Course attracts computer science students over spring break

During spring break, 20 students from around the nation gave up their holiday to participate in a novel, one-week class at Oregon State University on artificial intelligence.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the goal of the course, titled “Monte Carlo Methods in Artificial Intelligence,” was to get undergraduate computer science students interested in research.

Lorelei Lee, a junior in computer science at the University of West Florida, and Alex Clemmer, a junior in computer science at the University of Utah, work on their project during a week-long artificial intelligence course at Oregon State University in March 2012.

About 200 students applied for the limited spaces available, and included sophomores and juniors ranging from the University of Utah and University of Illinois at Chicago to the California Institute of Technology, Tufts University and also OSU.

“We introduced the students to state-of-the art research in a very short amount of time,” said Prasad Tadepalli, professor of computer science and co-organizer of the course. “We wanted to show them new areas of artificial intelligence research including applications in ecology, computer games, air traffic control, and disease surveillance.”

OSU faculty teaching the course included Tadepalli and computer science professors Tom Dietterich, Alan Fern and Weng-Keen Wong, and mechanical engineering professor Kagan Tumer. They discussed their research while students worked on relevant projects.

Alex Clemmer, a junior at the University of Utah, said he was drawn to the course because of the research talent at OSU and especially the opportunity to learn from both his peers and computer science professor Tom Dietterich, a process he called “intellectual ventilation.”

“I would never pass up the opportunity to spend time with smart people,” Clemmer said.

Clemmer is especially interested in large-scale statistical inference in processing data.

“For example, Google processes billions of queries each day,” explained Clemmer. “This is something we have never dealt with before and this creates new and interesting problems to solve.”

Lorelei Lee, who is a junior at the University of West Florida, also works full time as a reliability and maintainability analyst for ManTech, the fifth largest defense contractor for the Navy.

“Artificial intelligence helps us develop tools to analyze large amounts of data,” said Lee. “This helps us make better decisions where I work in weapons systems development.”

Lee, an older-than-average student, said she was very impressed with the students she met during the week. “I was blown away by these youngsters with their talent and energy,” she said. “The future looks great.”

OSU educators said they hope that these students will eventually attend graduate school, either at OSU or elsewhere.

“Our AI faculty at OSU are the leaders in this field and want to cultivate the next generation of leaders,” said Terri Fiez, head of the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

~ Gail Sumida

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