By Keziah Zimmerman
This year has not been an easy one. Despite the challenges of remote learning, CS students continued to amaze us with their accomplishments. To recognize the strength of those who faced these difficult times head on, our department interviewed students on their studies, hobbies, goals, and dreams. Read below for summarized versions of student stories, highlighting their involvement in our community. Congratulations to all on the completion of a tough year - we admire your hard work and determination.
Jack Giunta (CAS’22)
Jack’s love for CS began in high school when he enrolled in a video game making course which then taught him Java. Now at BU, Jack has enjoyed courses such as CS210 with Professor Appavoo, CS350 with Professor Mancuso, and CS237 with Professor Snyder.
When he’s not gaming or finishing up problem sets, Jack acts as the treasurer for BU’s Machine Intelligence Community, is the Student Director of BU CS Ambassadors, and is developing a Spark! project focused on creating a web-database of COVID-related state policies. Jack is also a Program Manager for the Community Service Center, runs the CSC Blog and Podcast "Ask & Tell”, and participates on the BU Men's Ultimate Frisbee team.
To his peers, Jack says students should not be afraid to ask for help. “My worst semesters were those in which I tried to tough it out alone,” he said. “You would be amazed at how easy it is to make a new friend, and how often those small friends turn out to be big connections later on.” After graduation, Jack dreams of creating multiplayer tournament games with a team of developers.
Jack, we thank you for the endless value you provide to our community of learners. We wish you the best as you pursue your career!
Victor Vicente (CAS’23)
As a CS major, Victor’s interest in all things electronic began when he first took up gaming as a hobby. Now a BU, Victor has found himself immersed in CS. Not only does he work as a freelancer, developing plugins and server management software for gaming networks, Victor is also the Director of Recruitment for UPE, a speaker and organizer for the Boston Hacks’ Tech Team, and is a CS Ambassador. In the future, Victor wants to continue these roles and hopes to work in either web development or systems programming.
“Working with the CS community at BU has been amazing and students should get involved,” Victor said. “BU would not be what it is for me without these clubs. Even if you don't want to join a club, there are a lot of activities around campus (and virtually) that can help you feel at home.”
Thank you to Victor for sharing your experiences. Your involvement in the community is inspiring and we look forward to seeing all you accomplish.
Using her knack for working with numbers as motivation, Andrea made it her goal to earn an undergraduate degree that would use math to solve real-world problems. Andrea not only achieved this goal after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science at Tulane University but took it a step further when she continued onto BU in pursuit of her Ph.D. After completing her Ph.D., Andrea hopes to work in computer vision, natural language processing, and human-computer interaction topics.
With her wide range of interests and growing curiosity, Andrea enjoys many hobbies outside of STEM, including dancing, painting, drawing, cooking, and studying French. At Tulane University, she studied abroad in Paris and even created a hip hop dance crew.
Andrea encourages students to actively seek opportunities and apply to jobs and internships with confidence. “Trust yourself and apply for anything you can,” she said. “I think I doubted myself too much in college and limited myself. It's always best to apply […] You never know what might happen!”
Thank you, Andrea, for your insights and the talent you bring to the CS community. We wish you the best of luck as you continue to grow!
Olivia Bene (CAS’23)
As a recent transfer student, Olivia has acclimated to life at BU quite quickly- she got involved right away, and started a job at Mugar Library earlier this year! Olivia was drawn to BU because of the opportunities available within the CS department and was motivated to apply due to her love for all things electronic. This passion began freshman year of high school, when she first took a robotics course.
During her time at BU, Olivia hopes to complete a research project in the new computing and data sciences building, where she knows researchers will be completing groundbreaking work. Her favorite course at BU has been CS112 with Professor Snyder, where she noted how his love for CS drives students’ passion.
For the department as a whole, Olivia would “love to see events (once it’s safe) that bring together CS students of all grade levels.” A fan of Boston sports and baseball, Olivia dreams of becoming a data engineer for a major MLB team such as the @RedSox once she graduates.
Thank you to Olivia for joining our series. You inspire us with your passion for CS and we cannot wait to see all you accomplish.
Sheila Jimenez Morejon (CAS’22)
Sheila chose CS on a whim when she applied to BU. After taking CS111 her first semester, she fell in love with the course content and knew she wanted to pursue CS as her major. With this passion for CS, Sheila is very involved on and off campus. She is a member of a club that creates software for social impact companies called Hack4Impact, and is also a founder of the Developer Student Club (DSC).
Outside of BU, Sheila has interned for multiple companies. The summer going into her sophomore year, she worked as a coordinator at Codebreakers, a summer camp which teaches Python and cybersecurity principles to high school girls. Additionally, this past summer, she interned for Facebook through the Facebook University program.
Taking inspiration from the help she’s received from BU friends and classmates, Sheila recommends that students ask questions whenever possible. “I was intimidated for the longest time because I felt I was behind in knowledge and experience,” she said. “I definitely was behind, but that didn't matter. I started by asking friends who had taken classes before my "stupid" questions. Eventually, I moved onto my TAs and then my professors. I learned the most this way and enjoyed the material a lot more too!”
Thank you to Sheila for taking the time to give such an in-depth interview and we appreciate all you do for our community. We wish you the best as you continue your studies!
Zoë Chirico (CAS’22)
A CS and Statistics major, Zoë is not only passionate about her coursework, but is also heavily involved on campus. Outside of the classroom, Zoë is a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, Association for Women in Mathematics, and UMOJA. In her free time, she makes TikToks about life at BU, participates in ballet, cross country, and has recently begun baking.
In the future, Zoë hopes that more students will be open to learning moments. “Imposter syndrome will paralyze you,” she says. “You’re just as qualified as any other classmate sitting next to you in lecture. We mostly see successes, but forget to be aware of what obstacles came before it.”
Zoë, thank you for participating in our spotlight series. We anticipate your future successes and are so grateful for your contributions to the CS community.
By Keziah Zimmerman
As the 2020/2021 academic year comes to an end, we wanted to take a moment to recognize the efforts of our staff members. These incredible individuals not only committed themselves to creating a successful learning experience for CS students but did so with ever-present enthusiasm. Below, we have collected biographies from our social media series, Branching Out, which highlighted staff member’s previous accomplishments, demonstrated personal interests, and better unified our community. Here’s to the CS department and all you have done this year- thank you for helping the CS and BU community flourish!
Jess Kupczak: Undergraduate Academic Advisor
Originally from Boston, Jess graduated from Boston University in 2018 with a BA in Psychology. When applying for jobs, she ultimately chose BU CS because of the exciting developments in the field and for the opportunity to build relationships with students. “My favorite part of my job is hearing about student’s interests, goals, and passions,” Jess said.
When she’s not at work, Jess enjoys baking, embroidery, and painting. Jess’s favorite TV show is New Girl (not just because the main character is named Jess), and she recommends it to everyone! Her top music genres on Spotify are Pop and Rock and her favorite artists are Bon Iver, Harry Styles, Florence and the Machine, and Rainbow Kitten Surprise. She’s currently reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama and “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. Jess also has a rambunctious Tuxedo kitty named Leo, who has more nicknames than the average cat. In addition to being called Leo, he also goes by Leonardo DiCatrio, Bubba, and Stinky.
For those new to Boston looking for a bite to eat, Jess recommends trying Tatte Bakery, Pavement Coffeehouse, Life Alive Organic Café, and Blaze Pizza. She also thinks every Bostonian should take a trip across the Smoot Bridge (or the MIT Mass Ave Bridge) for the views and should visit the North End for baked goods- “go to Bova’s Bakery and skip the line at Mike’s and Modern,” Jess said.
Looking back on her own college experience, Jess wishes she had pushed herself out of her comfort zone a bit more and spent time exploring fields she was unfamiliar with. “Make sure you get out of the BU bubble,” Jess said. “This goes for physical campus but also in terms of academics – be sure to branch out!”
Jess, we thank you for all you do for our department and for participating in our Branching Out series. Best of luck as you continue your work!
Erin Murdock: Undergraduate Academic Advisor
Erin recently joined BU CS and will work alongside Jess Kupczak as one of our new Undergraduate Academic Advisors! Although Erin is just getting started in her new role, she is extremely excited to grow with the CS department. She completed her BA at Mount Holyoke College, with a major in Gender & Environmental Studies and a certificate in Queer & Sexuality Studies. Erin also holds an Ed.M. from Boston University in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies that she completed in 2019 and she is currently pursuing an MBA from the Questrom School of Business.
Outside of work, Erin enjoys yoga and has been actively trying to incorporate it into her everyday routine. During quarantine, she thinks everyone should read Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, which is a true story about a survivalist family and how education changed Westover’s life. Erin has a 6-year-old Boston Terrier named Kobe (like the beef not the Bryant), and he feels right at home here at BU!
If you are looking for places to eat in Boston, Erin highly recommends the Barking Crab in Seaport. When asked what the best coffee spot on campus was, she responded: “I have a strong opinion on this. Einstein Bros. Bagels in the CAS basement. Order a hazelnut coffee and an asiago bagel with garlic and herb cream cheese- the combination is out of this world.”
Based on her own experiences, Erin encourages students to pursue activities that bring them joy. “I was on an NCAA swimming & diving team my first year of college and was absolutely miserable,” she said. “Even though I was unhappy, I was determined to stick with it because I had made a commitment. Of course, stick with your commitments you make, but not at the expense of your own happiness.”
Thank you, Erin for all of your efforts- we look forward to your continued hard work!
Jacob Harrington: Academic Programs Manager
Growing up in Wallingford, Connecticut, Jacob was determined to pursue his undergraduate degree in a bustling city and he decided to do so at BU. He graduated in 2016 with his BA/MA in Economics and completed his Master of Urban Affairs through BU’s Metropolitan College in 2019. Jacob’s love for BU continued past graduation - he has been working at the university since the day after he received his degree! His favorite part of the job is being able to work with amazing colleagues, not just within the department, but across the entire university.
With more time indoors due to the pandemic, Jacob has rekindled his passion for playing the trombone, finding that playing music is a great stress-reliever after busy days on Zoom. Being inside has also allowed Jacob to spend more time with Riggins, his orange tabby cat who loves to cuddle and steal food off of people’s plates. Jacob’s top three musical artists are The National, Pinegrove, and Future Islands, and although Kelly Clarkson does not fall on his top three musicians’ list, his go-to karaoke song is (obviously) Since U Been Gone! The last book he read was the third novel of The Witcher series, Baptism of Fire, and highly recommends this series to anyone looking for new books to read. Jacob’s favorite restaurants are Veggie Galaxy in Central Square, Cambridge; Stoked Pizza in Washington Square, Brookline; and Saloniki Greek in Fenway!
To students looking for advice, Jacob emphasizes the importance of connecting with professors. “Go to office hours and talk with your professors,” Jacob said. “Don’t be afraid or nervous to talk about yourself and your accomplishments.”
A huge thank you to Jacob for all of his work throughout this past year. You are an essential part of our community and we appreciate all you do!
Christian Cole: Senior Program Administrator
Meet Christian Cole, the Senior Program Administrator for the CS Department! Growing up in rural Maine, Christian decided to branch out (pun intended) from these rustic roots and venture to the city for his college years. To achieve these dreams of attending university in a city, he decided to go to BU. Christian graduated with his BA in Environmental Science and a French minor. After college, he continued on to work for the CS Department. He enjoys working in the CS world for its dynamic nature, but his favorite part of the job is watching students graduate, as he loves seeing them achieve such a momentous goal.
Prior to the pandemic, Christian was a huge runner, spinner, and traveler, but ever since quarantine, he has dabbled in a new hobby: Animal Crossing New Horizons. Quarantine has also given Christian time to indulge in more Netflix. He loved Bridgerton and is an adamant follower of the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. While his favorite artists include Lady Gaga, Troye Sivan, and Lizzo, Christian once won a gift certificate to the BU Pub for his karaoke performance of Prince Ali from Aladdin.
As a BU native, Christian’s favorite spot on campus is Bay State Road in the spring with all the magnolia and dogwood trees in bloom. He encourages every Bostonian to go kayaking on the Charles and try the almond milk latte from 1369 Cafe in Inman Square! If you’re looking for new restaurants, Christian recommends Monument Restaurant and Tavern in Charlestown, Lulu’s in Allston, and Cambridge Common in Harvard Square.
From his own college and professional experiences, Christian advises students to attend office hours on a semi-regular basis. “Office hours give you something to work towards so you have questions to ask,” Christian said. “It helps you get to know your professors better which is great for recommendations if you decide to apply to grad school.” He also encourages students post-pandemic to study abroad, describing his time in Grenoble, France (RIP) as “the best undergraduate experience” he had.
A special thank you to Christian for his constant support throughout this past year. Your work does not go unnoticed and we appreciate everything you do for the CS community!
Kori MacDonald: Program Administrator
Today’s Branching Out feature is Kori MacDonald, the Program Administrator for the CS Ph.D. Program! Originally from Merrimack, NH, Kori received her BA in Public Relations at Quinnipiac University. After graduation, she decided to attend Merrimack College, where she received her M.Ed. in Higher Education. After learning about BU CS, she recognized the program’s potential for growth, with its increasing Ph.D population and BU’s plans to construct a new building. Kori accepted her job offer in hopes of contributing to this development but ended up connecting with people so personally, she considers the CS community to be a part of her extended family.
Although Kori does not qualify herself to decorate the Sistine Chapel, she adores painting. Kori has two dogs Stella and Nova! Stella is 14 years old, a favorite among department faculty members, and Nova is a newly adopted 3-year-old puppy. Kori also has a hamster, Lavender, who has also been well-integrated into her family’s zoo.
Kori really misses Pavement’s coffee, stating that she’s unsure if it’s because she hasn’t had it in a year or if it’s because it’s really that good, “but a mocha latte with a pistachio muffin… chef’s kiss!” She thinks every Bostonian should go to a Red Sox or a Bruins game, Kori suggests being on the lookout for what’s right in BU’s back yard. “Even if you don’t know or like the sport,” she said, “it’s the crowds, the company you’re with, and the snacks that make nights at Fenway or the Garden so special.”
Beyond enjoying lattes from Pavement or experiencing memorable nights wandering around Boston, Kori encourages students to appreciate the time they have in school. “College has a lot to offer, beyond resume builders! Do things that make you happy and spend time (COVID-safely) with people who support you the way you support them,” she said. “I think, all of us, not just college students, forget to celebrate the small stuff. So, if you feel you’ve had a productive day, or you passed an exam, or you put yourself out there in a new situation, celebrate that!”
Kori, we appreciate all of your work and perseverance throughout this year- thank you for all you do!
Chelsea Houlihan: Administrative Coordinator
Born and raised in Connecticut, Chelsea moved away from home to attend the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where she majored in English Rhetoric & Communications. After graduating, Chelsea decided to develop her career at BU CS, the main reason being the department’s inclusive and dynamic work environment. As a close-knit community, Chelsea has been able to build connections and has limitless opportunities to meet new people, which is her favorite part of the job!
When she’s not chatting with other CS staff members and getting to know students, Chelsea enjoys CrossFit, traveling to new places (pre-COVID), hiking, and spending her summer days at the beach playing cornhole. When the weather forces her to stay inside, she binges shows such as WandaVision and Good Trouble, which she recommends everyone should watch if they have the time. Chelsea also has a new member of her family - Astro, who is a 6-month old puppy and is quite the handful!
To truly experience Boston culture, Chelsea encourages people to attend a Bruins hockey game and recommends taking a bike ride through Seaport, as there are amazing views and restaurants scattered throughout the area. Specific restaurants Chelsea enjoys dining at are Mama Magoos and Jim’s Market (order the Clogger- a hearty and delicious breakfast sandwich). She is also a huge fan of Los Amigos, which she passionately argues is superior to Chipotle.
In addition to exploring the city, Chelsea urges students to take the time to meet new people through school events, as they are a great way to network with peers.
Thank you, Chelsea, for participating in Branching Out and for helping our department run smoothly- we couldn’t do it without you!
Cristhel Santillan: Grants Administrator
Cristhel grew up in Boston and graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in Psychology and certification in Finance. Not only does Cristhel enjoy the collegiate work environment that BU provides, she also loves the CS department for its dog-friendly office space. Her favorite part of the job is how she is able to help others, specifically since her role allows her to aid researchers’ project funding.
Outside of CS, Cristhel adores baking, gardening, playing with her dogs, and reading. The last book she read was the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and she is currently working through The House of the Spirits. Cristhel considers both Cable Girls and Wandavision to be binge-worthy TV shows, and encourages everyone to spend a rainy day indulging in these series. When blasting music in her car, Cristhel’s favorite artists to come on shuffle are FKA Twigs and Bomba Estero and her song of choice is “Hey There Delilah.” She has two goofy dogs, Teddy (7 y.o.) and Luna (2 y.o.), that love sleeping and barking at birds (don’t we all!).
As a Boston local, born-and-raised, Cristhel thinks every Bostonian should experience at least one group sing-along of “Sweet Caroline” at a Red Sox game. For coffee and tea, Cristhel suggests going to either Jugos or Pavement. Her favorite restaurants are El Peñol in East Boston and Earl’s in Back Bay. Cristhel’s go-to spot on campus is the BU Beach - especially with its recent addition of outdoor seating and string lights!
For students looking for advice, Cristhel thinks everyone should give themselves room on their own to find out exactly what they enjoy doing. “That doesn’t mean you let other responsibilities slide,” she says, “but instead make it a priority alongside other things that matter.”
Thank you, Cristhel for your determination throughout this entire year. We appreciate all you do!
Chris DeVits: CS Department Manager
Meet Chris DeVits, the Department Manager for BU CS and recent Susan K. Jackson award recipient! Chris grew up in Malden, MA and currently lives with his family in Manchester, NH. Chris attended Saint Anselm College as a Politics major and earned his Masters and Advanced Graduate Certificates in Higher Ed Administration from BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Chris started in his role with CS in 2012 and appreciates how it has maintained a small tight-knit community vibe despite growing to one of the largest departments in CAS over the years.
Before the pandemic, Chris’s favorite part of work was commencement weekend. He described it as an awesome opportunity to see students’ accomplishments celebrated by friends and family. Despite missing events such as graduation, Chris finds reasons to appreciate remote work such as the extra time he’s been able to spend with his two kids (a 6-month-old and 3-year-old). Although his Spotify history has shifted from bands like Rage Against the Machine to different renditions of baby shark, he describes the memories made with his family over the past year as a blessing. Chris also has an English Setter named Belle who he loves to bring to the office and he invites you to stop by and say hello once things are back to normal!
When stepping away from his responsibilities, Chris enjoys searching for critters during hikes, spending time outdoors, and watching action-packed movies and TV shows like 24, Jack Ryan, and 300. This fondness for adventure makes Chris’s go-to karaoke song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor unsurprising! For local recommendations, Chris suggests the Eggnog Latte at Pavement and Cornwalls for a bite to eat.
Chris encourages students to take advantage of the time they have to learn about subjects that interest them. “Once you graduate, you get a job, bills are due, lawns need to be mowed, and kids need to be cared for,” Chris said. “You rarely find yourself with uninterrupted time to learn about something new. Don’t let this opportunity slip by.”
Chris, you provide so much to the department and we appreciate all you have done for the CS community. We thank you for everything!
On December 4th, 2020, Parul Sohal (GRS’24) was awarded by the IEEE Real-Time Systems Symposium (RTSS) for the best student paper. The work is titled “E-WarP: a System-wide Framework for Memory Bandwidth Profiling and Management" and was co-authored by Rohan Tabish, Ulrich Drepper, and Renato Mancuso.
According to their website, the IEEE RTSS is the “premier conference in the field of real-time systems and is a venue for researchers and practitioners to showcase innovations covering all aspects of real-time systems, including theory, design, analysis, implementation, evaluation, and experience.”
Congratulations to Parul, Rohan, Ulrich, and Renato on this accomplishment!
For more information on RTSS please visit: http://2020.rtss.org/
The award-winning paper is accessible here: https://cs-people.bu.edu/rmancuso/files/papers/EWarP_RTSS20_final.pdf
By Keziah Zimmerman
CS Professors Bryan Plummer and Kate Saenko, in collaboration with professionals from UC Berkeley, University of Washington, and UC Davis, have received $2 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The grant is in support of a project that aims to battle automated misinformation in the news. BU CS spoke with Professor Bryan Plummer to gain insight into the objectives and challenges of this upcoming research.
“One of our goals is to automatically detect misinformation in the news,” said Plummer. “Powerful AI agents have recently been developed that can automatically generate text and images that are difficult to identify as machine-generated. Since these AI agents are fairly easily used, there are significant worries about this being used to spread misinformation.”
Citing a competition at Facebook which attempts to detect machine-generated images, Plummer emphasized the relevance of such research to the challenge of addressing misinformation in the news.
“Professor Saenko and I have already started to investigate AI misinformation in some of our recent work,” said Plummer. “With our graduate student, Reuben Tan (GRS’23), we created machine-generated news articles by using state-of-the-art language generation methods, and then our goal was to identify the real and fake news articles. We designed an algorithm that tries to find a mismatch between a new article and any images and captions that significantly improved the performance of our model.”
In addition to this new research project, both professors have worked with DARPA before, developing projects focused on explainable artificial intelligence and learning with fewer labels. To receive the current grant, Plummer and Seanko teamed up with researchers at other institutions for their proposal.
“Rapid advances in AI and machine learning have led to the ability to synthesize images of people who don’t exist, videos of people doing things they never did, recordings of them saying things they never said, and entirely fabricated news stories about events that never happened,” said Plummer when summarizing the research proposal. “While many earlier forensic techniques have proven effective at combating more traditional falsified content, new approaches are required to combat this new type of AI-synthesized content.”
One of the biggest challenges the researchers expect to face is the ever-changing nature of specific AI models that automatically detects machine-manipulated media. Plummer explained how this is an obstacle because the methods that identify the manipulated media most likely will not work once the AI model changes.
“It is especially difficult to detect for some methods that selectively manipulate an image or news article to change its intent,” said Plummer. “Since most of the content is from the original source, you have to find anomalies due to the local changes that were made.”
When asked about goals for the project, Plummer identified that there are multiple objectives the group has, but he is particularly interested in learning how to adapt models to identify new AI automatically, and then to discern the intent behind the manipulation. This will allow the researchers to interpret the overall goal of this sort of AI manipulation.
With this new award and project taking shape, BU CS students will, no doubt, be curious about how they could follow a similar path. When asked for advice for those looking to get into research, Plummer emphasized that while there are many choices, a focused approach helped him along his path.
“There are a lot of choices you can make in your academic career,” said Plummer. “Deciding on what to do, having a clear idea of what you want to see happen, and fitting that into your long term plans can make it easier to decide what to spend your time on. This helped keep me focused on my goals.”
Our own CS assistant professor, Renato Mancuso, was recently featured in an article in the Communications of the ACM covering the work he did for CS 454/654 (Embedded Systems) last spring. The article also discusses professors from other universities, how they have approached online learning, and the way they feel about it.
Read more here:
Professors Mark Crovella (CS, Bioinformatics) and Simon Kasif (BME, CS, Bioinformatics) are working with multiple other CS researchers in the US (including researchers from Virginia Tech, Microsoft Research, and UCLA). Co-developing a machine learning methodology to analyze viral and human protein-protein interaction networks, the researchers have advanced our understanding of the biological processes affected by SARS-CoV-2 and the human cells it infects.
This computational analysis has also produced numerous novel predictions of the potential of nodes in the network that can be targeted by repositioning existing safe drugs to inhibit the circuitry used by the virus to replicate and infect human cells. With this work, the researchers have showcased the promise of collaborations, public data sharing, and agile deployment of machine learning methods to develop therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases and clinical challenges more generally.
Greg Ryslik, who was a CS part-time lecturer during the Spring 2020 semester, was recently included in Boston Business Journal’s 40 under 40.
Ryslik, who received his PhD in Biostatistics from Yale University, is currently working as the Chief Data Officer at Celsius Therapeutics. Ryslik received his BS in math, CS, and finance from Rutgers and an MS in Statistics from Columbia and has experience with artificial intelligence, biotech, autotech, fintech and pure tech domains.
Congratulations, Greg, on your achievement!
By Keziah Zimmerman
This past Saturday, September 12th, CS Ambassadors hosted CS Splash, the annual club fair for computer science-related groups. The event was, for the first time ever, held on Zoom and nearly 80 participants joined the call.
“We’ve been working on Splash since February. It’s one of our biggest events,” said Jack Giunta (CAS‘22), one of the CS Ambassadors tasked with organizing the event. “I definitely think students should connect with the program and each other to diversify their experience.”
Despite being virtual, students found plenty of opportunities to connect with the 25 clubs represented at Splash. The event was structured with a main Zoom chat room containing a comprehensive list of clubs, each with their own Zoom link for a more specific engagement. The breadth of clubs allowed anyone in attendance to join video chats that piqued their interest.
“I was really interested in joining a CS based-club and meeting other people interested in my major,” said Sophie Fang (CAS‘21), a member of CS Connect, which is a club focused on engaging and connecting students through tech events. “CS Connect allowed me to learn and give advice, network, engage in technical workshops, and community events. It doesn’t matter your major or coding knowledge- CS Connect is open to everyone.”
It wasn’t just students participating in this weekend’s Splash. Computer Science Professor Wayne Snyder was present to moderate the event and give students advice on how to become more involved in the wide variety of groups and clubs.
“At BU, you are able to study in the context of not only a great college, but a great city,” said Professor Snyder. “Don’t narrow your focus too much. So much about CS is networking and there are so many great ways to get involved.”
Further emphasizing the resources available throughout the CS community, Snyder encouraged students to get involved with programs available through BU Spark!, such as Innovation Fellows, Co-Lab, and X-Lab. These fellowships offer either class credit or a paid on-campus internship.
“Spark! [has] a fellowship based on student ideas,” said Eric Chao (CAS‘22), a student who had been involved with the program in the past. “X-Lab specifically allowed me to participate in a team setting, develop my project management skills, and build something real for a company with minimal repercussions.”
Clubs and resources available through computer science do not focus solely on computational or technical skills. Many of the organizations also emphasize culture, diversity, and human connection.
“When I first joined the National Society of Black Engineers, I thought it was going to be purely professional,” said Junia Janvier (CAS’23). “That wasn’t the case at all. Everyone was so welcoming and joining the group made the BU community so much smaller.”
Neha Rai (CAS‘21) expressed a similar point to Janvier when discussing her involvement in the club Girls Who Code. “Before college, I wasn’t really interested in computer engineering because it’s a male-dominated field,” said Rai. “Now, it doesn’t bother me as much. I would like to see other girls have similar opportunities to mine.”
“I thought Girls Who Code would be a great opportunity to advance my own skills,” said Natalie Rosales (CAS‘21), who is a founder of the Girls Who Code chapter at BU. “There wasn’t a Girls Who Code program in my high school and I’ve thought about how much I would’ve loved to join this group when I was younger.”
Despite the obstacles faced during this era of social distancing, CS Ambassadors are committed to providing an inclusive and unifying community, and they hope Splash and other events will promote this objective. Reflecting on what made the event successful, Giunta referred to being passionate about the subject matter.
“We want to share the love of what we do,” said Giunta. “Just because we work with robotics doesn’t make us robots. Meeting other people in CS will not only help you connect with someone on a personal level, but establishes a foundation for who you want to be. So try new things, stick your neck out, go to information sessions. Learning what’s best for you comes by learning from other people, so do everything you can to meet new people.”
By Keziah Zimmerman
This past summer, CS Professor John Byers was named to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to work with the Information Science and Technology (ISAT) Study Group. Byers recently attended his first ISAT workshop, which ran from August 17th-20th over Zoom. BU CS caught up with Byers to learn more about DARPA, ISAT, and the influential work being carried out by these research groups.
The ISAT group, established in 1987, includes approximately 30 renowned scientists and engineers. Those involved collaborate to discover new ideas for research and create independent assessments for DARPA.
“DARPA has a very clear mission: invest in breakthrough technologies to enhance national security and avoid becoming a victim of technological surprise,” said Byers. “The workshop [laid] the groundwork for all of the ISAT study workshops in 2020-21.”
As the Founding Chief Scientist and Director at Cogo Labs, Byers is able to put his background with entrepreneurship and research into practice as he collaborates within the group.
“A great deal of what DARPA thinks about relates to information security and communication networks, so my background in each of those areas is highly relevant,” said Byers. “I think [...] a good goal for now [is to] come up with a pitch idea that is strong enough to take all the way to the finish line: completing an outstanding study and giving an out-brief to DARPA leadership.”
Byers described the first meeting as one where individuals “pitch big ideas which studies can be centered on, and subgroups form around those pitches.” Over the course of the week, the scholars improve upon the pitches and the best gets chosen, giving the ISAT study group an idea of the people who they will invite to discuss their research.
When asked about the biggest challenges facing this interdisciplinary group, Byers identified the potential for impact. “Identifying ideas that truly have the potential to be world-changing,” said Byers. “Those don't come along every day and usually only after working hard on lots and lots of dead ends.”
Byers is excited to work with those involved in ISAT and was surprised by the collaborative vibe and collegiality of the group.
“Even over Zoom, and in a group where I only knew 10% of the people going in, it was easy to get lots of useful collaborative work done in a relatively short amount of time,” said Byers. “The technologists involved, both from the military and within the ISAT group are each pioneering and blue-sky innovators in their own right, so collaborative strategic thinking with them is very rewarding.”
As Associate Dean of the Faculty for Mathematical & Computational Sciences, Professor in the Department of Computer Science, and founding member of the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences, Byers’ career is one filled with innovation, partnership, and bold ideas.
When asked for advice for students who would like to follow a similar path to Byers, his advice was holistic. “Avoid narrow focus,” Byers said. “Go to a hackathon and work with a new team, go see some research talks, connect with BU Spark!, go to a pitch competition at EPIC or Questrom (or better still: give a pitch). If you have your head down all the time and stay in your lane, you run the risk of missing something amazing happening.”
by Kayla Chapman
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.
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.”