NDSU student team takes second place at ‘MechMania’ competition

October 2011
The NDSU student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (NDSU ACM) recently took second place in a national programming competition. The group participated in “MechMania” at the annual “Reflections | Projections” ACM conference held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Oct. 7-9.

MechMania is a 24-hour artificial intelligence programming competition of which the NDSU ACM has been a perennial competitor. The contest is an outstanding learn-by-doing experience that prepares competitors for the deadline pressures of the workplace.

This year, MechMania teams developed artificial intelligence players for “Thrust Wars,” a game in which players must control their fleet of “Asteroids” style space ships and score points by gathering resources, building ships, refineries and bases while battling or destroying the other team’s ships, refineries and bases.

NDSU’s PiRho team of students Zechariah Andersen, Benjamin Bechtold and Justin Anderson took second place in a photo finish to a team from UIUC.

“The MechMania competition gave us good insight on how to rapidly develop software efficiently,” said Andersen, a junior from Velva, N.D. Bechtold, a senior from Velva, N.D., described the experience as a great way to get ready for upcoming career challenges. “This competition helped me prepare for the job market,” he said. “I was able to collaborate with a team to solve problems and implement solutions.”

For Anderson, a senior from Frazee, Minn., the competition held important lessons. “Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was it built by one person. Working with Zech and Ben at MechMania taught me that teamwork is crucial for success, especially when time is a big factor,” he said.

Team members received an Amazon Kindle along with 100GB of space from Dropbox for life as prizes for placing second.

The team was sponsored, in part, by the NDSU Department of Computer Science.

For more details on NDSU ACM events, visit www.acm.ndsu.nodak.edu or http://ndacm.org/.

Interactive device research, media effects lab effort receive funding

September 15, 2011
The National Science Foundation has presented a $300,000 grant to NDSU to develop new interfaces for interactive devices such as smart phones and tablets and start building a media effects lab to benefit social scientific work at the university.

The project, titled "MRI: Development of a Cross-Platform Infrastructure for Natural Interaction Research," is led by principal investigator Jun Kong, assistant professor of computer science. Co-principal investigators are Nan Yu, assistant professor of communication; Jing Shi, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering; and John Cook, interim chair/head of industrial and manufacturing engineering.

"The primary objective of this proposal is to develop a cross-platform infrastructure that supports the research of natural interaction," said Kong. "This infrastructure, when applying to different computing and communication devices, will provide a new way of human-computer interaction by automatically choosing the optimal modalities under various interaction scenarios. It provides the necessary instruments for developing novel interfaces, especially on newly released mobile devices."

According to Yu, the research group will build a media effects lab that allows NDSU scholars and students to investigate a variety of new technologies and media, and observe how users may interact with them.

"This grant will be used to carry out research on designing new interfaces for devices like smart phones or tablet PCs which may improve the interaction between users and electronic devices," Yu said. "Additionally, the grant allows us to examine the usability and effectiveness of these new designs and to understand how they could be modified to adjust to various needs in different interaction contexts. It is our hope that this grant can support the enhancement of creativities and innovations related to research on new interaction devices."

In a notification communication dated Sept. 9, John C. Robey, NSF grants and agreements officer, said the grant is effective Sept. 15 and expires on Aug. 31, 2014.

Ron Vetter gives ACM Distinguished Lecture

September 14, 2011
Ron Vetter gives ACM Distinguished Lecture 'Building Mobile Phone Applications'

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 2 p.m. Dr. Ron Vetter gave an ACM Distinguished Lecture in IACC 104. Vetter's talk described the development of interactive short message service applications, which range from simple data access applications to a novel discovery game designed for the freshman experience. Several of these applications are now being sold commercially via a novel technology transfer agreement with the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In addition, several iPhone applications also have been developed. A discussion of the relative advantages, costs and lessons learned while developing mobile phone applications was presented.

Dr. Vetter spent the day on campus, visiting faculty and students, and renewing old acquaintances. The lecture was well-attended.

The trip was sponsored by the national ACM speaker service, and the NDSU student chapter of the ACM. NDSU’s ACM invited the MIS student organization; the ECE student organization; the MSUM chapter of the ACM; as well as extending an informal invitation to the students of Concordia College. The CS department extended an open invitation to the Microsoft campus, which led to the involvement of Tim Brookins, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, at an after-talk meeting with Vetter and a number of students, including the ACM SIG-Mobi group.

Dr. Vetter earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from NDSU and his doctorate in computer science from the University of Minnesota. He has published more than 100 journal, conference and technical papers. He has served as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on grants and contracts exceeding $5 million dollars.

Fargo's Microsoft campus hosts Digi-Girlz technology camp

August 6, 2011
Fargo's Microsoft campus hosted its fifth Digi-Girlz technology camp in August hosting 130 girls between 13-17 years old, making it one of the largest field camps in the country. The attendees came from five states — North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, California and Nevada. Over 600 girls have attended the camp through the years in Fargo.

The purpose of the camp is to expose high school girls to the many careers technology can offer. Digi-Girlz offers hands-on experiences including Xbox game testing, Microsoft Studio broadcasting and product development and marketing. There are tours, workshops/panels and a keynote speaker. This year's keynote speaker was NDSU's Amy Ruley, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.

Why It Matters — according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology:

  • Girls comprised 46% of Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus test-takers, but only 19% of AP Computer Science test-takers.
  • Women hold 56% of all professional occupations in the U.S. workforce, but only 25% of IT occupations.
  • Only 11% of executives at Fortune 500 tech companies are women.
  • In 2009, just 18% of undergraduate Computing and Information Sciences degrees were awarded to women; in 1985, women earned 37% of these degrees.
  • Tech companies with more women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment; the presence of women on technical teams increases teams’ collective intelligence (problem-solving ability and creativity).

About one in five undergraduate degrees in computing and information sciences are awarded to women — a figure that's been halved since the mid-80s.

From the Fargo Forum on Saturday, August 6, 2011, regarding women in technology and what the Computer Science department is doing:

"Brian Slator, head of the Department of Computer Science at North Dakota State University, said in an email that the dearth of women who pursue the field is sometimes called a 'vicious cycle': a shortage of female students leads in technical areas to a shortage of female faculty and role models, which further discourages female students from enrolling.

He said the department has made extra efforts to recruit and retain female faculty to buck the trend. Women currently hold five of the department's 14 full-time faculty positions."

Wolfgang Banzhaf presented "From Artificial Evolution to Computational Evolution"

July 2011
The July monthly seminar series featured Wolfgang Banzhaf, a University Research Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, Canada. His presentation entitled "From Artificial Evolution to Computational Evolution" was on July 16. He showed that in the past 50 years Computer Scientists and Engineers have been very successful in gleaning recipes from Natural Evolution. However, with the advent of Genome Biology, there have been many new discoveries in Biology that are not yet reflected in computational models of evolution. Prof. Banzhaf discussed some of the more recent developments in Biology, and outlined how they might possibly influence our thinking about algorithms.

College of Science and Mathematics Honor's Day Celebration

The Honor's Day celebration held annually by the College of Science and Mathematics had a different format this year. The event was hosted by Dean Kevin McCaul as a coffee and dessert gathering rather than a luncheon, although the other aspects of the afternoon remained according to tradition.

The affair began with remarks by the Provost, followed by short statement from Michael Ginsbach of Hankinson, ND, who visited Antarctica on a recent expedition. Then the dessert line formed. After dessert, student awards were handed out. This was followed by a short presentation by Dr. Craig Stockwell on the subject of short term evolution titled "Evolution in Action".

For the Computer Science department, six students along with several parents, joined Dr. Brian Slator (department head) and Joan Krush (department advisor and lecturer). Names were called, and each student in attendance was introduced to the assembled crowd while receiving a certificate of achievement.

The Computer Science department awarded 5 Microsoft Undergraduate Scholarships as well as 18 awards through the Collaboration for Scholarships in Computer, Information Sciences and Engineering (CoCise) Program, a National Science Foundation grant program that ends after this year.

The ceremony was attended by a number of notable dignitaries, including NDSU Provost Dr. Craig Schnell, Vice President for Research Dr. Phil Boudjouk, Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Prakash Mathew, as well as representatives of donor families, and the NDSU Development Foundation.

Anne Denton named James A. Meier Junior Professor

May 2011
Congratulations to Anne Denton on receiving the James A Meier Junior Professorship for the College of Science and Mathematics. The Meier Professorships are funded through the generosity of James A. Meier, a graduate of the College and North Dakota State University. The award winner carries the title, James A. Meier Junior Professor, plus receives $2500 for a three-year term (Fall semester 2011 through Spring semester 2014). The professor is referred to as a James A. Meier Junior Professor for life. It recognizes either an associate or assistant professor who has contributed to teaching through his or her research program.

Dr. Denton's research is largely comprised of developing data mining techniques for diverse problems ranging from bioinformatics to optical luminescence. As such her work balances the theoretical underpinnings of clustering algorithms to the applied discovery of gene and protein sequences.

As a consequence, in just a few years Anne Denton has published nearly 40 peer-reviewed journal and conference publications, and has participated in eight funded research grants: five internal and three external, four as PI. Equally impressive, these publications and grant awards represent at least five fundamentally different and highly varied research domains.

Dean Knudson wins Peltier Award

April 2011
Our congratulations go to Dean Knudson, associate professor of computer science, for receiving the Peltier Award for Teaching Innovation. Dean replaced Elvin Isgrig in 2004 as coordinator of the capstone program. Capstone projects pair students with industry and government to give them real life experiences. The students work in teams and use their technical knowledge on projects for their assigned business.

Dean estimates 250 students have participated in Capstone. He continues to take them to a higher level as he adds more companies and projects.

Brian Slator, professor and department head of computer science, says "Over the years, this course has been refined and expanded, following industry initiatives, and providing students with authentic 'learn-by-doing' experiences using modern tools and methods borrowed from the regional companies that sponsor the projects," Slator wrote. "Students do real projects for real companies, drawing on their NDSU course work and training in order to effectively learn company methods and tools."

To read the announcement, go to http://www.ndsu.edu/news/view/article/10873/. This website lists the previous Peltier award winners http://www.ndsufoundation.com/grantsawards/peltier.htm.

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