BU CS in the Time of COVID-19

By Kayla ChapmanApril 30th, 2020in Recent News

by Kayla Chapman

The CS454/654 lab sits deserted as all courses have moved to remote learning. Photo courtesy of Renato Mancuso.

Since Tuesday, March 17th, life has been very different for the BU CS community. On that day, Boston University President Robert Brown announced that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston University would cease in-person instruction and the remainder of the spring semester would be taught entirely online. This change, while necessary for physical distancing, sparked anxiety among students, faculty, and staff alike. With months of virtual lectures, labs, and meetings on the horizon, the Department of Computer Science set its sights on creating a productive online learning environment for students. 

Although many were aware of the growing threat of the novel coronavirus to life on campus, no one could have imagined the speed at which life at BU would change. Suddenly, the streets of Commonwealth Avenue emptied, students returned home, and professors had less than a week to adjust their curriculum to an online format. A major liaison between students and faculty, the Computer Science administrative staff got to work quickly. “Moving everything to a remote environment essentially overnight is a huge challenge,” said Department Administrator Chris DeVits. “Our faculty and staff are corresponding almost daily as a group, sharing their experiences and best practices, letting each other know what worked really well, and what didn’t go as expected. The collaboration among our faculty and staff in order to provide the best experience for our students has been really awesome to see.” 

On an average day, the Department of Computer Science office on Cummington Mall is buzzing with student inquiries, faculty drop-ins, coffee chats, and the occasional K-9 visitor. Now, interactions are limited to emails and Zoom calls, causing many staff members to realize the value of being on campus. “The most common problem I’m facing with my students is missing the face-to-face interactions, whether in my office or a quick passing in the hallway,” said Ph.D. Program Administrator Kori MacDonald.

Although department mailboxes are seeing more emails than usual, staff members have been adamant about communicating with students and faculty whenever issues come up. “If you are facing an issue or a barrier, please reach out to any of us,” said Undergraduate Program Administrator Jacob Harrington. “We’re working hard to meet you where you’re at right now, and the more I hear from students the better I can be at responding.” 

Despite facing obstacles, the entire department has displayed cohesion and determination to keep students well-informed and faculty equipped with tools to keep their classes running. “I was surprised by how quickly everyone adapted to the new normal,” said Senior Program Administrator Christian Cole. “Perhaps it is because of the nature of computer science, but I think it was a true testament to the strength of community our department has.” 

While the CS staff focused on logistics, many faculty members and students experienced their first online classes. Students transitioned from darting across campus for their various lectures, discussions, and labs, to completing computer science courses at the kitchen table. Given the unprecedented circumstances, students did not know what to expect from their professors and had to rely on them to steer the ship into the unknown. “My professors have been great during this whole experience,” said undergraduate Melissa Lin (CAS‘22). “I appreciate how much effort they have been making to best fit the needs of the students in class, whether it is recording lectures, creating several office hours to accommodate different time zones, [or] actively seeking student input on how they should move forward in the class.” 

Beyond adjusting to the non-classroom life, many students found themselves with a confusing calendar, unsure of how to tend to their social lives and implement extracurricular activities. Masters student Megan Fantes (GRS‘20) has filled her time with scheduled FaceTime sessions with friends, virtual trivia nights, and cooking nights with her roommates. Still, Fantes faces a problem shared by many: the job search. “I was worried about finding a job before a global pandemic, so I am still worried now,” said Fantes.“I am trying to channel my nerves and the fact that I have time at home into applying online and virtually networking over LinkedIn.”

Like Fantes, Ph.D. student Andrea Burns found that building routines have eased her transition into online learning. “I am mostly re-evaluating the expectations I have for myself and trying to practice compassion,” said Burns. “I also have tried to form habits when I listen to lectures that help me focus, like drinking tea and watching lectures in a common room instead of my bedroom.”

CS faculty members have been impressed by their students’ resilience and dedication to their coursework in these challenging circumstances. “I firmly believe that for a good part it is thanks to my exceptional students that I was able to keep [my] course on track and perform a successful transition into online learning,” said Assistant Professor Renato Mancuso. 

The course Mancuso is referring to is Embedded Systems Development (colloquially known as CS454/654), a “hands-on practical experience with software experience with software design, analysis, and implementation on an actual cyber-physical system,” explained Mancuso. Students in CS454/654 rely heavily on their materials, including an analog joystick that would be “impossible” to use as-is in a remote setting.

When faced with the challenge of making such a hands-on course remote, Mancuso said, “I decided not to compromise. The easy decision to make would have been to cancel all the hands-on labs and convert the class format to have no practical component. But I could not bring myself to do that.” Instead, Mancuso reimagined what the course could be, making adjustments that did not sacrifice the quality of the lesson. By creating a virtual joystick program that students could run through their home computers, Mancuso gave them the classroom experience they signed up for. 

The joystick used in Embedded Systems Development. Photo courtesy of Renato Mancuso.

Mancuso and his students’ ability to overcome obstacles of remote learning is a great example of the Department of Computer Science's strength and unwillingness to compromise the value of a BU education. Department Chair Abraham Matta has been continually impressed by the CS community. “I have been amazed by how our faculty and students have fully embraced the challenges of transitioning to remote teaching and learning,” said Matta. “I am honored to be a part of this BU CS family and I am confident we will be back on campus better and stronger.” 

 

Spotlight – Sumara Ali

By Kayla ChapmanMarch 30th, 2020in Recent News, Spotlight

by Kayla Chapman

Sumara Ali (lower right) with fellow BUILDS club members.

 

Sumara Ali (CAS ‘20) stumbled upon computer science her sophomore year of high school. She enrolled in AP Computer Science after discovering that it was the only class she and her friends could take together. What Sumara assumed would be a fun course to take with her friends quickly became a passion and future career. 

 

When Sumara realized her knack for problem-solving through the genuine enjoyment of her computer science homework, she took her love for computing to a new level; she founded her high school’s coding club, completed an independent study, and expanded her horizons into web development. 

 

To Sumara, computer science is exciting because it is a never-ending challenge. “I think CS is something you can never fully master,” said Sumara. “As soon as you finally have a good understanding of one language, all of a sudden it becomes outdated and you have to learn a new technology. You never stop learning.”

 

Now a senior at BU, Sumara is a well-known figure in the CS community, particularly for being president of the club, BUILDS. “BUILDS is a 24/7 maker space...We have a 3-D printer and scanner, power tools, raw materials, Arduino, Raspberry Pis, and just really encourage you to take apart anything,” said Sumara. “If you want to put a hole in our wall, I’m OK with it. It just has to be in the spirit of hacking.” 

 

In addition to her role at BUILDS, Sumara serves as the Treasurer of Upsilon Pi Epsilon, a technical and computing honors society at BU. When asked how she balances her heavy workload and leadership positions, she said, “I decided that being clubs makes me happy. When you decide things based on that, it’s easier to make time for them.” Sumara’s interests are not limited to computer science; she enjoys cooking, making pottery, and “painting like Bob Ross.”

 

In speaking to her academic life, Sumara acknowledged that integrating into the large CS population at BU is not easy. “Don’t be intimidated by these huge class sizes. Once you get into it and start attending office hours and make your professor know your name, it will help build community and you won’t be just another face in the lecture hall,” Sumara said. “Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. One girl on the first day of my CS 131 introduced herself and her roommate. Now those people are my roommates and best friends.” 

 

Sumara has also taken full advantage of the opportunities available at BU, participating in the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2019. “My recruitment game is a lot stronger now,” she said. “On the spot, I had to learn the highlights of my resume and how to present myself.” While the experience was daunting, “having to do it at this huge conference like 200 times while talking to different recruiters made me really good at it. I got so many interviews and opportunities from Grace Hopper, I am very glad that I did it and I recommend any else to apply.” 

 

While Sumara’s career at BU is coming to a close, her involvement in the world of computer science is just getting started. She spent her last summer as a member of Microsoft’s Explore Program, a diversity and inclusion program. This program allowed Sumara to be surrounded by motivated individuals who inspired her to pursue a career in CS. “From [the program], I decided that I want to code every single day and be a software engineer, which is why I am going back [to Microsoft] this summer.” 

 

After another summer at Microsoft, Sumara plans to postpone her graduation until December 2020 so that she can study abroad. After her time abroad (she dreams of Paris), Sumara hopes to follow in her manager at Microsoft’s footsteps. “He managed people but got to code every single day. That’s ideally what I want to end up doing. I want to manage people but still make something,” she said. “I just never want to stop learning tech.” 

BU CS COVID-19 Information

By Christian ColeMarch 16th, 2020in Recent News

In accordance with University and state recommendations, the Department of Computer Science will be teaching all courses online and department staff will largely be working remotely until further notice. If you need help during this time, please reach out to us by emailing cs@bu.edu. This email account will be monitored throughout normal business hours of 9 AM to 5 PM EDT.

If you feel you need to contact a specific BU CS administrator, see bu.edu/cs/people/staff as a general directory.

For assistance regarding online instruction, please see the CS Wiki page on Remote Instruction. Contact support@cs.bu.edu for more help.

Please visit the University's COVID-19 website for more information about the University’s operation during this period, and stay up-to-date on the latest daily developments with BU Today.

Abbas Attarwala wins the 2020 Gitner Award

BU CS's own Abbas Attarwala has been selected to receive the 2020 Gerald and Deanne Gitner Family Award for Innovation in Teaching and Technology. “This award recognizes the faculty member or team that best exemplifies innovation in teaching through the use, development, or adaptation of technology. The award celebrates innovation that results in positive learning outcomes for undergraduate students and that is recognized or adopted by faculty colleagues within or outside Boston University.”

Abbas will receive the award at the annual Celebration of Teaching, Research and Scholarship to be held Thursday, April 30, 2020, from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering.

We’re proud of Abbas’s outstanding teaching and contributions. Congratulations to him and us!

BU CS invites applications for new faculty members

By Christopher R DevitsNovember 18th, 2019in Faculty, Recent News

Boston University Computer Science has openings for two tenure-track assistant professorships beginning July 1, 2020.  Areas in which our searches are particularly focused are data-centric computing, machine learning, robotics, human-computer interaction, and graphics.   However applications in all areas of computer science are welcome and will be carefully considered.

The Department is in the midst of an extended period of sustained growth, and is looking to both deepen areas of existing strength as well as to broaden into additional, new areas.   Over the past 6 years, the tenure track faculty size has grown by 50%, with corresponding increases in graduate student population as well as in space and other resources. In December 2019, Boston University will break ground on a new 17-story, 350,000-square-foot Data Sciences Center, to house Computer Science along with other units contributing to Data Science (https://www.bu.edu/articles/2018/data-sciences-center-architectural-design/)

Boston University, which has steadily increased in rankings over the past decade, is committed to nurturing and supporting interdisciplinary and cross-departmental research.   BU is situated centrally in Boston, a vibrant city with an enormous range of options for industrial and academic collaboration around technology.

The Computer Science Department consists of a diverse group of 31 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, with research strengths in data mining, databases, graphics, image and video computing, machine learning, natural language processing, networking, distributed systems, operating systems, software design and implementation, real-time systems, security and cryptography, and theory of computation and algorithms. In addition, members of the Department collaborate closely with faculty across the university including mathematics and statistics, computer engineering, mechanical engineering, biology, earth and environment, economics, law, and medicine, among others. Additional information about the Department is available at http://www.bu.edu/cs.

Boston University as well as the Computer Science Department expect excellence in research and in teaching and are committed to building a culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse scholarly community (https://www.bu.edu/info/about/diversity/).  To apply, go to https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/14654.  Review of applications will begin on December 1, 2019 and continue on a rolling basis.

GHC 2019 Empowers BU CS Students

By Kayla ChapmanNovember 12th, 2019in Events

By Kayla Chapman

14 Boston University Computer Science (CS) students and three CS staff members landed in Orlando, Florida on October 1, 2019, for a week-long celebration of women in computing at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC). The annual convention serves as a gathering point for the bright female minds in technology.  

As the largest conference for women and female-identifying people in technology, GHC bursts with an incredible variety of networking and employment opportunities, inspiring speakers, and meaningful peer connections. The event offers attendees access to a career fair, mentorship sessions, presentations from industry professionals and more. This year’s conference, according to participants, exceeded all expectations. 

“The word that comes to mind when thinking about my Grace Hopper experience is overwhelming in the absolute best way possible,” said senior Sumara Ali (CAS‘20). 

Every year CS students at BU submit comprehensive applications in hopes of being sponsored by the Department of Computer Science to attend GHC. Nearly 50% of applicants were awarded sponsorship this year. 

“When I received the email saying I was awarded the BU GHC Scholarship, I was over the moon,” said Sarah Greisdorf (CAS‘20). “The months leading up to the event were filled with anticipation and eagerness as I didn’t know what to expect but couldn’t wait to arrive.”

Between busy hallways and filled seats, students initially found the number of participants at GHC intimidating. However, attendees quickly felt the power of female camaraderie and support in a male-dominated industry. For Megan Fantes (GRS‘20), attending such a large event evoked both shock and intrigue.

“The number of people at Grace Hopper is unimaginable. 25,000 people is a hard number to wrap your head around in general but it was confusing to me that there were 25,000 women in computer science in the United States,” said the Master’s student. “It made me wonder why we all feel so alone as women in computer science when there are actually so many of us.” 

Attendees pose outside of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL.
Andrea Burns (GRS'23), Katherine Missimer (GRS'20), Megan Fantes (GRS'20), and Sara Kim (CAS'20) pose outside of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL.

 

While there is no shortage of reasons to attend GHC, the career fair is a notable highlight. Attendees are given primary access to discuss professional opportunities with highly sought-after employers. Some participants even receive the opportunity to take these conversations a step further and participate in interviews at the conference. 

“It was so refreshing to see so many companies, big and small, advocating for an increase in women and diverse candidates,” said Taylor Rabbitt (CAS‘20).  “While I was at the conference, I had the opportunity to meet two VPs at American Express and was even able to land a job offer for a full-time position.” 

While students like Rabbitt sought out post-graduate opportunities, younger participants found value in practicing how to engage with potential employers.

“I went into [the career fair] with only a vague idea of how to pitch myself,” said Shanshan Cao (CAS‘22). “I came out of it with a solid idea of where I stand as a tech person and feeling confident and comfortable in a career fair environment.” 

Beyond the career fair, the conference served as a chance for women around the world to celebrate their unique position in the technology industry.

“As a woman of color, I have not been given many opportunities to get into tech and coding,” said senior Hannah Batio (CAS‘20). “I think it is amazing that GHC is reaching out to young people and industry people alike to get them excited about women in tech.” 

Shanshan Cao (CAS'21) tests a VR experience.
Shanshan Cao (CAS'21) tests a VR experience.

 

GHC 2019 marked the fourth year the Department of Computer Science has sponsored the event and sent a large group of students. For the staff members who represented the department, the impact was inspiring to see. 

“All students receive a lot of value even if it’s not a job offer,” said Senior Program Administrator Christian Cole (CAS‘11). “It’s really powerful for them to see just how many women there actually are in computing. Even though the percentage is much lower than it should be, the sheer number of people is high enough that there can be a really strong community.” 

Along with Cole, Undergraduate Program Director Jacob Harrington (CAS/GRS‘16) and Ph.D. Program Director Kori MacDonald managed a booth during the career expo to promote BU’s graduate student programs, faculty hiring, and world-class research. All three applauded the students’ involvement and eagerness throughout the event. 

“[The students] always seemed really busy and on the go, and I think that shows a lot of ambition. They really took every opportunity to make it the best,” said MacDonald. 

The staff also noted the high number of alumni who stopped by to say hello. “One of our alumni who was representing her company at GHC visited the booth,” said Harrington. “We sent her to [the conference] last year and she told us how much of a difference GHC made for her.”

BUCS students and staff members pose at the BU booth.
BUCS students and staff members pose at the BU booth.

 

The confidence boost provided by the celebration was felt by many of the attendees. 

“One of the greatest takeaways from GHC was the importance of owning your accomplishments,” said Ph.D. student Andrea Burns (GRS’23). “It is often too easy to undermine your success, especially as a woman, but I found it was necessary to communicate my strengths and achievements and ultimately that was what landed me my interviews.”

In the end, GHC 2019 left many of the students inspired and thankful for the opportunity. 

“It was so amazing to see so many women gathered together united by our love of technology,” said Rachel Peng (CAS ‘21). "I am so grateful to have been selected by the program to attend!”

 

CS Day 2019: Bigger Than Ever

By Kayla ChapmanNovember 7th, 2019in Events, Recent News

By Kayla Chapman

On Wednesday, October 9, 2019, a record-breaking 757 students gathered from all corners of Boston University to celebrate CS Day, an annual event hosted by the Department of Computer Science. The combination career fair, student group showcase, and celebration of all things CS aims to connect the talented students of BU with potential employers. 

Computer science has recently solidified itself as one of the most popular fields of study at BU, with approximately 960 undergraduate students, 160 MS students, and 110 Ph.D. students. Considering the passion and excitement surrounding CS at BU, it is no surprise that among the 37 companies in attendance, students could find industry giants such as Amazon, Google, and Bloomberg.

While these well-known names (which also included Facebook and Liberty Mutual), drew long lines and excitement, many students found the wide variety of companies essential to the day’s success.

“The point of CS Day isn’t necessarily about the biggest companies that come here,” said Master’s Student Rajat Tripathi (GRS‘21). “The best part is that there are so many interesting startups that you never would have gotten to know about. When you walk in here you actually get to interact with the people who work for these companies, and you get to know the technology they work on. With this close interaction, you get to assess a company better than going to the website.”

A student meets with a Bloomberg employee to discuss career opportunities.
A student meets with a Bloomberg employee to discuss career opportunities.

For Justin Janice (CAS‘21), CS Day was a valuable experience that eased the pressure of the upcoming job search. “I have never had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with recruiters and get an idea of what exactly I’m going to be going through in the application process and what to be expecting in my technical interviews and phone screens."

Beyond the career fair, students were able to connect with their peers outside of a classroom setting. Many could be seen chatting over the buffet and discussing which items to select from the swag table. 

“[CS Day] is so fun because everyone you know is here, there’s great food and a free t-shirt!” said senior Normandie Essig (CAS‘20).

Feedback for CS Day 2019 was very positive, with 84% of students rating the event “excellent” or “good” overall. Among the positive feedback, connecting with classmates, gaining interview experience, and the abundance of giveaways were mentioned often. 

Two students pose with their CS Day swag bags.
Two students pose with their CS Day swag bags.

Employers were equally impressed with CS Day, rating the number of attendees and the students’ academic caliber as “excellent” in their feedback survey responses. 

“Turnout has been fantastic,” said Arrowstreet Capital employee and BU alumnus, Timothy MacDonald (CAS‘19). “I’m really impressed with the work experience and internships that students have had. We have a lot of résumés to go through.” 

Another BU alumnus, Maulik Shah (GRS‘18) returned to campus as a representative for Red Hat. Shah expressed the value of career fairs from the employer’s perspective. 

“[Career fairs] help us get a sense of the people who are applying, put a face to a résumé and give us more background about [candidates’] experience. It also helps us put the word out that we’re hiring, and gives us a chance to tell people what we do, and helps applicants learn what they should be applying for at the company.” 

BUCS staff members Christian Cole (CAS'11) and Chris Devits model the CS Day 2019 t-shirt.
BUCS Senior Program Administrator Christian Cole (CAS'11) and Department Administrator Chris DeVits (Wheelock'10) model the CS Day 2019 t-shirt.

Students and employers alike left CS Day feeling impressed, accomplished, and ready for next steps. 

“I’ve found that [the companies] are actually as interested in us as we are interested in them, which is really exciting,” said Cali Dolfi (CAS‘21). “I’m hoping to have interviews and prospects for some good internships this summer.” 

To learn more about Computer Science at Boston University, visit https://www.bu.edu/cs/

BU Establishing New Data Sciences Faculty Unit

By Christopher R DevitsJune 25th, 2019in Recent News

From BU Today:

With BU planning to build a state-of-the-art Center for Computing & Data Sciences at the heart of its Commonwealth Avenue campus, President Robert A. Brown and Provost Jean Morrison announced this week they will propose to the Board of Trustees to create a novel collaborative, interdisciplinary faculty unit that will further strengthen the University’s commitment toward this exploding field in research and education.

In a letter sent to the BU community, Brown and Morrison said the aim of the new unit, to be called the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS), will be to bolster University efforts to hire and retain faculty across all the disciplines that intersect with computing and data sciences. And it will facilitate educational and research programs that will attract ambitious and academically accomplished undergraduate and graduate students who will be well prepared to do the work of the future. The new Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences, they said, will have a collaborative structure that serves as an interface between the traditional academic departments and faculty and students interested in computing and data sciences.

“The creation of the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences and the construction of the Center for Computing & Data Sciences gives Boston University the ingredients to be a leader in the development of computing and data sciences and their applications across the University and to educate generations of students with this competency,” says Brown. More

CS Professor Stan Sclaroff Named Dean of Arts & Sciences

After a year-long search, Computer Science (CS) Professor Stan Sclaroff has been named Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS). Professor Sclaroff acted as Dean ad iterim for CAS for the 2018/2019 academic year while the search took place and his permanent position is effective immediately.

In a letter to CAS faculty and staff, Provost Jean Morrison applauded Professor Sclaroff as "among our most distinguished faculty leaders." Provost Morrision goes on to mention that Professor Sclaroff was chosen to lead CAS "in light of his performance [as Dean ad iterim] and established reputation, his talent for organization-building and track record of collaborative leadership, and his strong commitment to improving diversity and the climate of inclusion within [CAS]."

Congratulations, Dean Sclaroff!

Professor Leonid Levin Elected to National Academy of Sciences

By Maisie GuziApril 30th, 2019in Faculty, Recent News

Boston University Department of Computer Science Professor Leonid Levin was elected as a new member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)! The NAS is a society of “distinguished scholars charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.” Members are nominated by their peers and elected because of their outstanding contributions to research.

Professor Leonid Levin

Below is the press release from the NAS website. Congratulations, Leonid!

The National Academy of Sciences announced today the election of 100 new members and 25 foreign associates in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Forty percent of the newly elected members are women—the most ever elected in any one year to date.

Those elected today bring the total number of active members to 2,347 and the total number of foreign associates to 487. Foreign associates are nonvoting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine—provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.