Maryland Center for Women in Computing Hosts Computing Research Workshop

Wed Oct 10, 2018

Female undergraduates from across the United States interested in computer science will have an opportunity to dive into cutting-edge research projects during a three-day workshop at the University of Maryland next month.

Tech + Research: Welcoming Women to Computing Research,” hosted by the Maryland Center for Women in Computing (MCWIC), will be held from November 9–11 across the UMD campus.

The workshop—which features hands-on activities ranging from creating augmented reality tools to developing a virtual 3-D model from photographs—is being presented in collaboration with Technica, the nation's largest all-women hackathon.

Jan Plane, director of MCWIC and a principal lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, says the workshop gives undergraduate women an opportunity to learn more about computer science opportunities, including graduate school, and provides an innovative research experience in a hackathon setting.

“In our experiences in recruiting computer science undergraduates for research, we observed that a far smaller number of undergraduate students—particularly women—pursue research opportunities than proportionally should be interested,” she says. “Based on personal interactions with our students, our impression is that this can be largely attributed to the fact that most students simply do not know what computer science research is.”

Plane adds that after their introductory course sequences, most students assume computer science research is purely theoretical.

“Fortunately, in our experience, when students are shown that the building blocks they learn as undergraduates lay the foundation for solving many of the world’s most pressing problems—such as exploring the structure of social networks, combatting online censorship, or curing cancer—their interest in computer science research, and ultimately graduate study, skyrockets,” she says.

Dave Levin, an assistant professor of computer science who helped plan the event, says he is excited to participate in the workshop and see how undergraduate students respond.

“We hope these experiences will provide a positive computing research experience for undergraduate women in the hopes of motivating them to more seriously consider pursuing a Ph.D. or another computer science research pathway,” he says.

Ming Lin, the Elizabeth Stevinson Iribe Chair of the Department of Computer Science, is also involved with the workshop. She is one of almost a dozen faculty researchers that are either leading a workshop or providing mentorship to students attending.

"Studies indicate that experience in undergraduate research helps attract women and other underrepresented groups to advanced studies in graduate school, where we are observing a narrowing of the pipeline," Lin says. "We are excited to explore a new paradigm and reach out to a larger community of women students through Technica, one of the largest all-women hackathons, and introduce them to a taste of research via this novel workshop."

There are 11 projects students can get involved with at the event, including:

“Virtual Try-on Systems” will be presented by Ming Lin and Junbang Liang, a third-year doctoral student in computer science at UMD. Participants can develop a Virtual Try-on App that estimates a 3-D model of a human body directly from photographs, with little human interaction. The current system designed by Lin and Liang can also capture the global shape and geometry of clothing, and extract the physical and geometric properties of cloth.

“Autonomous Driving via Accident Analytics—'Learning How Not to Drive'” features Lin and Weizi Li, a graduate student at UNC, Chapel Hill. The project explores whether deep learning algorithms can assist autonomous vehicles using a single front-facing camera. Participants will learn how to set up and train a deep learning framework, collect training data in Unity, and eventually use the trained network to steer a vehicle on both training and test routes.

“Augmented Reality Tools to Learn a Foreign Language” features Matthias Zwicker, the Reginald Allan Hahne Endowed E-nnovate Professor in Computer Science, and Yue Jiang, a UMD graduate student in computer science. The project investigates opportunities provided by augmented reality (AR) technology and virtual reality (VR) to support the learning of foreign languages. The session will leverage AR displays and existing services for object recognition, machine translation, and AR rendering to develop a prototype app that explores the possibilities of immersive technologies for foreign language learning.

“In AR and VR there are some many powerful new tools that can be leveraged to build amazing apps,” Zwicker says. “I hope participants will learn the skills to use them in their own projects, and they will be inspired to develop their own creative ideas.”

“Measuring Privacy” features Michelle Mazurek, an assistant professor of computer science, and Duncan McElfresh, a UMD doctoral student in applied mathematics. The project will focus on developing a survey related to measuring individuals’ privacy attitudes, deploying the survey to a crowdsourcing service such as Amazon's Mechanical Turk, and analyzing the resulting data in order to test hypotheses and draw conclusions.

In addition to their tenured or tenure-track appointments in computer science, Levin, Lin, Zwicker and Mazurek are part of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

Go here to see a complete listing of all workshop activities and to register.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld