OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Innovative Research Course Attracts Top Undergraduate Students

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Twenty students from around the country gave up their spring breaks to participate in a one-week class on artificial intelligence (AI) research at Oregon State University (OSU). Funded by the National Science Foundation, the goal of this novel course, Monte Carlo Methods in Artificial Intelligence, was to get undergraduate computer science students interested in research.

About two hundred students applied for the 20 slots available. Students accepted into the course were sophomores and juniors from University of Utah, Loyola University Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Santa Clara University, University of Pittsburgh, University of California Riverside, California Institute of Technology, The University of Texas at El Paso, University of West Florida, Tufts University, Slippery Rock University, University of Oklahoma, Oregon State University and Columbus State University.

Lorelei Lee and Alex Clemmer 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 OSU in March 2012.

“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, including Tadepalli and computer science professors Tom Dietterich, Alan Fern and Weng-Keen Wong, and mechanical engineering professor Kagan Tumer, gave talks on their research and students were able to flex their new-found knowledge by working on relevant projects.

Alex Clemmer, a junior at University of Utah, was drawn to the course because of the research talent at OSU and especially the opportunity to learn from Tom Dietterich. Clemmer said he enrolled in the class for the ‘intellectual ventilation,’ because he is motivated by his peers. “I would never pass up the opportunity to spend time with smart people,” he said.

Clemmer, who is already involved in research at Utah, was very much interested in gaining exposure to different treatments of the research area. He 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 University of West Florida, also works full time as a reliability/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 exclaimed. “The future looks great.”

Tadepalli said the hope is that these students will eventually attend graduate school, either at OSU or elsewhere. Terri Fiez, head of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science agrees. “Our AI faculty at OSU are the leaders in this field and want to cultivate the next generation of leaders,” she said.