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For UW CSE’s Johan Michalove, “teaching to the test” means inspiring a love of learning

Johan MichaloveTo mark the end of finals week, the next installment of our Undergrad Spotlight features a member of the UW CSE community who devotes his spare time to helping other students to succeed. Meet Johan Michalove, a senior from Bellevue, Washington who has spent the past three years tutoring students and currently serves as chair of the UW ACM, the campus chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Michalove is double-majoring in Computer Science and Philosophy. As ACM chair, he strives to make the CSE community vibrant and inclusive by coordinating a variety of events and programming. As a high school tutor, he inspires students to do more than succeed on a test — he helps them to develop a lifelong love of learning.

CSE: Why did you choose to study computer science?

JM: I first got excited about computer science through taking the intro series during my freshman year. I chose CSE because the concepts fascinated me, and also for how quickly you can go from an idea to a real, tangible object that people can play with or benefit from.

CSE: What is your favorite thing about being a UW CSE student?

JM: Our undergraduate community, definitely. The variety of my classmates’ interests continues to surprise me. I’m always hearing about new obscure subjects, side projects, and interesting experiences.

CSE: Who or what in UW CSE has inspired you the most?

JM: I’ve enjoyed mentorship from faculty who are advancing CS and laying the groundwork of CS education. It’s inspiring and humbling to witness the formative years of a relatively young subject. Adam Blank‘s approach to designing and structuring meaningful, yet highly scalable learning experiences has given me many new insights how technology can improve education.

CSE: What made you decide to tutor high school students?

JM: At the outset, I was just excited to teach and have a platform to gain mentorship and experience in the craft of teaching. As a college freshman I didn’t know what I constantly see today: many intelligent students near the end of high school lacking a strong foundation in basic reading, writing or math skills. Within the public school system, it’s particularly easy for students to slip through the cracks, only to arrive to college and realize they’ve never learned how to study or take on truly difficult academic endeavors. I also didn’t realize the number of high school students who have acute learning disabilities and test anxiety. I’ve had students break into nervous sweats when a math test is placed before them. I’ve stayed on to explore how I can help these students and hone my abilities as a teacher and mentor.

CSE: How are you helping your students to overcome those challenges?

JM: My primary role is preparing students for the standardized tests they take to enter college. Many of our students have learning disabilities and special accommodations, so we work to understand where they’re falling behind and exactly how they can improve their performance. Although the teaching is ostensibly about tests, my goal is to help students find an engaged, positive attitude towards learning even when the subject-matter seems dry — we are talking about standardized tests! — so they can take that with them to whatever pursuits they follow. This often involves helping them overcome a particular fears or anxieties and providing mentorship, supplemented by content knowledge.

In the most severe cases, I’ve taught high school juniors multiplication and division. More frequently they come in without understanding basic geometry and algebra. Many of my math students are baffled by the reading passages. Teaching effectively from the 1st to the 99th percentile is difficult. Three years later, I’m still finding new ways to sharpen my approach.

CSE: What kind of impact are you making in this role?

JM: My work directly helps students whose needs were not fulfilled by the regular educational system. Although the number of students I teach is a blip compared to UW classes or the scale reached by MOOCs, the goal is for students who’re seldom at ease in the classroom to have genuine, positive learning experiences. I would like to think that through the tests, we’re teaching students how to learn (and often for the first time). It’s exciting to be involved in the formative stages of these individuals, and it’s not uncommon for students to come back and say that preparing for the tests was the first time they ever enjoyed learning.

CSE: What is your favorite memory/project so far?

JM: Those lightbulb moments when you know something just “clicked” perfectly for a student. Their eyes light up and they let out an excited “Ohhhhhhhhhh.” You know it’s a concept they’re never going to forget.

CSE: How does this position relate to your long term goals?

JM: Shhh, they’re still under wraps. Though you can probably guess they involve education and computer science.

Thank you, Johan, for your leadership and service! And happy end of finals to all of our undergrads — see you next quarter!

December 16, 2016

Crosscut: Why tech companies aren’t hiring more local grads

tech-worker-550x440“So what distinguishes the UW from other Washington schools? Aside from its obvious geographical advantage of being smack dab in the center of a global tech hub, the University has made use of several strategies to routinely get its grads into top-notch jobs. ‘The University has been tuning its computer science curriculum to the needs of software development companies for decades now,’ says [Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) CEO Michael] Schutzler.

“The challenging curriculum and internship program also play a big role. ‘Most students do summer internships at leading-edge companies – and they can do this without relocating,’ Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department, wrote in an email. ‘This, plus the capstone design courses at the end of their senior year, makes them industry-ready.’

“The UW also makes use of what’s called the Industry Affiliates Program, that gives students a sneak peek at the industry while allowing companies to start recruiting top talent early. More than 100 companies, including the likes of Google and Facebook, are part of the program, which offers resume workshops and practice interviews to help prepare students for future careers.”

Read more here.

December 14, 2016

UW CSE undergraduates recognized as outstanding researchers by the Computing Research Association

Christopher Mackie, Nathaniel Yazdani, Sarah YuCarrying on UW CSE’s tradition of excellence in undergraduate research, three students — Christopher Mackie, Nathaniel Yazdani, and Sarah Yu — have been recognized by the Computing Research Association as part of its 2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards. Since the year 2000, 55 UW CSE undergraduates have earned accolades from CRA for excellence in research — more than any other institution in North America.

Mackie and Yazdani are members of CSE’s Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group. Mackie, who is studying Computer Science and Physics, has been working with professor Michael Ernst on the Signedness Checker, a new verification tool for preventing signedness errors in numerical computations in Java that is part of UW CSE’s Checker Framework. He recently earned third place in the student research competition at FSE 2016.

Yazdani is collaborating with professor Ras Bodik on the development of a synthesis engine to enable the high-performance layout of large-scale data visualizations. He is working toward degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics, after which he plans to pursue a Ph.D. and an academic research career. Yazdani was profiled as an undergraduate research leader by the UW’s Undergraduate Research Program.

Yu, who is studying Computer Science, International Studies, and Economics, is a research assistant in the Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab led by professor Richard Anderson. She has been working alongside Ph.D. students Sam Castle and Fahad Pervaiz in the lab’s Digital Financial Services Research Group to address security and usability challenges for digital banking in the developing world, including a study of mobile money markets in Ghana. Last spring, Yu was named a member of the inaugural class of the Husky 100.

All three students earned Honorable Mentions in the competition, which is designed to highlight exceptional potential among the rising generation of computer scientists. UW CSE students’ success over the years in the CRA awards is evidence of our commitment to providing our undergrads with a first-rate educational experience, including opportunities to participate in hands-on research alongside our faculty, Ph.D. students, and postdocs.

Congratulations to Chris, Nate and Sarah — we’re proud of you! (And great job supporting undergraduate research, PLSE and ICTD teams!)

December 13, 2016

Lots of silliness at the annual UW CSE holiday party

The annual UW CSE holiday party is always a fun event for students, staff, and faculty. And then there’s the faculty skit … “rehearsal” shots below …


December 11, 2016

How Seattle became “Cloud City”

20161208cloud02_tzr-1020x642A nice series of articles in the Seattle Times explains cloud computing and describes Seattle’s leading role.

“‘In general, there is someone who can deliver you electricity more reliably and less expensively than you can generate it yourself,’ said Ed Lazowska, a University of Washington computer scientist. ‘What’s happening now is most of us are increasingly relying on utilities, be it Amazon, or Microsoft or Google, to give us the computing we need.’

“In other words, the power of the technology at your fingertips no longer depends on how powerful of a PC you bought for your den or the number of servers blinking in the backroom where you work.

“All you need is a credit card, which can give you access to the power and technology that enables everything from your corporate email account to a supercomputer.”

First article here. Second article here. More to come!

December 10, 2016

UW CSE’s Melissa Galloway blazes her own trail, honoring the spirit of Grace Hopper

Melissa Galloway holding her teaching assistant awardThis fall, we launched a new feature, the CSE Undergrad Spotlight, to shine a light on the diverse ways in which our students are contributing to our campus and our community. For our second installment, CSE talked to Melissa Galloway, a senior from Vancouver, Washington who is pursuing a double degree in Computer Science and Human Centered Design & Engineering. Galloway has been involved in undergraduate research, working with professor Zach Tatlock in CSE’s Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group, and was selected as a 2016-2017 Washington Research Foundation Fellow.

Galloway also dedicates her time to mentoring students as a Teaching Assistant for CSE’s popular introductory programming courses — a commitment which last spring earned her the Bob Bandes Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching in recognition of her outstanding performance as a TA. This quarter, Galloway serves as the head TA for CSE 143 and as a TA for CSE’s Women in Computing Seminar. CSE caught up with Galloway just in time to mark the occasion of Grace Hopper’s birthday — a fitting tribute to someone who blazed a trail for women in computing, by one who is setting an example for a new generation.

CSE: How did you discover your passion for CSE?

MG: Similar to a surprising number of students in the department, I discovered computer science after arriving at UW. Entering college, I planned to pursue medical school, drawn to working in a fast-paced and challenging environment that presented new problems to solve every day. My particular interests were in diagnostics and genetic research. After taking my first CSE course, I realized that my interests in biology and medical school were much more strongly aligned with what an education in computer science could offer. As I have progressed through my CSE studies, I have found many connections to my earlier interests in biology, including the study of data structures and algorithms, compilers, parallel computing, and program optimization. I look forward to pursuing future research in computer science where I can combine CS with genomics and proteomics research, and potentially even integrate my interests in educational technology on a tool like FoldIt, which was developed here at UW.

CSE: What is your favorite thing about being a CSE student?

MG: It’s difficult to pick a “favorite,” but perhaps top of the list would be the variety of opportunities I have access to as a CSE student. Prior to joining the major, I participated in the CSE 14X program as a Teaching Assistant for CSE 143. Since becoming part of this community, I have discovered an unexpected passion for teaching and mentorship. I have found a number of opportunities to TA for different CSE courses and recently contribute more through head TA roles. This experience has introduced me to a community of similar-minded individuals who thrive on solving challenging problems and who also share a passion for introducing students to the field of computer science.

I have additionally found research in the department a unique experience that helps reinforce my understanding of what I learn in classes through real-world applications. It also allows me to expand my knowledge base in new topics in the field. I have had the chance to work on research in different sub-fields, including programming languages and computer science education, and I have found research to be a very fulfilling way to learn while contributing to real-world applications. The experience has led me to my present goal of continuing my CS education through a Masters and/or Ph.D. program, and to ultimately find a combined role in teaching and research at a similarly research-focused university.

CS: What made you decide to become a TA, and how has that helped you shape your long-term goals?

MG: I decided to pursue this opportunity because my transition from pre-med to computer science was inspired by the instructors and TA’s I had in CSE 14X and 154, and I wanted to similarly inspire others to study computer science or related fields. As a TA, I have the opportunity to help students discover how exciting and fulfilling CS can be as a course of study — and help them to realize the potential CS has in real-world applications. I strive to provide students the tools and knowledge to succeed in their coursework as well as start their own programming projects on the side to reinforce their understanding of the material in a way that is most interesting to them. I also hope to serve as a role model for fellow TA’s and students who are thinking of pursuing teaching roles in CSE.

Teaching gives me the opportunity to foster interest in the field among students regardless of their background or experience level. I find the “puzzle” of helping students understand material in different ways very rewarding. Since starting as a CSE 143 TA, I have continued TA-ing each quarter in different courses. This experience has influenced my current goal of pursuing computer science education. I have thoroughly enjoyed the many responsibilities I have had as a TA, including teaching a section, writing exam and section material, developing resources, providing individualized feedback on assignments, and inspiring other students to pursue CSE or related fields. Each quarter I teach I have found ways to contribute more to the course, and in my role as a head TA these past two quarters I have enjoyed learning more about the course curriculum and organization. Following my undergraduate education I plan to pursue a lecturer or professor role, which would enable me to have an even greater impact.

CSE: You attended the Grace Hopper Conference for women in computing as part of a delegation from CSE. What was that experience like?

MG: The Grace Hopper conference was an amazing opportunity — it showed me just how many women are involved in the tech field. While I had heard from past attendees that it would be an eye-opening experience to see so many female engineers at once, I was not prepared for the impact that it actually would have. At the conference, I discovered many opportunities for women to get more involved in diversity efforts as well as find roles at different tech companies. As a student pursuing research and academia, I found it very rewarding to see representation in these areas among the popular tech companies.

I have realized that there are relatively few women pursuing teaching or research in CS, and meeting female leaders in these roles helped reinforce my goals of pursuing graduate school. Reflecting back on the experience, I believe that the Grace Hopper Conference will be one of the most valuable experiences I will have as a CSE student. I highly recommend other female CSE students to apply for the conference next year!

Thanks to Melissa for being a great ambassador for CSE — and happy birthday, Grace Hopper!

December 9, 2016

Shwetak Patel named a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery

Shwetak PatelShwetak Patel, the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor in Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, today was named a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. Patel is among 53 computer scientists from a dozen countries selected for recognition as a 2016 Fellow based on their outstanding contributions to the arts, sciences and practices of computing and impact on the broader community.

Selection as an ACM Fellow is one of the highest honors accorded to a computer science or computer engineer. Fellows are chosen by their peers and represent the top one percent of the ACM’s nearly 100,000-strong membership. Patel’s peers have chosen to recognize him at a relatively early point in his career for his “contributions to sustainability sensing, low-power wireless sensing and mobile health.”

“I’m humbled by this great honor,” said Patel. “Many of my mentors that I’ve looked up to throughout my career have been honored as ACM Fellows in the past, and it’s unreal for me to believe that I have been elected to that great group.”

Patel has directed UW CSE’s UbiComp Lab since he joined the University’s faculty in 2008. He first garnered attention in engineering and entrepreneurial circles for his work on low-power sensor systems for monitoring home energy and water usage at the appliance level, a line of research he initiated while a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech. Patel started a company, Zensi, to commercialize this research after his arrival at the UW. When Belkin acquired Zensi in 2010, he became Belkin’s Chief Scientist — a role he still occupies today — and helped the company to establish its WeMo Labs in Seattle four years later. In 2012, Patel co-founded SNUPI, a UW spin-out focused on the development of a low-power, whole-home wireless sensing platform whose product, Wally Home, was later acquired by Sears.

As mobile phones increased in popularity — with sensing capabilities that were becoming increasingly sophisticated — Patel recognized an opportunity to repurpose a technology used for communication and entertainment into a life-saving medical tool. He and his students set about developing applications that make use of a phone’s built-in microphone, camera, and other features — features that enabled Patel’s team to turn a typical smartphone into a powerful yet portable medical device that could transform health care delivery in low-resource settings.

To date, Patel and his collaborators in the UbiComp Lab, UW Medicine and other partner organizations have introduced apps to detect newborn jaundice in vulnerable infants, measure lung function in patients living with chronic respiratory illness, screen for blood diseases such as anemia, monitor blood pressure, and more.

“I’ve had a long interest in the applications of computing to areas like health — in fact, I’m just flying back from a Computing Community Consortium workshop on smart health,” Patel said. “It’s great to see my students get excited about the possibility of having real world impact with their work.”

Patel is the 20th UW CSE faculty member to be named a Fellow of the ACM, but he is not the only newly-minted Fellow with a UW CSE connection: affiliate professors Tony Hey, Senior Data Science Fellow at the UW eScience Institute, and Radia Perlman, Dell EMC Fellow, are also among the Class of 2016. Hey was honored for his leadership in high-performance computing and data science, while Perlman was recognized for her many contributions to the theory and practice of internet routing and bridging protocols. Former UW CSE professor James Landay, now a member of the computer science faculty at Stanford University, also was selected, for his contributions in human-computer interaction, with a focus on user-interface design and ubiquitous computing.

Patel’s ACM Fellowship caps off a banner year in which he also collected the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award (PECASE) from U.S. President Barack Obama, received an Outstanding Collaborator Award from Microsoft Research, and earned international attention for his groundbreaking mobile health work. His courses in embedded systems, ubiquitous computing, and hardware often feature among the top-rated classes in the College of Engineering, based on student feedback. He is a past recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, TR-35 Award, Sloan Research Fellowship, and MacArthur “Genius” Award, and has graced the cover of Wired and Seattle Business magazines.

Shwetak is an exemplary teacher, researcher, and member of the CSE family. He continually wows us with his many achievements and contributions to CSE, to the University, and to communities around the globe.

Congratulations to Shwetak and to all of the newly-elected ACM Fellows!

Learn more about the ACM Fellows program here, and read the ACM press release here.

December 8, 2016

Enter The Matrix: UW researchers enable virtual reality interaction through direct brain stimulation

Research subject navigating a maze through direct brain stimulationWhen it comes to opening new frontiers in the world of virtual reality, it’s “game on” thanks to a team of researchers led by UW CSE professor Rajesh Rao, who also directs the National Science Foundation’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. In a paper published in the online journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI, Rao and his colleagues describe their first-ever demonstration of a human playing a computer game using input from direct brain stimulation. Targeting specific areas of the brain to create a virtual reality may sound like a science fiction story straight out of Hollywood, but Rao and his team provided a real-world demonstration using a non-invasive method called transcranial magnetic stimulation.

In the computer game experiment, five subjects were asked to navigate a variety of computer mazes by responding to visual cues transmitted through a magnetic coil placed near their skulls. Players correctly interpreted the cues to make the correction directional move 92 percent of the time with direct brain stimulation, compared to 15 percent without it.

In a UW News release Rao explained, “The way virtual reality is done these days is through displays, headsets and goggles, but ultimately your brain is what creates your reality.”

“The fundamental question we wanted to answer was: Can the brain make use of artificial information that it’s never seen before that is delivered directly to the brain to navigate a virtual world or do useful tasks without other sensory input?” he said. “And the answer is yes.”

UW CSE and Neurobiology alum Darby Losey (B.S., ’16), now a staff researcher in the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), is lead author of the paper. “We’re essentially trying to give humans a sixth sense,” he said. “So much effort in this field of neural engineering has focused on decoding information from the brain. We’re interested in how you can encode information into the brain.”

UW Psychology professor and I-LABS research scientist Andrea Stocco and I-LABS research assistant Justin Abernethy worked with Rao and Losey on the project.

While the maze experiment involved navigating a two-dimensional world, using binary information delivered by technology that can’t leave the lab, researchers are looking ahead to the day that the bulky brain hardware gives way to a more portable solution. By placing a variety of sensors on a person’s body, more information about a person’s surroundings could be collected and transmitted to a person’s brain to help guide his/her actions — with applications that go beyond entertainment. Members of the team have started a company, Neubay, to help turn their ideas into reality.

“Over the long term, this could have profound implications for assisting people with sensory deficits while also paving the way for more realistic virtual reality experiences,” Rao said.

We think that’s pretty a-maze-ing.

Read the UW News release here and the journal article here. Also check out coverage in New Atlas, CNET, Futurism, and Digital Trends.

December 7, 2016

UW CSE’s 2016 Shops Appreciation Luncheon

img_7606It’s the men and women of UW Facilities Services who keep the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering looking great and working great. This year 150 of them turned out for our annual holiday “Shops Appreciation Luncheon” – 130 from the day crew at noon, and 20 from the night crew at 5:30.

Many thanks to all the great folks at UW Facilities Services who make it possible for those of us in CSE to focus on computer science!

December 6, 2016

UW CSE student researchers shine at FSE 2016

PLSE logoUW CSE undergraduate and graduate students captured four of the six awards given out during the ACM Student Research Competition at the ACM SIGSOFT International Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (FSE 2016) in Seattle last month. The students, all of whom who work with CSE professor Michael Ernst in our Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) group, captured first and third place in both the graduate and undergraduate student research categories.

Top honors in the undergraduate competition went to first-year CSE Ph.D. student Martin Kellogg for “Combining Bug Detection and Test Case Generation.” The paper, which is based on work Kellogg began while he was an undergraduate at University of Virginia, presents N-prog, a new tool for detecting software bugs. Automated bug-finding tools or test generators can waste developers’ time by producing false positives or using incorrect oracles. N-prog minimized this problem by combining the two approaches to find interesting, untested behavior while reducing wasted effort.

CSE undergraduate Christopher Mackie earned third place for “Preventing Signedness Errors in Numerical Computations in Java.” The paper presents a new verification tool, the Signedness Checker, which is built on a type system that segregates signed from unsigned integers. The system enables developers to detect errors regarding unsigned integers at compile time, thus avoiding such errors at run time.

In the graduate competition, CSE Ph.D. student Calvin Loncaric captured first place with “Cozy: Synthesizing Collection Data Structures.” Cozy is a novel tool for implementing new data structures using counter-example guided inductive synthesis as an alternative to the tedious and error-prone process of handwritten implementation. Loncaric and his colleagues evaluated Cozy’s synthesized implementations across four real-world programs to show that its performance can match that of handwritten implementations while avoiding human error.

Last but not least, CSE Ph.D. student Spencer Pearson placed third in the graduate competition for “Evaluation of Fault Localization Techniques.” The paper presents the results of a study evaluating the effectiveness of artificial faults for identifying the best real-world fault localization tools. Pearson demonstrated that a commonly-held assumption — that the best tools for localizing artificial faults will be best for localizing real-world faults — is false, thus turning the prevailing wisdom on its head. Based on these results, he and his colleagues developed a set of new fault localization techniques, several of which are shown to outperform existing techniques.

Read more about the winning projects in Ernst’s blog post here. Congratulations to all!

December 6, 2016

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