Category: Students of CS

Persistence is the Key to Success … and Scholarships Really Help

Student with College of Computing t-shirt

Persistence is the Key to Success … and Scholarships Really Help

Employer demand for talented computing graduates is high, and the College of Computing is helping to meet that demand through an exceptional learning experience. But sometimes students need a little extra help to persist and complete their degrees.

University faculty and staff help students persist in many ways, such as innovative and effective teaching, wide-access computing learning labs, several tiers of academic and personal support, and coursework and extra-curricular opportunities designed to build and apply knowledge and instill self-confidence.

Computing alumni have shared with us many stories about how they overcame struggles in tough courses, sticking with it instead of changing their major. Often for these alumni the thought of losing a computing major-based scholarship was an important deterrent.

Building on this idea, the College of Computing has established the Persistence in Computer Science Scholarship Fund and the Persistence in Applied Computing Scholarship Fund to help undergraduate students persist in the pursuit of their College of Computing degrees. A student’s GPA will not be a major determinant in awarding this scholarship, as the goal is to encourage persistence, not perfection. The scholarship will be annually renewable for up to four years for each student, as long as recipients make satisfactory progress in their major.

Please consider making a gift to one of these scholarships, or even committing to a four-year pledge so we can encourage the persistence of many College of Computing students, now and for years to come.

Please visit mtu.edu/computing/giving to make your gift online, or phone Adam Johnson, Director of Advancement for the College of Computing, at 906-487-1087. Please indicate that your gift is designated for the CS Persistence Fund or the AC Persistence Fund.

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The Gift of Computing

Through the years and across generations, Huskies help their neighbors navigate the digital universe. In the season of giving, drop in on two volunteer programs that benefit both givers and receivers.

On any given Saturday during the academic year, you’ll find Michigan Technological University students serving as coaches and teachers in the community and on campus in a couple of programs that have been around since 2011. Building Adult Skills in Computing, or BASIC, helps older people with computer-related questions. Copper Country Coders introduces younger people to computer science and programming.

BASIC: Where No One is Left to Their Own Devices

BASIC walk-ins are welcome from 10-11 a.m. Saturdays at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. Sessions used to be earlier in the day before the library opened to the public, said Kelly Steelman, a Michigan Tech associate professor of human factors and psychology who, along with Charles Wallace, an associate professor of computer science, serves as a BASIC tutor and researcher. But as it turns out, technological newcomers as well as Huskies like to sleep in. The time adjustment is one of several tweaks that have taken place as the program — and the devices we use in our daily lives — evolve. For example, nobody’s gathered ’round the library’s desktop computer stations. On this particular Saturday, as rays of treasured winter sunlight glint on the ice-glazed Keweenaw Waterway and stained-glass art, participants are cozily tucked into the shoreside Michigan Room with laptops, phones and tablets at the ready.

“Easy for you to remember, but hard for them to guess.” That’s how Parker Young sums up the perfect password for Naomi and Eliot Haycock, who brought in a tablet and laptop. He explains to the lively couple that encrypted password management programs make it easier to keep track of all the passwords safely. “As long as you remember the one password, you have all the others,” he said. They also discuss PayPal — Naomi’s intrigued, Eliot’s skeptical. Both are interested in what kind of writing programs are already available on their newly acquired laptop. Young shows them options, from Google Docs to the preinstalled writing software.

“Good. We can do a Christmas letter,” Naomi said.

They move on to installing updates and discuss the necessity to perform them regularly (“There goes another one!” Parker exclaimed). Next, the trio walks through how to connect to Wi-Fi at home for the first time with the new device.

An older couple and a younger man with a Michigan Tech Huskies shirt on smile at the camera in a library.
Naomi and Eliot Haycock, BASIC Saturday regulars, work through their computing to-do list with Parker Young.
“They do a great job. We’ve come here quite a few times,” Naomi said. “People tell us, ‘if you had to pay for this, you’d be paying a lot.’”

“Give this guy a good grade. He’s good,” Eliot tells Charles Wallace, who is on the other side of the wide wooden library table helping a gentleman who’s never used a computer. First-timers are rare these days. Whenever a new user powers up, it’s exciting; both tutor and learner are smiling as he Googles for the first time, locating his church on the map and visiting its website.

Wallace encourages the beginner to keep exploring, then explains to the Haycocks that students aren’t graded for being part of BASIC. They’re here only because they want to be.

“We’re giving the gift of bringing people to the digital table,” said BASIC volunteer Abby Kuehne, a double major in psychology and communication, culture and media with research experience in human-computer interaction.

Today she’s working with a soft-spoken man looking for pointers on getting started with a tablet. “Because this is a mobile setting, the tablet is going to be set up differently,” she explained.

The work Kuehne does here aligns with her career goals; which include enhancing technology accessibility and effective communication across cultures. More than that, it’s establishing a lifelong pattern of service.

“It becomes a good habit,” said Kuehne. “I believe in karma, in giving back.”

For scientific and technical communication major Paige Short, showing up on Saturday mornings has also become second nature. Short, whose endeavors include work to communicate science on a global level, sees the relationship between students and the people who come for help as mutually beneficial. “It builds community,” she said. “It connects us to the local community, and helps them be a part of the digital community.” Never more so than on this Saturday, when Short is assisting with budget workflow strategy for a local community garden.

two women show people how to use laptaps on a wooden table with windows in the background as a man looks on.
Portage Lake District Library has been hosting BASIC Saturdays since the program’s inception. You’ll often find Huskies Abby Kuehne, left, and Paige Short, right, bringing fellow community members to the digital table.

The session wraps up shortly after 11; the group meets for a quick debrief. There’s just enough time for Young to do some work on his truck before he heads over to the Michigan Tech College of Computing, where Copper Country Coders meets every Saturday afternoon of the academic year. Wallace will be there, too — this program also benefits from his co-leadership, in this case with Leo Ureel, computer science senior lecturer and coordinator of the Michigan Tech College of Computing Learning Center.

Get Help. Meet Huskies.

Walk-ins are welcome to the Saturday BASIC sessions. Follow the Portage Lake District Library Facebook page for updates.
You don’t have to bring a computer. The library has Chromebooks available.

The call goes out for Copper Country Coders enrollment in early September. Learn more on the Copper Country Coders Facebook page.

Want to help support these and other computer literary programs? Find out more.

Programmed Snowflakes and the Python Boiz

Compared to the quiet of the library, the atmosphere is a tad more rambunctious in the first-floor labs of Kanwal Rekhi Hall, where the youngest of the Copper Country Coders teams is raring to go. In sessions that run from 1-3 p.m., Michigan Tech students work with young people from area schools who share a goal not dissimilar from those of their older counterparts: they’re learning how to make computers do what they’re told. They’re learning to speak the language of programming.

“Can we play games before the other people come?” asks one youngster, bouncing up and down on a computer desk chair.

Instructor Keith Atkinson smiles, patiently explaining that they’ll all be creating a holiday snowfall game once everyone has gathered. He doesn’t mind the rowdier element or the challenge of keeping active young people engaged. “I’m pretty high energy myself and I like thinking on my feet,” said the computer science major, who started with the Coders in 2015. He also clearly enjoys serving his community — for his directed study class this semester, Atkinson created an inventory system for Michigan Tech’s Husky Food Access Network pantry.

Atkinson is co-leading one of the middle-school teams with fellow computer science major Galen Resh Chimner, who was enrolled in the program as a youngster. “It was fun to come and learn and get challenged,” he said.

Today’s project is a holiday snowfall game. Students learn to program a snowflake — to draw it and make it move. Every click of the computer mouse adds a new snowflake.

Programming is the Universal Language

a young man in a black and gold husky sweatshirt leans toward a computer screen
Trevor Good, like many of the Huskies in Copper Country Coders, is in it for the fun of both learning and teaching.
Across the hall, Parker Young is at it again — this time teaming up with computer science major Trevor Good to introduce ninth-grade and middle-school students to the popular, easy-to-use programming language that inspired their tongue-in-cheek team name: the Python Boiz. Young has been doing both BASIC and Coders for three years; it’s Good’s second year and second time co-leading with Young.

“Last year, we did Minecraft,” said Good. “We picked Python because it’s the number-one programming language in the world; it’s used for AI, machine learning, automation … logically it makes a lot of sense. I wanted to learn it myself.”

Young was also new to Python. “Teaching others helps me learn,” said Young, who is also a coach in the College of Computing Learning Center.

The College of Computing is piloting a course to teach Python to non-computing majors across campus. For today, though, the focus is on the half-dozen younger students situated at monitors in the lab.

“What’s up man? Oooh, you’re so close!” Young moves between computer stations, checking out the ongoing project. “Let’s go, you guys! I wanna see some cool tic tac toes.”

“I love coming here every Saturday and I love teaching,” said Young.

The vibe is sedate in comparison over at the Electrical Energy Resources Center (EERC), a short walk from Rekhi Hall, where high school-aged students are working with two graduate students, Marissa Walther and Shaun Flynn. Walther has been with Copper Country Coders for five years, Flynn four.

two Michigan Tech students watch students on computer monitors in a lab, one of the students, a girl, is looking intently at the screen
Marissa Walther, left, and Shaun Flynn’s group works on hardware coding.
Walther, who earned a bachelor’s in computer science in 2019, is studying for her master’s.

Flynn, who earned a BS in computer engineering, is working toward his master’s. In 2018, their lesson plans focused on teaching young coders Java development and how to create games using JavaFX morphed into the book The World of Java Programming.

The two instructor-mentors said that the goal this year is to introduce students to hardware and the work that goes into building it.

“They can choose what it can do. They can do a lot of hardware prototyping,” said Flynn.

“I like teaching students. It’s fun to watch them develop,” he said, as the pair watches students work intently at their lab monitors. “They chose to spend two hours with us, programming. I came to Michigan Tech not knowing any of this.”

altera computer board closeup with wires
“Think of it as giant programmable hardware” — that’s how Shaun Flynn describes the Altera Board.
Time and again Huskies involved in the programs mention the joy of both teaching and learning.

It’s Not You, It’s the Technology

Place the responsibility where it belongs. On the technology. Both Copper County Coders and BASIC give participants the confidence to deploy digital tools to do desired and necessary tasks. That benefits both the students teaching and the students who are learning from them.

Copper Country Coders organizes young people from local schools into teams of six to eight, depending on enrollment fluctuations and the level of difficulty of each team. Two Huskies co-lead each group — each group compiles its own lesson plans, learning objectives and means to measure outcomes. Sessions are adjusted as the academic year moves along to keep pace with student progress. If more time is needed, the group stays with a project longer. If something doesn’t go over well, it’s documented for future Coders planning their own programs.

Last year the group presented its first Computer Science Expo.

At the Saturday BASIC sessions, coaches often work with people who are familiar with some tasks, but are continually challenged by the pace of technology — if you’re retired, for example, you aren’t required to adapt to the latest program or process being used in your workplace. Things like running out of space on a smart phone or other roadblocks with apps and social media present have the potential to present discouraging or demoralizing roadblocks. BASIC eliminates the blame game.

“Our approach is meeting people where they are,” Steelman said.

“Tutoring is more about empathy and compassion. We’re paying attention and mirroring the words. What are the things that freak people out about computers? How can we alleviate those concerns?”  –Kelly Steelman, BASIC tutor and researcher

“It’s not that they’re not a good computer user,” Steelman noted. “We put those worries on the computer.”

BASIC offers one tutor training session every semester, the interdisciplinary program is open to students from all majors. Beyond résumé building, “it feels good, making differences in lives,” said Steelman. The regionally and nationally recognized service-learning opportunity aspires to expand; beyond Michigan Tech outreach Wallace has shared the concept with other libraries and organizations who could bring BASIC to their communities.

Eliot and Naomi Haycock are on their own until the student coaches return January 18. Given the skills they’ve acquired, and the knowledge that help will be available again in the new year, they don’t appear to be particularly worried.

“We miss them when they’re not here,” Naomi said.

“But they deserve a vacation,” Eliot said.

two young men in black and gold stripes play horns in front of black-gowned graduates in a wood gym

Talk about bandwidth: BASIC volunteer, Copper Country Coder and Learning Center Coach Parker Young also plays in Huskies Pep Band; this is the group serenading 2019 grads at Midyear Commencement on December 14.

Talk about bandwidth: BASIC volunteer, Copper Country Coder and Learning Center Coach Parker Young also plays in Huskies Pep Band; this is the group serenading 2019 grads at Midyear Commencement on December 14.
Naomi and Eliot Haycock, BASIC Saturday regulars, work through their computing to-do list with Parker Young.
Portage Lake District Library has been hosting BASIC Saturdays since the program’s inception. You’ll often find Huskies Abby Kuehne, left, and Paige Short, right, bringing fellow community members to the digital table.
Trevor Good, like many of the Huskies in Copper Country Coders, is in it for the fun of both learning and teaching.
Marissa Walther, left, and Shaun Flynn’s group works on hardware coding.

“Think of it as giant programmable hardware” — that’s how Shaun Flynn describes the Altera Board.

About the Researchers

Charles Wallace
wallace@mtu.edu
906-487-3431

Areas of Expertise

  • Software Requirements
  • Human-Centered Computing
  • Communication in Software Development
  • Formal Methods
  • Software Engineering Education
  • Agile Development Methods
  • Cyberlearning
  • Researcher Profile

Kelly Steelman
steelman@mtu.edu
906-487-2792

Research Interests

  • Basic and applied attention
  • Models of attention
  • Human performance in aviation
  • Display design
  • Tech adoption
  • Technology training

Leo Ureel
ureel@mtu.edu
906-487-1816

Areas of Expertise

  • Software Engineering
  • Computer Science Education
  • Intelligent Tutoring Systems

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Senior Keith Atkinson Applies Computing Skills to Aid Food Pantry

Keith Atkinson

Senior Keith Atkinson Applies Computing Skills to Aid Husky FAN Food Pantry

December 13, 2019

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

For his CS 4099 Directed Study class this fall, senior Computer Science undergraduate Keith Atkinson developed and deployed a Food Inventory System (FIS) for the Husky Food Access Network Food Pantry.

“The Inventory System will allow the pantry staff to quickly know what they have in their inventory,” says Atkinson, adding that it also anonymously collects information on what’s leaving the pantry to gain insight into specific usage.

“Ideally, it will also track items that are both removed due to expiration and items that are actually taken by students to give some idea on what specific donations to ask for in the future,” Atkinson says.

The inventory system uses a Google Sheet as a database, which gives food pantry volunteers easy access to the quantities and products they have on site without a separate website or system. And because it’s like any other Google Sheet, staff and volunteers are likely already familiar with it.

“The benefits of the Food Inventory System are huge,” says Whitney Boroski, Michigan Tech’s manager of student health and wellness. “The Husky Food Access Network now has real-time data we can use to identify need or organize programming. Keith has also arranged for us to track how much food we’re donating to other community entities.”

Boroski’s hope is that the FIS will give the Food Insecurities Committee a better snapshot of need so they’ll know how to most effectively serve the campus community.  She is also very confident that the FIS will save the pantry coordinator and team loads of time counting donations and getting an accurate inventory.

Formed in 2014, the Michigan Tech Food Insecurities Committee helps to combat hunger issues on campus. The committee developed what is now known as the Husky Food Access Network (Husky FAN). It provides multiple resources for the campus community, including the Food Pantry.

Atkinson was first introduced to the Husky FAN Food Pantry in Spring 2019 in his Food Systems & Sustainability class taught by assistant social sciences professor Angela Carter. “I knew I wanted to do directed study again this fall, so I had been thinking of possible projects I could do on campus,” Atkinson explains. “I’ve had experience with inventory systems through work and immediately thought I might be able to help digitize some of their process.”

So, after meeting with Whitney Boroski, Michigan Tech’s manager of student health and wellness, Atkinson approached Husky FAN with his idea, and then met with CS 4900 instructor Leo Ureel, a lecturer in the Computer Science department, who agreed that it would be a good project.

“It was a great opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary group of people with diverse skill sets,” Atkinson notes. “The members of the MTU Food Insecurities Committee as well as the pantry volunteers all have different backgrounds which made it a fun challenge to think about the different ways someone might interact with or use the inventory system.”

One benefit of the inventory system is knowing what is in the pantry for planning events, like the recent Soup Meal Pack Giveaway. “For example, a pantry volunteer could quickly identify the quantities of peanut butter, bread, and jelly then put together a PB&J sandwich event with a good estimate of available quantities,” Atkinson says. “Right now, the only way to know what the pantry has is to manually count it, which is time consuming,”

“This tool that Keith has created and set into operation for us is invaluable.  I couldn’t even begin to think of how the Husky Food Access Network would pay for this type of service/program, not to mention something tailored 100% to our needs!” Boroski says.

In designing the inventory system, Atkinson worked closely with the Food Insecurities Committee, especially Boroski and student and pantry coordinator Elisha Houle. “I presented it at two meetings and they were helpful in identifying what to put together in a guide, as well as sharing some general concerns.”

One concern the Committee voiced was Atkinson’s Spring 2020 graduation, and whether he would be available in the future to help maintain the system and address any problems that may arise. To address this, Atkinson created a users’ guide along with thorough documentation on recreating the project, including explanations of how and why the inventory system works.

The inventory system, which includes UPC scanners, is now complete and the pantry is soft-piloting it this semester with plans to implement it fully next semester.  Atkinson has a job lined up in the Houghton area after his expected graduation in April 2020, so he will be close by to maintain the system if there are issues.

“Keith is a wonderful, very dedicated individual that I’ve enjoyed working with over the last year” says Boroski. “He is very professional, super smart, and has an amazing attention to detail!  Keith listened to the Husky Food Access Networks needs and took comments and feedback very well. I’m elated that he will be staying in the area after graduation to work professionally.”

Atkinson enjoys applying his computing skills to improve communities and lives. In a separate, earlier CS 4900 Directed Study course, he wrote curriculum and a grant to fund Copper Country Coders, a weekly educational program provided by Michigan Tech students, with assistance from Computer Science faculty members Leo Ureel and Charles Wallace, that introduces middle and high school students to the world of computer science and programming.

Atkinson has also volunteered for BASIC (Building Adult Skills in Computing), a Michigan Tech student-driven weekly computer skills workshop held Saturday mornings at the Portage Lake District Library that provides free one-on-one computer skills tutoring to community members.

“I’m very proud of the Food Insecurities Committee at Michigan Tech for their dedication and hard work organizing and maintaining Husky FAN,” says Boroski. “With Keith’s contribution of the FIS and his support, which he’s offered multiple times after he graduates, I feel Michigan Tech is one of the leaders in addressing food insecurities on college campuses. Food Insecurities work is never finished, but with creative innovations like Keith’s FIS we can concentrate more on feeding those who are hungry!”

The Husky FAN food pantry is located on the first floor of Fisher Hall, down the hall from Fisher 135, in the space formerly known as the Aftermath Café. It is open daily Tuesday through Friday, and on Mondays by appointment. The pantry is available free of charge to anyone. No paperwork or approval is required. Services are confidential and anonymous.

Learn more about the Husky Food Access Network Food Pantry here.

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The 2018 NCL Cyber Competition Results Are In…

In Fall 2018, Alex Larkin has a great achievement in NCL Cyber Competition Regular Season. His national rank is 17th out of 3324 participant, a great jump from 36th in Spring 2018. In addition,  our NCL team (“Michigan Tech Hackers”) ranked 81 out of 360 teams in NCL Cyber Competition Postseason.  It was the first time we have a team involved in this competition and our team did an excellent job as a starting point. The team consists of three CS undergraduate students, Alexander Larkin, Jon Preuth, and Jack Bergman. Bo Chen, CS Assistant Professor, is the faculty coach.
The NCL was founded in May 2011 to provide an ongoing virtual training ground for collegiate students to develop, practice, and validate their cybersecurity skills. It is a defensive and offensive puzzle-based, capture-the-flag style cybersecurity competition. Its virtual training ground helps high school and college students prepare and test themselves against cybersecurity challenges that they will likely face in the workforce. All participants play the games simultaneously during Preseason, Regular Season and Postseason.
Excellent work!

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Dylan Gaines receives 3rd place in the ACM ASSETS 2018 Student Research Competition

Dylan Gaines, a Computer Science undergraduate, received 3rd place in the ACM ASSETS 2018 Student Research Competition.  Dylan presented a poster and a talk on his work on Tap123, an interface for entering text without visual feedback.  Tap123 offers the potential for faster and easier to learn text input for users who are visually impaired.  ASSETS is the premier venue for research on assistive technologies and accessible computing.

Congratulations Dylan!

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Undergraduate Programming Competition Win

18th Annual NMU Invitational Programming Contest Logo with 95 Students, 6 Schools, 34 TeamsComputer science undergraduate students received top honors at the 19th Annual Northern Michigan University Invitational Programming Contest held March 24, 2018. Tony Duda, Justin Evankovich, and Nicholas Muggio took first place; Michael Lay, Parker Russcher, and Marcus Stojcevich took second. Michigan Tech earned the highest program count and No. 1 ranking.

Congratulations!

“We are proud of our students for representing Husky values of possibility and tenacity.” —Min Song, Chair, Computer Science

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Caden Sumner and HIDE team develop online learning center scheduling program

Problem: Scheduling learning center appointments. Solution: Apply education; develop online scheduling program.

Maybe you’ve heard the claim that Michigan Technological University students are crazy smart. In case you needed proof, meet Caden Sumner, a third-year who is double majoring in computer science and psychology. He’s also a coach at the Michigan Tech Multiliteracies Center (MTMC) and leader of the Human Interface Design Enterprise (HIDE) programming team that developed Timeslot.

Timeslot enables students to schedule appointments in campus learning centers from their mobile devices and computers, instead of having to sign up in person. A combination of factors inspired Sumner to develop the program: his interest in psychology, his first (intimidating) impression in a learning center, his experiences as a coach in the MTMC, and encouragement from his boss and MTMC Assistant Director Bill De Herder.

Sumner says, “We were using a software that was really difficult to use. It was hard to figure out how to schedule appointments. Students didn’t like it, coaches hated it. My boss mentioned ‘you should do something about that’ at about the end of last (academic) year. I said absolutely, I’ll give that a go.”

Sumner and his fellow HIDE teammates started working on Timeslot at the start of the fall 2017 semester. Though they didn’t keep track of the hours they put into development, Sumner says it was “a lot.”

Creatsumne-profile-personneling His Future

Timeslot went live for the MTMC the first week of spring 2018 classes. The HIDE team is taking a soft rollout approach so as to catch and fix all program bugs and prevent a huge scheduling snafu. The math lab will implement the software in the fall, and plans for the biology lab are in the works. Sumner and his team hope that in time all 17 University learning centers will adopt the system.

Congrats!

Please see the full story from Tech Today here.

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Computer Science Undergrads Publish Book

A World of Java Programing SmCopper Country Coders (CCCoders) is an organization that introduces local students in middle and high school to the world of computer science and programming. Michigan Tech undergraduate and graduate computer science students volunteer as instructors and mentors under the guidance of Computer Science faculty members Leo Ureel and Charles Wallace.

Last year, volunteers Marissa Walther and Shaun Flynn focused on teaching students how to develop in Java and create games using JavaFX. What began as a class assignment for CS 4099 Directed Study in Computer Science Education developed into a book based off of the CCCoders curriculum. The book, “A World of Java Programming” has since been published and is now available on Amazon.

About the authors:  Marissa is a third year Computer Science major who participates in the Husky Game Development Enterprise. She is a member of CCCoders, the Huskies Pep Band and the Superior Wind Symphony. Marissa is also a Computer Science Learning Center Coach and the office assistant for the Engineering Fundamentals Department.  Shaun is a third year Computer Engineering major. He is a project manager for Blue Marble Security Enterprise and vice president of Eta Kappa Nu (HKN). On the weekends, Shaun teaches a middle school programing class through CCCoders with Marissa. He also works as a lab assistant for CS 1121 Introduction to Programming.

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