofits. "I thought, 'this is something unique we can do with our computer science education,'" said Jayaprakash. "Most people don't associate computer science with social activism." Added Winnie Xu, also a computer science student, who worked on the B2U app. "To be able to take what I'm learning in class and apply it to something I'm passionate about is really gratifying."
Recent CSE Alumna Makes Waves - Without Photo Filters - at Instagram
CSE alumna Brina Lee (BS Communications '08, MS Computer Science '13) was the first full-time female engineer hired at Instagram, and while she still works there, she is now playing in a much bigger pond following Facebook's acquisition of Instagram. In the latest edition of the magazine ELLE, Lee (at left) is quoted as saying, "It's great now that Instagram is a part of Facebook, so we can leverage all the women here!" After an undergraduate degree in communications, she worked in marketing, eventually at Yahoo! She taught herself HTML, and in 2010 began enrolling in classes through UC San Diego Extension. "I decided to enroll in part-time classes to build a foundation in computer science by learning Java," Lee wrote in the Huffington Post in October 2013. "I was surprised I was pretty good at it, but more importantly - I liked it."
CSE lecturer Rick Ord remembers Lee as a "pesky Extension student trying to get me to sign her Concurrent Enrollment through Extension add card for a CSE 11 that was full with a wait list." Lee needed the course on her resume, because she had decided to apply to CSE for graduate school. She passed muster successfully completing the core CS undergrad coursework while volunteer tutoring several undergrad classes, and she was accepted into the Master's program. She eventually earned her Master's degree in 2013, after TA'ing several undergrad classes and doing her main project with CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner. For her project, Lee built a "slouch detector" called Droop (pictured below), a wearable device to help identify bad posture. "It was 100% Brina's idea, and it spanned several computer science topics, including embedded systems, human-computer interaction, and mobile computing," says Kastner. "It also showed how computing can make an impact in everyday life."
While working on her MS degree, Lee did internships at Google and Facebook before getting her full-time engineering position at Instagram last April. She credits her degree and a Grace Hopper Scholarship Award for reinforcing her resume when applying for software engineering jobs. Lee regularly also attends the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and she openly bemoans the fact that women make up only 13% of all computer science graduates - a statement that is more powerful because it comes from a software engineer who did not get an undergraduate degree in computer science because of one "boring" class on coding in high school. Lee hopes more women will become engineers and computer scientists, and she expects it will become easier for women to get ahead in the tech world as more of them climb the corporate ladder. In her Q&A in ELLE magazine, Lee pointed to Jocelyn Golfein: "She's one of the highest engineering directors here at Facebook, and because Sheryl's at the top, I think all the male engineers here do look at women differently and allow us to go up the ladder."
Meanwhile, CSE faculty point out that in addition to enrolling more high school students in computer science, the department must find more ways to make it possible for late converts to change their majors and get into necessary courses if they need to catch up - especially when the department is dealing with an impacted major. Brina Lee is one reason "why I am a strong advocate to keep spots open in our impacted major for those who do not come in as a declared CSE major and find religion (computer science) later on," notes Ord. "They more often than not become some of our best majors." "It's never too early or too late to switch majors or careers," wrote Lee in the Huffington Post, "especially if it's what you're meant to do."
Oh, and if you're wondering which Instagram filter for photos is the CSE alumna's favorite, Brina Lee says... none. But she does have a favorite video filter; it's called Vesper.
Ph.D. Student Teaches Extension Course on Minecraft
The course began March 1 and is full, but here's a heads-up for students who may be interested in future classes. It's a course in UC San Diego Extension taught by CSE Ph.D. student Stephen Foster (at left) and built around the game Minecraft. The students are learning how to set up Minecraft servers and build Minecraft mods. In the process, they learn about client/server architecture, network security, operating systems and computer programming. The project-based course follows the broad outline of Foster's talk in late January on "why we use Minecraft to teach computer science (and why you should too)." Foster is also the CEO of student startup ThoughtSTEM, and co-creator of CodeSpells, a game to teach Java programming to students aged 8 to 18.
A total of 118 students turned out for the Winter 2014 programming competition for beginners, sponsored by Google and organized by the UC San Diego chapter of Women in Computing (men welcome too!). The contest was designed for undergraduates who are just getting started in programming. They worked in teams or on their own to answer a series of questions.
It's that time of year... time for the Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo. The Thursday, April 17 event will feature a roster of speakers - one from each of the six departments - and Computer Science and Engineering will be represented by Prof. Yoav Freund (at left), who is set to speak at 3:10pm in the Price Center Forum on the center's fourth floor. His topic: "Teaching Data Science." The talk dovetails with "Big Data Analytics," the CSE 291 course that Freund will teach in Spring 2014.
Research Expo is primarily a major showcase for graduate students, who will be presenting their research projects with over 200 research posters and a networking session where they can rub elbows with alumni and industry partners, i.e., potential employers and job contacts. A searchable list of all CSE grad-student posters is already up at the Research Expo website, but only registered attendees can view the poster abstracts.
UC San Diego Extension and UC-TV are organizing "Big Data at Work," featuring speakers including CSE Prof. Stefan Savage (at left), SDSC Director Mike Norman, Calit2 Director and CSE Prof. Larry Smarr, among others.
Stanford postdoc Dafna Shahaf will talk about several efforts to turn data into insight by addressing the challenges computationally. Her talk, "The Aha! Moment: From Data to Insight," is part of the CSE faculty candidate seminar series.
Calit2 and the INVNT/IP Global Consortium will host a workshop on "The Growing Value of Innovation and Intellectual Property as Drivers of the Global Economy." The sessions will focus primarily on issues related to safeguarding the conduit from university labs to IP protection.
Google researcher Mona Attariyan will deliver a public seminar on "Finding the Needle in the Haystack: How Dynamic Information Flow Analysis Can Help Diagnose Software Misconfigurations." She will also explain how this can reduce the human cost by reducing the time to recover from such problems.
Speaker Richard Szeliski is a Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research, where he leads the Interactive Visual Media Group. His talk will explore "Reflections on Image-Based Modeling and Rendering," a field that is rapidly changing as it has spawned consumer experiences such a panoramic VR photography, street-level and indoor immersive tours, and rich 3D navigation of photo collections.
As part of the Design at Large lecture series organized by CSE Prof. Scott Klemmer, UC Berkeley professor Ted Selker will talk about "Activities in Considerate Systems." He will introduce notions of "how we can introduce social awareness in our design practices and artifacts."
Have a notice about upcoming travel to conferences, etc., for the Faculty GPS column in our weekly CSE Newsletter? Be sure to let us know! Email Doug Ramsey at email@example.com.