Computer Science Alumnus receives prestigious NSF CAREER award

We were excited to learn that Dr. Jim Boerkoel (’05) was recently awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award by the National Science Foundation, one of the most prestigious awards given to young faculty.

Here’s an excerpt from the abstract of Jim’s grant proposal:

Planning is important for autonomous systems, and planning for the real world typically involves reasoning about uncertainty in perception, action, and how the environment will react to actions of the agents. This work will improve the robustness and reliability or plans in applications such as autonomous driving, automated warehousing, and personal robots by addressing limitations in how current planning systems handle real-world scheduling uncertainty. The research will explore fundamental questions such as: What makes a plan good? How good is it? How can we make it better? And, how should we adjust plans when faced with uncertainty?

After completing his undergraduate degree at Hope College, Jim continued his education at the University of Michigan, earning a Master’s degree in 2008 and his PhD in 2011.  After a year as a Post-Doc at MIT, he and his wife Liz moved to California where he joined the faculty of Harvey Mudd in 2013.

Jim and Liz also recently celebrated the birth of their son Jacob William on September 3, 2016.

You can read more Jim’s work at Harvey Mudd’s press release about the award.

Students compete in ACM Programming Competition

On Saturday October 29th, Hope College computer science students John Dood, Nathan Vance, and Roger Veldman competed in the 2016 ACM ICPC East Central North America Regional Programming Contest.  They competed at the Grand Valley State University Site, one of four in the region.  During the five hour competition they were able to write programs to solve 3 of the 10 problems they were given.  This earned them 9th place out of 26 team at the GVSU site, and 45th out of 126 teams in the region.  For a little perspective, only 20 teams solved 5 or more problems.
From left, students Nathan Vance, John Dood, and Roger Veldman.
From left, students Nathan Vance, John Dood, and Roger Veldman.
Nathan and John are seniors from Holland and Grand Rapids, respectively, while Roger is a sophomore from Hudsonville.  The students did a great job!  And perhaps just as importantly, they had a great time competing.

Pondering ethics in a Computer Science course?

Senior Project Seminar is a part of every Hope Computer Science major’s last year. In this course, a good majority of the time is spent learning about and practicing the task of building a large software application, or performing a large research study. A significant portion of the class is also devoted to a discussion of ethical issues that students might encounter in their careers.

Today was a beautiful early Fall day, and so we took advantage of the opportunity to discuss questions like:

  • To what extent should you be concerned about characteristics of a customer who is using your technology?  Under what, if any, circumstances should such concerns prevent you from doing business with that customer?  Would the company share any moral responsibility for large scale efforts to suppress freedom of speech?
  • Suppose that you are a programmer for Volkswagen, and you were either asked to write the software that detected when emissions testing was being performed, or stumbled upon it as part of other tasks.  What do you think your ethical duty would be in this scenario?  What, if any, factors might prevent you from doing it?  How would you choose to handle this scenario?
  • What do you think individuals’ responsibilities are to help ensure a diverse workforce?  What (perhaps unintentional) behaviors / ideas might be contributing to the lack of diversity in the tech workforce?

As the world becomes increasingly dependent on software and hardware systems, it’s critical that our young computer scientists get a chance to think about these questions before they enter the workforce.

Want to share your experiences involving questions of ethics in the tech world with our students?  Share it via a comment and we’ll be sure to pass your thoughts along to the students!

Lab updates for 2016-17

As we get ready to start the new semester, we wanted to let everyone know about some changes we’ve made to the computer science student lab. We try hard to keep keep our facilities set up in a way that matches the ways that our students work. These days, this increasingly means providing support for students using laptops. We’ve had “laptop stations” in the lab for a while, with a large monitor, external mouse and keyboard, and power connections for students using laptops.

This summer, we removed a few of our traditional desktop workstations in order to provide some additional options for students wanting to use their laptops, read, or just interact with each other:

New lab furniture for students using laptops, reading, or otherwise just hanging out.
New lab furniture.

Another way some people like to work in 2016 is by standing rather than sitting. We had the opportunity to bring a stand-up desk in as an experiment, just to see how students like it:

A stand up workstation for student use in VWF 115
A stand up workstation for student use in VWF 115

A last, perhaps more radical, change we are evaluating is reducing the number of physical workstations even more, by providing students with a “virtual machine” that they can use on their own laptops. This combination of software and hardware allows the department to provide a standardized set of software for students to use, while still allowing them the freedom of using their own computer. Dr. McFall’s summer research team used this environment successfully during the summer of 2016, and the students in CSCI 481, Senior Project Seminar, will be piloting the environment during the coming fall semester.

Got ideas for other ways we can improve our facilities? Feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

Summer research students continue development of the JanDY survey system

The student team of Evan Altman, Michael Kiley, and Mark Powers presented their summer work on JanDY on Thursday, July 14. JanDY is the web survey system used at Hope each semester to administer the Student Evaluation of Learning and Teaching; JanDY is named for Janet Andersen and Mary DeYoung, two former members of the Mathematics department devoted to undergraduate teaching. The team, under the direction of Dr. Ryan McFall, has been porting the system to modern web frameworks including AngularJS and Bootstrap.

The students presented their work to a group of software developers from Atomic Object, Collective Idea, Lean Logistics and SpinDance. After the presentation, the students, faculty, and professionals enjoyed getting to know each other over lunch.

Here’s a video of the students’ presentation:

Introducing Bilancio!

A screen shot of the Bilancio app's budget overview screen.
The Bilancio app’s budget overview screen.

On Thursday, July 14, the student team of Natalie Boardway, Joanie Davis, and Meredith Lind presented their summer work on Bilancio, an iPhone app they developed under the guidance of Dr. Mike Jipping.  Bilancio is designed to help Ready for Life students learn to budget and manage money.

The students presented their work to a group of software developers from Atomic Object, Collective Idea, Lean Logistics and SpinDance.  After the presentation, the students, faculty, and professionals enjoyed getting to know each other over lunch.

The team did a great job, and is wrapping up their work the week of July 18 – 22. Bilancio should be available on the App Store by the end of the summer, and will be utilized in the Ready for Life classrooms this fall.

Here’s the students’ full presentation:

Here’s a short demo video the students put together if you’re looking for a quick watch (this video is included in the full presentation video)

Students work on budgeting app for Ready for Life students

Here’s a report on progress by the team of Natalie Boardway, Joanie Davis, and Meredith Lind.

Our group, under the direction of Dr. Jipping, has been working hard developing an iPhone app to teach money budgeting skills to adults with cognitive disabilities. We meet with our client roughly every two weeks. This arrangement allows the client to see the progress we’ve made so far and give input. It also gets the client thinking about additional operations he or she would like to see. Our meetings are especially helpful for talking through how the app will be used and what operations would be beneficial to everyday usage.

Continue reading Students work on budgeting app for Ready for Life students

Summer research students working on revisions to web-based survey system

Students Evan Altman, Michael Kiley and Mark Powers are spending their summer continuing development of the JanDY online survey system.  JanDY is the basis of the Student Assessment of Learning and Teaching (SALT) application used at Hope to facilitate online course evaluations.  The name JanDY is a tribute to former faculty members Janet Andersen and Mary DeYoung.  Both Janet and Mary were members of the Mathematics faculty who were passionate about being the most effective educators they could be.

The JanDY team has prepared the following update about their progress.

Continue reading Summer research students working on revisions to web-based survey system

2016 summer research begins May 16

Monday, May 16 marks the start of the summer research season for 2016.  This year two teams of students will be working on two application development oriented projects.

Professor Mike Jipping will be directing a project that will build iPhone apps to teach money budgeting skill to adults with cognitive disabilities.  This app will teach skills by enabling practice, using simulations, and working with actual money.

The app’s users will be able to practice all aspects of earning, receiving, and spending money. The app will allow the user to work with categories of spending, such as rent, utilities, and groceries, and will help the user be aware of limitations of their weekly spending habits.  To goal will be for the app to be released on the Apple store by the end of the summer.

Students Natalie Boardway, Joanie Davis, and Meredith Lind will be working with Professor Jipping to develop the app.

Professor Ryan McFall will be joined by students Evan Altman, Michael Kiley, and Mark Powers, who will work on the development and testing of the Jandy survey system, the software that runs the Student Assessment of Learning and Teaching (SALT) course evaluation system on Hope’s campus.  The students are building upon a version of Jandy built on the Google Web Toolkit (GWT).  As with most things in the world of technology, GWT has become outdated, and so the students are porting the system to a modern web development environment, in particular AngularJS.

The teams will get the summer started by attending the Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference on May 16, and then begin work on the 17th.  Keep your eyes open for updates!

Class of 2016 – Josh Hubers

Congratulations to Josh Hubers, class of 2016!  After graduation, Josh be working for SpringHill Camps as their IT intern for two months while working with student Ben Schipper to start up their own company.

In the latter role, Josh will be a software engineer and the lead developer for Morpheus Scheduling.