Category: Grad Students

Briana Bettin, Asst. Prof., Part I: Neopets, HTML, Early Success

Briana Bettin, Ph.D., Computer Science: New Degree, New Position

By Karen S. Johnson, Communications Director, College of Computing

Michigan Tech Ph.D. graduate Briana Bettin, Computer Science, is among six new faculty members the College of Computing welcomed this fall. Bettin is an assistant professor for the Department of Computer Science, and an affiliated assistant professor for the Cognitive and Learning Sciences department.

She is teaching courses including CS1121 Introduction to Programming in C/C++, and pursuing research and other projects with faculty and students.

In August 2020, Bettin successfully defended her dissertation, “The Stained Glass of Knowledge: On Understanding Novice Mental Models of Computing,” and was awarded her Ph.D. in Computer Science.

“I’m excited to begin my faculty journey at Michigan Tech and I look forward to helping our students continue to learn skills that will allow them to create the future,” Bettin says. “Michigan Tech has always been an amazing place for me—the opportunity to continue to give back to this place that has given me so much is something I’m very grateful for.”

Bettin says that she is excited about several interesting research projects already being planned in the College, and she looks forward to helping the College advance its educational and research visibility and standing.

Bettin is a member researcher of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems’ new Center for Computing Education, which promotes research and learning activities related to computing education.


Neopets, HTML, CSS. Here’s how Briana Bettin got everything started.

Video games caught Bettin’s interest at a young age and as she grew older, she became interested in online games like Neopets, which allows the user to develop a profile using HTML.

“So, I became excited to learn about HTML and CSS in order to express myself in those online spaces,” she says. “This also got me interested in graphic design, and both of these things combined got me hooked on the idea of creating expressive virtual spaces.”

Bettin earned her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, with an Application Area in User Experience and Marketing, from Michigan Tech in spring 2014. Following, while working full time as a front-end web developer at a consulting firm, in summer 2016 she completed her master’s degree online. In fall 2016, Bettin began her Ph.D. studies.

The right fit.

“I wasn’t always sure if Computer Science was ‘right’ for someone like me,” Bettin reflects. “But my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Linda Ott, would encourage me by reminding me of the vast opportunities in technology. And since I became aware of the interdisciplinary area of User Experience, my interest in programming has only grown!”

“Dr. Ott is absolutely amazing,” Bettin says of Professor Linda Ott, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “I am thankful for her, and I knew that having her as my adviser would be one of the best things I could hope for. Our working styles are very complementary, and she is a great motivator and supporter. Laura Brown and Nilufer Onder have also been great mentors, offering me wonderful advice and support whenever I talk to them.”

Bettin adds that Assistant Professor Leo Ureel, Computer Science, was “wonderful in helping me develop my research vision. We often bounce ideas, and he has supported my ideas and given me many opportunities to implement research ideas in the classroom. Our talks give me so much perspective and energy.”

Early teaching success, fellowships, and awards.

Bettin was a CS 1121 lab instructor from fall 2016 until fall 2019, when she became the instructor of record, teaching her first semesters as a lecturer in fall 2019 and spring 2020. That fall, she received outstanding “Average of 7 Dimensions” student evaluation scores, one of only 74 such accolades earned by faculty that semester.

But Bettin’s excellence was recognized long before, in fall 2017, when she received the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award from Michigan Tech’s Graduate Student Government.

Bettin was awarded the King-Chavez-Parks Future Faculty Fellowship from the State of Michigan in fall 2018. She received several doctoral consortium stipends from organizations including Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), the Frontiers in Education Doctoral Symposium (FIE), and the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W).

A Google Scholar award made it possible for her to attend the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration, which supports women in computing and organizations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative. In fall 2019, Bettin was nominated for the prestigious MAGS Teaching Award.

Part II of this article will be published soon. In the second installment we’ll learn about Briana’s teaching and research, and the faculty and peer mentors who supported her as she completed her Ph.D.


Online Intercultural Exchange for Chinese and English Speakers

by Elizabeth A. Flynn, Co-director, The Elaine Bacon Literacy Program

New participants are welcome to join a newly-formed Chinese-English language and cultural exchange via Zoom at 4 p.m. every Friday.

To receive a Zoom invitation or for more details, contact organizer Denise Heikinen, or call (906) 482-4944. Along with Dr. Pichai Sripaipan, retired orthopedic surgeon from Houghton, Heikinen organized the exchange forum this fall as part of continuing free offerings, tutorials and classes with the Elaine Bacon Literacy Program, a 50-year-old non-profit community organization based in Houghton.

In the early days, the group catered to local resident adults who wished to improve their reading and writing skills. For the past several decades, however, volunteer tutors, teachers and conversation partners have offered free English As a Second Language lessons and practice opportunities for Copper Country international adults, including Tech students, exchange scholars, professors and spouses or family members of campus-affiliated residents.

For additional information, including an online schedule of classes, see the group’s website.


Master’s Defense: Prathyusha Sreedhara, Computer Science

Computer Science department graduate student Prathyusha Sreedhara will present a Master’s Defense today, Monday, October 26, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m.

The tiitle of his paper is, “Hometracker: A Household Level Field Intervention and Metabolism Tracker.”

Sreedhara’s advisor is Associate Professor Charles Wallace, Computer Science.

Link to the meeting here.


CpE PhD Candidate Zhiqiang Zhao to Present Defense October 23

ECE Doctoral Defense Tomorrow

Computer Engineering doctoral candidate Zhiqiang Zhao will defend at 4 p.m. tomorrow (Oct. 23) via Zoom.

The title of his presentation is “High-Performance Spectral Methods for Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits.”

Co-advisors are Zhuo Feng (ECE) and Glen Archer (ECE).


Health Informatics MS: Virtual Info Night is Tues., Oct. 27

Are you thinking about attending graduate school? Are you open to learning about emerging career areas in which you can leverage your undergraduate courses in healthcare or computer science?


Register for Health Informatics M.S. Info Night

Join the Info Session

On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, at 6:00 p.m., via online Zoom meeting, the Health Informatics Master of Science and Accelerated Master’s programs will present a virtual info session for current students.

Please pre-register for the free info session here.

A link to the virtual info session will be shared shortly.

From the general to the specific, the info session will cover what you need to know about applying for and completing a Health Informatics master’s degree at Michigan Tech.

Attendees will consider the benefits of an advanced degree, learn about the fast-track accelerated master’s program, review the the online application process, and more.

Associate Professor Guy Hembroff, Health Informatics graduate program director, and Jacque Smith, director of Enrollment Services for the Michigan Tech Graduate School, will host the info session.


ROTC Cybersecurity Training for Tomorrow’s Officers

The U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research, has awarded Michigan Tech faculty researchers a $249,000 grant that supports the creation of an ROTC undergraduate science and engineering research program at Michigan Tech. The primary goal of the program is to supply prepared cadets to all military branches to serve as officers in Cyber commands.

The principal investigator (PI) of the project is Andrew Barnard, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. Co-PIs are Timothy Havens, College of Computing; Laura Brown , Computer Science, and Yu Cai, Applied Computing. The title of the project is, “Defending the Nation’s Digital Frontier: Cybersecurity Training for Tomorrow’s Officers.”

The curriculum will be developed over the summer, and instruction associated with the award will begin in the fall 2020 semester. Cadets interested in joining the new program are urged to contact Andrew Barnard.

Initially, the program will focus on topics in cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence, data science, and remote sensing systems, all critical to the The Naval Science and Technology (S&T) Strategic Plan and the Navy’s Force of the Future, and with equal relevance in all branches of the armed forces.

The plan of work focuses on on engaging ROTC students in current and on-going Cyber research, and supports recruitment of young ROTC engineers and scientists to serve in Navy cybersecurity and cyber-systems commands. The program will compel cadets to seek positions within Cyber commands upon graduation, or pursue graduate research in Cyber fields.

“Our approach develops paid, research-based instruction for ROTC students through the existing Michigan Tech Strategic Education Naval Systems Experiences (SENSE) program,” said principal investigator Andrew Barnard, “ROTC students will receive one academic year of instruction in four Cyber domains: cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence (ML/AI), data science, and remote sensing systems.”

Barnard says the cohort-based program will enrich student learning through deep shared research experiences. He says the program will be designed with flexibility and agility in mind to quickly adapt to new and emerging Navy science and technology needs in the Cyber domain.

Placement of officers in Cyber commands is of critical long-term importance to the Navy (and other DoD branches) in maintaining technological superiority, says the award abstract, noting that technological superiority directly influences the capability and safety of the warfighter.

Also closely involved in the project are Michigan Tech Air Force and Army ROTC officers Lt. Col. John O’Kane and LTC Christian Thompson, respectively.

“Unfortunately, many ROTC cadets are either unaware of Cyber related careers, or are unprepared for problems facing Cyber officers,” said Lt. Col. O’Kane. “This proposal aims to provide a steady flow of highly motivated and trained uniformed officers to the armed-services, capable of supporting the warfighter on day-one.”

Andrew Barnard is director of Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and faculty advisor to the SENSE Enterprise.

Tim Havens is director of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems, associate dean for research, College of Computing, and the William and Gloria Jackson Associate Professor of Computer Systems.

Laura Brown is an associate professor, Computer Science, director of the Data Science graduate program, and a member of the ICC’s Center for Data Sciences.

Yu Cai is a professor of Applied Computing, an affiliated professor of Computational Science and Engineering, a member of the ICC’s Center for Cybersecurity, and faculty advisor for the Red Team, which competes in the National Cyber League (NCL).

The Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) provides state-of-the-art laboratories to support research on a broad array of topics. Faculty members from many departments across Michigan Technological University’s campus collaborate on interdisciplinary research, ranging from air–water interactions to biogeochemistry to food web relationships.

The Army and Air Force have active ROTC programs on Michigan Tech’s campus.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.


PhD Candidate Karen Colbert, CSE, awarded KCP Future Faculty/GEM Associate Fellowship

The Michigan Tech Graduate School has announced the recipients of the Fall 2020 Doctoral Finishing Fellowships, KCP Future Faculty/GEM Associate Fellowship, and CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Nominees.

Karen Colbert, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in Computational Science and Engineering, has been awarded the KCP Future Faculty/GEM Associate Fellowship Award. View Colbert’s bio here.


Congratulations to all Fall 2020 nominees and recipients, listed below. Learn more about the awardees here.

KCP Future Faculty Award: Jeffrey Kabel, Applied Physics

CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Nominees:

  • Ameya Narkar, Biomedical Engineering
  • Mayra Morgan, Environmental and Energy Policy

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award:

  • Chandan Kumar, FNU, Geological Engineering
  • Esmaeil Dehdashti, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
  • Yuesheng Gao, Chemical Engineering
  • Qing Guo, Physics
  • Srinivas Kannan, Biomedical Engineering
  • Sergio Miguel Lopez Ramirez, Civil Engineering
  • Kevin W. Sunderland, Biomedical Engineering
  • Xiaodong Zhou, Civil Engineering


Computer Engineering Ph.D. Candidate Ranit Karmakar Shares Journey with Husky Innovate

Michigan Tech Computer Engineering Ph.D. candidate Ranit Karmakar shared his innovation journey at a Husky Innovate virtual lunchtime talk on October 2, 2020.

Through his research, Ranit developed robust algorithms to analyze corneal images. This work led him to discover an opportunity for a new venture within the eye care industry. Ranit explored and developed his concept through a variety of opportunities including: Husky Innovate workshops, Houghton business incubator, the MTEC SmartZone, the Superior Ideas platform and the NSF sponsored Michigan Tech I-Corps Site program.

In his talk, Ranit shared how feedback and research through customer discovery led to new insights and unexpected pivots, informing decisions about his value proposition and customer segments.

Ranit pitched his idea at the Bob Mark Business Model Competition, the New Venture Competition, and TC NewTech, winning top prizes at all venues.


What Lies Ahead: Cooperative, Data-Driven Automated Driving

Associate Professor Kuilin Zhang, Civil and Environmental Engineering and affiliated associate professor, Computer Science, was featured in a recent article on Michigan Tech News. The article appears below. Link to the original article here.


By Kelley Christensen, September 28, 2020.

Networked data-driven vehicles can adapt to road hazards at longer range, increasing safety and preventing slowdowns.

Vehicle manufacturers offer smart features such as lane and braking assist to aid drivers in hazardous situations when human reflexes may not be fast enough. But most options only provide immediate benefits to a single vehicle. What if entire groups of vehicles could respond? What if instead of responding solely to the vehicle immediately in front of us, our cars reacted proactively to events happening hundreds of meters ahead?

What if, like a murmuration of starlings, our cars and trucks moved cooperatively on the road in response to each vehicle’s environmental sensors, reacting as a group to lessen traffic jams and protect the humans inside?

This question forms the basis of Kuilin Zhang’s National Science Foundation CAREER Award research. Zhang, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University, has published “A distributionally robust stochastic optimization-based model predictive control with distributionally robust chance constraints for cooperative adaptive cruise control under uncertain traffic conditions” in the journal Transportation Research Part B: Methodological.

The paper is coauthored with Shuaidong Zhao ’19, now a senior quantitative analyst at National Grid, where he continues to conduct research on the interdependency between smart grid and electric vehicle transportation systems.

Vehicle Platoons Operate in Sync

Creating vehicle systems adept at avoiding traffic accidents is an exercise in proving Newton’s First Law: An object in motion remains so unless acted on by an external force. Without much warning of what’s ahead, car accidents are more likely because drivers don’t have enough time to react. So what stops the car? A collision with another car or obstacle — causing injuries, damage and in the worst case, fatalities.

But cars communicating vehicle-to-vehicle can calculate possible obstacles in the road at increasing distances — and their synchronous reactions can prevent traffic jams and car accidents.

“On the freeway, one bad decision propagates other bad decisions. If we can consider what’s happening 300 meters in front of us, it can really improve road safety. It reduces congestion and accidents.”Kuilin Zhang

Zhang’s research asks how vehicles connect to other vehicles, how those vehicles make decisions together based on data from the driving environment and how to integrate disparate observations into a network.

Zhang and Zhao created a data-driven, optimization-based control model for a “platoon” of automated vehicles driving cooperatively under uncertain traffic conditions. Their model, based on the concept of forecasting the forecasts of others, uses streaming data from the modeled vehicles to predict the driving states (accelerating, decelerating or stopped) of preceding platoon vehicles. The predictions are integrated into real-time, machine-learning controllers that provide onboard sensed data. For these automated vehicles, data from controllers across the platoon become resources for cooperative decision-making. 

CAREER Award 

Kuilin Zhang won an NSF CAREER Award in 2019 for research on connected, autonomous vehicles and predictive modeling

Proving-Grounds Ready

The next phase of Zhang’s CAREER Award-supported research is to test the model’s simulations using actual connected, autonomous vehicles. Among the locations well-suited to this kind of testing is Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center, a proving ground for autonomous vehicles, with expertise in unpredictable environments.

Ground truthing the model will enable data-driven, predictive controllers to consider all kinds of hazards vehicles might encounter while driving and create a safer, more certain future for everyone sharing the road.

Tomorrow Needs Mobility

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

About the Researcher: Kuilin Zhang

  • Data-driven optimization and control models for connected and automated vehicles (CAVs)
  • Big traffic data analytics using machine learning
  • Mobile and crowd sensing of dynamic traffic systems
  • Dynamic network equilibrium and optimization
  • Modeling and simulation of large-scale complex systems
  • Freight logistics and supply chain systems
  • Impact of plug-in electric vehicles to smart grid and transportation network systems
  • Interdependency and resiliency of large-scale networked infrastructure systems
  • Vehicular Ad-hoc Networks (VANETs)
  • Smart Cities
  • Cyber-Physical Systems

Guy Hembroff Presents Invited Talk at Bahiana Medical School, Brazil

Associate Professor Guy Hembroff, director of Michigan Tech’s Health Informatics graduate program, presented an invited virtual talk to physicians, residents, and medical students at the Bahiana Medical School, Salvador, Brazil, on September 25, 2020.

Hembroff spoke about, “The Challenges and Opportunities of Artificial Intelligence in Disease Prevention and Monitoring.”

BAHIANA (Bahia School of Medicine and Public Health) is a private, nonprofit, educational, cultural, scientific and healthcare institution. Its main purpose is “teaching, research and the spread of knowledge and special services in the fields of health, science and culture in general.” Learn more here.