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CSE Department Joins Initiative to Increase Diversity in Computer Science

The Computer Science & Engineering department is one of 15 academic institutions to join the Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative, from the Anita Borg Institute, to increase the percentage of undergraduate majors that are female and students of color. Each of the departments will receive $30,000 per year for three years to help support their efforts which will leverage the experiences of other successful programs. These approaches include expanding outreach to high school teachers and students, modifying introductory CS courses to make them more appealing and less intimidating to students from underrepresented groups, building community among underrepresented students, and developing joint majors in areas like CS and biology to encourage interdisciplinary approaches. Anita Borg Institute press release.

Changing Lives Through Video Games

JJ Shepherd's research on using video games to help people learn is being featured in this WACHFOX TV news story. He explains:
"We've created education games in the past, but we want to see how to make them better. And how to actually use this where you can augment classrooms, augment therapies. And basically, better people's lives through technology."
"People want to play games. People don't like to sit there, if they're learning a language, and go through flashcards one after the other. They want to do something exciting and something fun. And if you put together those actions with the message - in other words, what you're trying to teach with it- you end up teaching people and motivating them at the same time. " says Shepherd, a computer science instructor at the University of South Carolina.

Grant for Mobile WiFi Access Points

Dr. Nelakuditi and his ARENA research lab have received an NSF grant award for their project on "Infrastructure Mobility". This research is exploring how to build and program mobile WiFi access points, on wheels, that change position to improve signal reception. Imagine a small robot that moves within the false ceiling of a large building to provide better signal to its users. Abstract
Mobile computing has traditionally implied mobile clients connected to a static infrastructure. This project breaks away from this point of view and envisions the possibility of injecting mobility into infrastructure. The PIs envision a WiFi access point on wheels that moves to optimize desired performance metrics. Movements need not necessarily be all around the floor of a home or office, neither do they have to operate on batteries, or connect wirelessly to the Internet. At homes, they could remain tethered to power and Ethernet outlets while moving in small areas (perhaps under the study table). In offices of the future, perhaps APs could move on tracks installed on top of false ceilings. The cloud could perhaps coordinate their mobility based on how users move within the environment, or how traffic and interferences change in the network. This project explores the viability of this vision and will present thorough measurements from various home/office environments. Initial measurements with moving WiFi APs in residential and enterprise environments exhibit promise. Analysis finds that complex multipath characteristics of indoor environments cause large fluctuations in link quality even when the antenna moves in the scale of one foot. Mobile APs can leverage this spatial variation by relocating to a pixel that is strong for its own clients and yet weak from its interferers. When multiple APs are coordinated by a central controller, the motion paths of the APs need to be jointly planned to optimize global network parameters. Heuristics will be developed that first assume the knowledge of AP locations; based on the outcome of this heuristic, the assumption might be relaxed. The project will also consider client mobility and how APs adapt to them, perhaps based on the quality of channel changes available from channel state information (CSI) in today's WiFi cards. If mobility proves to offer additional gains despite the advances in current technologies, robotic wireless networking might become an important and exciting direction of the future.

Karina Liles named GEM Affiliate Fellow

PhD student Karina Liles has been named a GEM Affiliate Fellow by the the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science. GEM's mission is to broaden participation of minorities in STEM fields at the graduate level. Liles works with Dr. Beer in the ART LAB and is studying the use of robots as teaching assistants for middle school educators. As reported by CEC news article
A computer science and engineering doctoral student at The University of South Carolina recently received an honor that will hopefullyplace her among the country’s most desirable engineering graduates in the future. The National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Incorporated named Karina Liles a GEM Affiliate Fellow. GEM’s mission is to broaden participation of minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields at the master’s and doctoral levels. The national organization assists companies throughout the United States in providing graduate fellowships to minority students from communities where such talent is largely untapped. Liles is from Bennettsville, South Carolina. She received her undergraduate degree in computer science from Spelman College and then earned a Master of Education in Educational Technology from USC before beginning her doctoral study in the USC College of Engineering and Computing. “In high school, I began developing computer games for my three year old sister to help her learn her letters and colors, “ said Liles. “I quickly realized that I enjoyed working with computers and had a talent for it. I knew I needed a formal education which is where my true passion for computers, robots and technologies blossomed.” Liles now works alongside Dr. Jenay Beer in the Assisted Robotics and Technology (ART) Lab in the Department of Computer Science andEngineering. Her research is focused on creating and using robots as teaching assistants for middle school educators. She is also assisting with the programming of a robot to help music therapists who work with children with special learning needs. “We are certainly not trying to replace classroom teachers or therapists but rather, we hope the robots can assist these professionals. Students of all ages seem to be interested in the robots and respond to them with enthusiasm. We hope that helps in the learning process.”

New Faculty: Dr. Ioannis Rekleitis

We would like to welcome our newest assistant professor, Dr. Ioannis Rekleitis to the department. He was previously at McGill University, in Canada, and before that he was a visiting fellow at the Canadian Space Agency. His research focuses on mobile robotics, and in particular multi-robot cooperative localization, mapping, exploration and coverage. He is in office 3A54 and will be teaching CSCE 774 "Robotics Systems" this semester.

Dr. Huhns Elected AAAI Fellow

We would like to congratulate our very own Dr. Huhns for being elected a AAAI Fellow. The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's Fellows program was started in 1990 to recognize individuals who have made significant, sustained contributions---usually over at least a ten-year period---to the field of artificial intelligence. Dr. Huhns is recognized "For significant contributions to the field of multiagent systems and its applications in information management and service-oriented computing."

Facial Expression Recognition Research

Dr. Tong has been recognized as a 2014 Breakthrough Star and is featured in this @UofSC story where she describes her ongoing research on facial expression recognition.
If we are successful, computers could be used to recognize signs of road rage or intoxication in automobile drivers or to help teach autistic children how to interpret and respond appropriately to facial cues.

Dr. Farkas on Securing Government Websites

WISTV news has featured Dr. Farkas in a story about the security of local government websites.
These protocols provide authentication which is based on the digital certificate for the server. As well as agreeing on a cyber suite that can be used to protect the communication, provide confidentiality and integrity.

Cyber Challenge Contest Winners

Last week, three of our cyber defense team members competed in an international online contest, the US Cyber Challenge's CyberQuests 2014. This was an individual event, and each of our students placed in the top 100. Although the totals aren't announced yet for this year, last year, more than 1400 students competed in this contest. Congratulations to: Yasemin Pak: 19th place, Alex Cummings: 20th place, Catharine West: 71st place.

Alumni Demonstrate Generosity Through High-Tech Philanthropy

Armed with a big idea and a short email list, Zoher Bharmal (MS, Computer Science’98) started a unique effort to fund scholarships for computer science students at USC. Bharmal, who is an employee at Microsoft’s Irving, Texas facility, wanted to establish an endowment to give back to the university where he and his wife, Farida, earned their degrees. But he could not fully fund the $25,000 required to endow a scholarship. He turned to Microsoft’s matching gift program, which provides dollar-for-dollar money to charitable organizations or institutions selected by Microsoft employees. Then, he looked to a group of employees within Microsoft who were USC alumni. Though he had not met any of these colleagues and they were scattered across the country, he sent them an email detailing his hope to fund a computer science scholarship through their collective contributions. Within a week, six USC alumni joined the effort. “What’s interesting about this group is that most of us don’t know each other, but we are joined by our interest in giving something meaningful back to USC, “said Bharmal. “We may live thousands of miles apart - Seattle, Dallas, Washington DC and Charlotte - but we have a common bond.” Using Microsoft’s payroll deduction and matching gift contributions, the group is expected to fully fund the scholarship within 18 months. For information regarding contributions to the USC Alumni/Microsoft Employees Endowed Scholarship Fund, contact Jeff Verver at The College of Engineering and Computing at or call (803) 777-3612. In Their Own Words
“I’ve considered giving to the university, but wanted my efforts to go to something beyond a general fund. When I saw the opportunity to participate in the endowment, I jumped on board. With Microsoft’s match, you feel even better that you can give even more.”
Evan Dodds – Microsoft employee, donor and alum
“USC enabled me to be at Microsoft today, and I am thrilled to give and help undergraduates succeed! I was very grateful for the help and education I received, and felt that in some way I should give back. I think about all the instructors who helped me, and even though it was years ago I can vividly remember all of them. The Microsoft match makes giving that much easier.”
Amy Vargo – Microsoft employer, donor and alum This articles is from the CEC News website.