Category: In the News

Leo Ureel Is this Week’s Deans’ Teaching Showcase Selection

Dean Adrienne Minerick and the College of Computing are pleased to announce that Leo Ureel, Computer Science Lecturer and Ph.D. student, is this week’s Deans’ Teaching Showcase. Leo is also coordinator of the College of Computing Learning Center (CCLC) in Rekhi Hall and faculty advisor to the Computer Science Learning Committee in McNair Hall. 

Most notable among his accomplishments, Ureel’s student-centric efforts are increasing retention and diversifying the cohort of first-year Computing students. Further, his work, in coordination with many other valuable members of the College of Computing, has increased the visibility of Michigan Tech and the College of Computing, both on campus and in the community, and contributed substantially to sustained enrollments in Computer Science and other College of Computing programs.

“What becomes apparent immediately when thinking about Leo’s contributions is how much Leo cares about and invests into his student’s learning,” says Dean Minerick. “Student success is at the heart of all that he does.”  

Ureel’s work has provided him the opportunity to develop rich collaborations with researchers across the U.S. and in the U.K., Europe, and Africa, and he recently led an ITICSE working group of international researchers examining first year student experiences in CS. 

Ureel teaches CS 1121 and CS 1122 courses, primarily to first year students, in which he works to broaden students’ views of computing, ground them in a programming language, and teach them problem solving skills. His research has been supported by NSF, Google, and NCWIT. 

Ureel’s nomination emphasizes in particular his innovative and effective teaching of the entry-level programming classes in Computer Science, for which Ureel has developed a WebTA tool that gives students near real-time feedback on their programming code. 

“My classrooms are hands-on learning environments where I combine small hands-on projects with blended learning techniques to engage students and provide individual feedback” Ureel explains. “I’ve developed a software system, WebTA, that provides students with individualized feedback on their code while they are working on it – even when I am personally unavailable. (For example, at 2:00 a.m. when students are working on their programming assignments!)” 

“This engages students in the following programming practice: design, code, receive feedback, reflect, and repeat. The more I can engage the students in these tight cycles of programming and reflection, the better they learn to program.” 

Ureel’s adds that his research efforts focus on a constructionist approach to introductory computer science that leverages code critiquers to motivate students to learn computer programming. The critiquer systems engage students in test-driven agile development methods through small cycles of teaching, coding integrated with testing, and immediate feedback. 

This interest in student success was one component of Ureel’s close collaboration with Linda Ott, chair of the Computer Science department, in a project funded by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). As part of the collaboration focused on first-year student retention, a structure was developed to more effectively place students in their first programming course. 

“By improving the placement of students based on their previous programming experience, both students new to programming and those with experience are more satisfied and more successful in their first programming course at Michigan Tech” according to Dr. Ott. “Leo is constantly thinking about ways to engage students in programming”. 

Ureel is also part of a student and faculty team that regularly hosts community outreach and workshops for middle and high school students like Code Ninjas, Copper Country Coders, and numerous other programs. 

“My work with K-12 outreach activities, such as Code Ninjas and Copper Country Coders, benefits both the K-12 students, who are learning to program, and Michigan Tech undergraduate students, who volunteer as K-12 mentors,” Ureel says. “The undergraduate students benefit from the teaching process; learning more about computer science as they 

strive to articulate basic computer principles in simple language and entertaining memes for the K-12 students.” 

Ureel’s success teaching students with no coding experience also sparked the pilot of a foundational computing course for non-majors at Michigan Tech. Ureel was the key thought leader driving course structure and content for CS 1090, Computational Thinking, a course for non-Computing majors that teaches computing fundamentals using the Python language. 

“I am teaching the course in the context of several problem domains, including Big Data, Machine Learning, Image Processing, Simulation, and Video Game Design,” Ureel says. “As students tackle problems in these domains, I introduce the Python language structures required to construct a solution. Teaching programming in the context of larger problem domains gives students a way to ground their learning in practical applications.” 

The course, which could help instill computational thinking across campus, is being piloted this semester with students from outside the College of Computing. Designed to be compatible with the College Board AP Computer Science Principles course, the CS 1090 pilot is expected to be expanded through IDEA Hub continuation efforts. 

Ureel also leads the College of Computing Learning Center (CCLC), which has pivoted in a couple of ways over the last year, in step with the College of Computing. A cadre of 20 outstanding student coaches from both the Computer Science and Computer Network and System Administration majors have transformed the CCLC into an inclusive learning hub for all CC majors and courses, with students from across campus seeking out the CCLC. The number of students utilizing CCLC services has increased steadily over the past few years. 

Ureel also worked closely with Dr. Nilufer Onder (CS) to incorporate into CCLC services an upper-level Student Academic Mentors (SAM) program that Dr. Onder developed and spearheaded in Computer Science courses. Their vision is to expand the SAM program under the umbrella of the CCLC, increasing access and courses supported. 

And finally, in response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Ureel and his coaches have creatively and effectively coordinated the transition of CCLC services to an online format. 


Tim Havens Quoted in Enterprisers Project Article

Tim Havens, associate dean for research, College of Computing, and director of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems, was quoted in the article, “Data science vs. machine learning: What’s the difference?” published March 10, 2020, in the online publication, The Enterprisers Project.

Havens’s quotation concerns machine learning models, which the article explains are only as good as the quality of the data they learn from. Havens says, “Luckily, there are many types of problems for which lots of data exist.”

Link to the article here.

The Enterprisers Project is a community and online publication built to discuss the evolving role of the CIO and how IT leaders drive business value in a digital world. It is a collaborative effort between Harvard Business Review and Red Hat that delivers daily analysis and advice on topics ranging from emerging technologies to IT talent. Articles in the publication are written by CIOs, for CIOs and other IT executives, who share lessons learned from innovating in true partnership with the business. 


Tim Havens Quoted in Enterprisers Project Article

Tim Havens, associate dean for research, College of Computing, was quoted in the story “Artificial intelligence (AI) vs. natural language processing (NLP): What are the differences?” published February 26, 2020, in the online publication, The Enterprisers Project.

With AI, computers can learn to accomplish a task without ever being explicitly programmed to do so, says Timothy Havens, the William and Gloria Jackson Associate Professor of Computer Systems in the College of Computing at Michigan Technological University and director of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems.

For those who prefer analogies, Havens likens the way AI works to learning to ride a bike: “You don’t tell a child to move their left foot in a circle on the left pedal in the forward direction while moving your right foot in a circle… You give them a push and tell them to keep the bike upright and pointed forward: the overall objective. They fall a few times, honing their skills each time they fail. That’s AI in a nutshell.”

The Enterprisers Project is a community and online publication built to discuss the evolving role of the CIO and how IT leaders drive business value in a digital world. It is a collaborative effort between Harvard Business Review and Red Hat that delivers daily analysis and advice on topics ranging from emerging technologies to IT talent. Articles in the publication are written by CIOs, for CIOs and other IT executives, who share lessons learned from innovating in true partnership with the business. 


Michigan Tech is #2 on WXYZ List of Highest-paid Grads

Michigan Tech is #2 on list of highest-paid grads in Michigan published recently by WXYZ Detroit (ABC-TV). The ratings are based on data from Payscale.com.

For Michigan Tech grads, the midpoint for early career salaries is $65,000 (five or fewer years on the job), and the midpoint for seasoned pros is more than $116,000 (10 years on the job). No school in Michigan awards a higher percentage of science, technology and engineering degrees that Michigan Tech.

Other schools on the list were Albion College (#7), University of Michigan Dearborn ( #6 ), Michigan State University (#5), Lawrence Technological University (#4), University of Michigan (#3), and Kettering University (#1). View the full story here.


Health Informatics Online Graduate Program Ranked Best in the Midwest, 11th in Nation

The Michigan Tech online Master’s in Health Informatics has been ranked best in the midwest and 11th nationally by Intelligent.com, ahead of universities such as Stanford, Northwestern, and Boston University. Michigan Tech’s 2020 ranking rose from 17th nationally in 2019.

See the full rankings here.

According to their website, Intelligent.com is a free, editorially independent, privately-supported website. It aims to “connect students to the best schools that meet their needs” through “unbiased, accurate, and fact-based information on a wide range of issues.” Their rankings are based on aggregated publicly available data about colleges and programs across the country.

In November 2019, the website OnlineSchoolsCenter.com ranked Michigan Tech’s online Health Informatics M.S. program among the 20 finest online colleges and universities. Michigan Tech was the only school from Michigan to make the list. 


Soner Onder and Dave Whalley Investigate Instruction-level Parallelism

From Florida State University News

A Florida State University researcher is working to make computer processors execute applications in a more energy-efficient manner with the help of a new $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Professor Dave Whalley, Florida State University

“The general goal is to increase performance but to do it in a manner that is more energy efficient than the dominant computer processors that are in use today,” Professor of Computer Science David Whalley said.

To do that, Whalley and his colleague Soner Onder, a professor at Michigan Technological University, hope to more efficiently exploit what’s called instruction-level parallelism, or the ability of a computer to simultaneously execute multiple machine instructions.

Professor Soner Onder, Michigan Tech Department of Computer Science
Professor Soner Onder, Michigan Tech Department of Computer Science

“In general, VLIW processors are more energy efficient but cannot approach the performance of OoO processors except in limited domains, such as digital signal processing,” Whalley said.

Whalley’s project, called SCALE for Statically Controlled Asynchronous Lane Execution, is designed to overcome these current limitations. SCALE supports separate execution lanes, so that instructions in separate lanes can execute in parallel and dependencies between instructions in different lanes are identified by the compiler to synchronize these lanes when necessary.

“Providing distinct lanes of instructions allows the compiler to generate code for different modes of execution to adapt to the type of parallelism that is available at each point within an application,” Whalley said.

The grant began this fall and will run through August 2023. Half of the funding will come to Florida State, with the other half supporting Onder’s part of the work at Michigan Technological University. The FSU portion will support two graduate students in computer science.


College of Computing Media Coverage: July-December 2019

The College of Computing is grateful to Michigan Tech’s University Marketing and Communications for the excellent marketing and communications efforts they’ve undertaken on behalf of the  College, which include a digital marketing campaign, a recruitment website, media outreach, and print materials.

Ongoing digital marketing began in September, and College of Computing ads resulted in 5,700+ new users to our webpage: 225 users requested more information, 24 people clicked on Apply Now to begin an application, and 39 scheduled visits. The digital  ads also received more than 500 reactions on social media, including likes, comments, and shares.

A Tomorrow Needs Computing website was also launched. To direct traffic to the site, UMC has run 205 digital ads in Google and 19 ads in Facebook, across all formats and variations.

Media outreach to announce the College’s launch resulted in  20 unique news stories featuring the College and its faculty. These stories were shared on social media by 34 journalists, resulting in a reach of more than 305,000 social media users and more than 140 million unique visitors to the news stories.

Print marketing publications included udates to undergraduate degree info sheets and a mailer sent to peer institutions to elevate awareness and generate buzz within the industry.


BASIC Program Featured on TV 6-WLUC UPSide

Kelly Steelman

Building Adult Skills in Computing, or BASIC, is a program where anyone in the community who has questions about computers, smart phones, or tablets, can receive individual instruction. The BASIC program tutors, all Michigan Tech students, and faculty mentor Kelly Steelman, associate professor, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, were featured on the TV6 feature UPsiders on November 25, 2019.

View the video on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/uppermichiganssource/videos/2669673899926711/.

More about BASIC:

Since 2011, Michigan Tech students and faculty have been helping Copper Country community members improve their basic computer skills through the free tutoring program Building Adult Skills in Computing (BASIC).

The sessions take place every Saturday morning from 10:00 to 11:00 at the Portage Lake District Library, Houghton, when Michigan Tech classes are in session. Up to 15 tutors are available this semester and all community members are welcome. Computer experience is not necessary and an appointment is not required.

“As the digital revolution continues to transform our society, many older adults and other groups are being left behind,” said Charles Wallace, associate professor of computer science. “Using computers, smartphones and other digital devices remains unfamiliar territory for many and it can be a source of great anxiety.”

Wallace explains that through this free tutoring, the BASIC program aims to overcome this anxiety and build the computer skills and digital literacy needed for participants to effectively operate digital devices and technology and safely find the information they need.

For more information, please contact Charles Wallace (906-487-3431, wallace@mtu.edu) or Kelly Steelman, associate professor of cognitive and learning sciences (906-487-2792, steelman@mtu.edu).


SnowBots Qualify for State Championship

States bound: SnowBots qualify for state championship

from The Daily Mining Gazette, December 6, 2019

(Front, from left) Peter Rudnicki, Maddie Minerick, Elizabeth Bergstrom, Rachel Bergstrom, Daniel Xie, Kyle Hubert. (Middle, from left) Joshua You, Tyler Gregersen, Zhi Tao Yap, Mason Heldt, Yamato Tajiri. (Back, from left) Nathanael Strome, Ben Manchester, Kayleigh Matson, Joel Brubaker, Nelson Monte, Collin Damsteegt. Not shown: Evan Hill, Edward Liu, Evan Massaway, Colton Sam, Anna Wu.

The SnowBots Middle School Robotics teams reached a first-ever milestone at the Pellston regional FIRST Tech Challenge qualifier on Nov 23rd. All three teams, identified by the colors Blue, Red, and Silver, have now qualified to compete at the state championship Dec. 13-14 in Battle Creek. SnowBots Blue and Silver qualified on Nov. 9 and the Red team will be joining them after their great performance in Pellston.

At Pellston, 29 teams from the Upper Peninsula and across the Northern Lower competed in 2.5-minute matches. All three SnowBots teams made it into the semi-finals. Team Blue was on the number four alliance in the semi-finals. In addition to receiving an invitation to the state championships, Team Red was a member of the winning alliance and took second place for both the Collins Aerospace Innovate Award and the Think Award. Team Silver was undefeated in the qualifying matches, captain of the winning alliance, and winner of the Connect Award. The Pellston event was sponsored in part by Michigan Technological University’s College of Computing.

SnowBots teams are open to area sixth-eighth grade students. The teams are led by Melody Doig and Chris Doig and mentored by the Houghton High School FIRST team, Superior Roboworks. Anyone interested in seeing FIRST Tech Challenge in action is welcome to attend the Mini Scrimmage on Dec. 7 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Houghton Middle School; enter near the cafeteria (Door No. 8). The robots will be scrambling to lift, transport and assemble “skyscraper blocks” in 2.5-minute matches.

SnowBots teams are sponsored by: Michigan Department of Education, GS Engineering, Destination Unstoppable, Minerick Logging, Boundary Labs, ThermoAnalytics, IR Telemetrics, Michigan Tech Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Michigan Tech Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Department, Monte Consulting, and Houghton Portage Township Schools.