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National Science Foundation Program Brings Top Students to Texas Tech

They have spent 10 weeks working as part of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site Program.

Written by Sally Logue Post

 Texas Tech's Shiloh Huff, left, developed a new program to teach computer programming. His colleague, Stephanie Graham,  based middle school and high school curricula on Huff’s work.

Texas Tech’s Shiloh Huff, left, developed a new program to teach computer programming. His colleague, Stephanie Graham, based middle school and high school curricula on Huff’s work.

From robotics to smart grid security, 10 students from Texas Tech and universities across the country have spent the past 10 weeks working on a variety of topics as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site Program.

This is the final year of Texas Tech’s three-year grant from NSF that brings undergraduate students to campus to participate in ongoing research programs.

“The students go through the research process, from the literature review to designing their project to presenting their results,” said Susan Urban, professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and principal investigator on the grant. “Our NSF grant allows us to expose undergraduates to the research process in a short period of time, and hopefully, this experience encourages the students to go on to graduate school.”

Urban said her team has tracked the students from the previous two years and found that about 50 percent have gone to graduate school. While not all of the students from the previous years have graduated, Urban said she is hearing from them now about graduate school.

Research Success

As part of the program, the students have been paired with a faculty mentor as well as a graduate student to assist them through the research process. They also took part in numerous professional development seminars covering topics such as applying to graduate school and ethics in research.

For Charles Baker, this is his second summer in the program. Last year was his first experience with research. Now he has his sights set on a graduate degree from Texas Tech.

“I was able to continue last summer’s research project into the fall,” said Baker. “I wrote a paper that was accepted by an international conference on software security and reliability. I was able to go to the conference in Washington, D.C., and present the paper.”

Research Collaboration

For some students, the 10-week program also was a lesson in collaboration and building on one another’s work.

Sabyne Peeler, a senior from Florida A&M University, is one of 10 students from across the country to participate in Texas Tech’s Tech’s NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site Program.

Sabyne Peeler, a senior from Florida A&M University, is one of the 10 students who participated in the program.

Shiloh Huff, a Texas Tech senior computer science major, modified an existing program into a new program called DOROTHY (Design of Robotic Oriented Thinking to Help Youth). His program is aimed at attracting young students, especially women and minorities, into computer science.

“DOROTHY is a simple drag-and-drop interface that allows students to program robots with sound, lights and movement,” he said. “My goal was to make an easy application so that young students would not be intimidated by complicated programming.”

Stephanie Graham, a Texas Tech junior computer science major, used Huff’s DOROTHY program to create middle school and high school curricula.

“Previously there has been a standardized curriculum for middle school and high school students,” she said. “The two groups learn differently and don’t need to be learning the same things. I used DOROTHY to develop a curriculum for middle school students that focuses on an introduction to computer science. For high school students, the curriculum focuses on design and the methods of solving problems.”

Sabyne Peeler, a senior computer science major from Florida A&M University, takes DOROTHY one step further.

“We have the imaging and mapping capabilities to use a type of robot called the Erratic robot to show students real-life applications of computer science,” said Peeler. “It’s a next step to demonstrate what real robots are capable of and what types of robots students might actually work with.”

The students and their projects are:

  • Charles Baker, Texas Tech, Simulation of Fault Detection for Robot Applications
  • Tyler Flack, Texas Tech, Exploiting Security Vulnerabilities in a Smart Grid Home Area Network Using Hardware Simulation
  • Gabriel Garza, Texas Tech, Creating a Zigbee Home Area Network Simulator for Smart Grid Security Research
  • Stephanie Graham, Texas Tech, Using Graphical Programming and Robotics to Educate Students in the Principles of Computer Science
  • Benjamin Horne, Union University, Extensions to the Descartes Specification Language for the Development of Real-time Object Oriented Systems
  • Shiloh Huff, Texas Tech, Design of Robotic Oriented Thinking to Help Youth (DOROTHY)
  • Catherine Meador, Swarthmore College, Using Context to Improve Robot Vision
  • Sabyne Peeler, Florida A&M University, Creating a Stimulating 3D Programming Environment by Integrating Complex Robot Types
  • Sandra Pogarcic, Vassar College, Event Stream Processing for Intrusion Detection in Zigbee Home Area Networks
  • Christian Washington, Louisiana State University, Decision-Making on Robots using POMDPs and Answer Set Programming

Faculty advisers for the program are: Urban, associate professor Michael Shin and assistant professor Mohan Sridharan in the Department of Computer Science, and professor Joseph Urban in the Department of Industrial Engineering.

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