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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

A student journey through Journalism and Computer Science

By Nadia Beidas

     This semester is ending, many of us are graduating and we deal with an abrupt goodbye. None of us knew when we left for spring break that it would be the last time many of us would see each other.

     We understand ending in-person instruction was necessary. After all, safety and health come first. But it is not the way any of us expected to end this semester and say goodbye to our days at Lewis.

     The past three years at Lewis have been very special to me. As a returning student, I came from an entirely unrelated field of study, journalism.

     When I decided to go back to school, the reaction I received was mixed. Some, especially my family, were fully supportive and encouraging. I would like to thank my wonderful family and amazing friends for all their support and believing in me so strongly.

     But I did receive some negative feedback, including why was I trying a difficult field, an insistence that I would not succeed, I would not be able to program code as well as people who had been doing so for years and that I should study to become an English teacher instead.

     I do not write this to call anyone out. Everywhere you go in life, people are going to be negative and positive. I include this to encourage people like me, who are atypical computer science students, to try and know they can succeed.

     The road to graduation was not an easy one. I had been out of school for a number of years, I had not seen any math in a long time and I had no background at all in technology. It was also hard for me, especially my pride, to have to take student loans for the first time as I had finished two degrees already with academic scholarships. 

     But I was determined to give this opportunity everything I could, and work as hard as possible to succeed. I thought of all the people, especially other young women, in this country and abroad who would love the chance and the privilege to study. Life had opened a door for me, and I needed to walk through it.

     As I started my studies, I thought hard about how to approach the material. I took all the advice I was given about starting assignments early and asking questions, and this really helped.

After my first semester studying Computer Science at Lewis, I was part of a team of students who installed the Netlabs facility under the leadership of Professor Eric Spangler. See the original article at https://www.lewisu.edu/experts/wordpress/index.php/a-major-enhancement-to-computer-science-education-at-lewis-university/

      And as weeks progressed, I found there were a number of similarities between how one approaches journalism and computer science.

     Both fields deal with logic, truth and facts. In journalism, a reporter keeps conducting interviews and research to find the truth, and represent all the sides of a situation. In computer science, especially programming, the programmer continues to try new methods of coding, debug and research different ways for the program to run smoothly.

     Perseverance is essential to both fields. The answers, interviews, research and solutions do not always come or produce anything of value right away. But with diligence and determination, the intended work is accomplished.

     Journalism and computer science deal with writing and editing. In both fields, the reporter or programmer writes with their own style and has everything run with a certain flow. Once completed, the writing will need editing, through a journalism article is one or two edits while code might require more. 

     Deadlines are also extremely important. An article has to be written and published in a timely manner in order to be current and relevant, as well as prepared to continue with the latest developments or move on to another topic. Code has to be completed, networks set up and security in place in a timely manner, in order to keep technology running smoothly and safely.

      There is an element of documentation in both fields. In journalism, a reporter will attribute all sources of information in an article. In a software engineering project, tools like Jira and GitHub are used to keep track of the tasks at hand, and the team members who accomplish the tasks.

     Proper communication skills are vital to both fields, and every other field in existence. Interviews have to be conducted, articles have to be properly and objectively written and there are editors, coworkers and bosses to have a good rapport with. In computer science, the computer scientists deal with customers, coworkers, bosses and a good rapport must also be built.

     In the workforce, some colleagues have better rapport than others. At Lewis, I have had a good rapport with my instructors. I have always been able to ask a number of questions, and received a lot of encouragement and outright kindness from my instructors.

     One particular moment of encouragement I had was back in my Intro to Computer Science class with Dr. Ray Klump. I remember him emphasizing early on that the computer science field is creative as well as technical, and I remember thinking at the time, well if this field requires creativity, I can certainly create something original. Earlier this semester, I interviewed Dr. Cindy Howard and she also emphasized the importance of creativity in computer science.

     Luckily, I had the opportunity to combine creativity and computer science in my capstone project. I have had many dreams in my life, and one of them is writing and illustrating my own stories. My project, Story Spotlight, has 126 short stories in a choose your own adventure format with illustrations and karaoke songs done by me. Here is the link http://cs.lewisu.edu/~nadiadbeidas/Capstone/Story_Spotlight_home.html.

This is a portion of the home page of Story Spotlight.

     Not only was I able to achieve a personal dream, but I went beyond my expectations and did the technical aspect in addition to the creative aspect. The computer science program at Lewis enabled me to achieve this dream, with the support of the instructors in CaMS [Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences].

     There are so many specific examples I can list as far as positive instructor encouragement, but that would turn into a textbook instead of an article.

     I had planned to go and thank each instructor personally and say goodbye properly in person. Not every experience in life has been as positive as the one I just had at Lewis, and I am truly grateful. I am also glad to have met all of my instructors and wish you all the best life can bring.

     I will also miss my fellow classmates as I consider them my younger brothers and sisters. I have been impressed with how bright and talented you all are, and I hope you all go on to amazing careers and futures. I also wish you all the best life can bring.

In March of 2019, I presented at the CAIS Tech conference in Floriano, Brazil along with Janeise Davis, Hector Dondiego and Levi El Fattal. This was a part of Exploring Technology on the Global Stage under Professor Eric Spangler.

     I am sorry to be leaving Lewis. This is the first time I ever graduate feeling sad to leave instead of only looking forward to the next chapter. But we never know what life brings, and maybe someday I will be back at Lewis in some way.

     I wish you all well, safe and happy. You have all inspired me, and I hope I have been a positive influence on the lives of those I met as well.

     I leave you with a quote from Kahlil [Khalil] Gibran. “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness or despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Research opportunities provide students with practical experience

By Nadia Beidas

     Lewis students can acquire a number of skills by joining research projects. Dr. Amanda Harsy, co-chair of the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, said these opportunities are “great for students who haven’t done research before to get started in research.”

     “Doing research with faculty members from one’s own university is a good stepping stone to make your resume look really good for another research opportunity,” Harsy said. She also suggested students to get involved with research by approaching a professor and doing a research project as an independent study, or be paid for faculty research project with funding for a grant such as Summer Undergraduate Research Experience [SURE] or Caterpillar, or a capstone project, or as a senior seminar. Harsy added the professors are willing to work with students.

     Dr. Piotr Szczurek, associate professor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences and director of the Data Science program, advises students to contact a faculty member and approach the faculty member about assisting with a research project, or present a research idea in order to get the experience of working on a research project. Szczurek also advises students to look into future opportunities with PUMA [Promotion of Underrepresented Minorities in Academic STEM] Alliance, SURE [Summer Undergraduate Research Experience] and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics]. For more information about current projects, please visit https://www.lewisu.edu/sure/fac-projects.htm.

     Harsy added there are a number of benefits for research project participation for students. “Research projects help boost resume and often provides students a chance to get paid to work in the field, similar to an internship. Research projects helps students develop meaningful relationships with their research mentors, helps them identify with their field of study, provides effective career preparation, helps students learn to work and think independently, helps students develop problem-solving skills and think creatively and critically,” she said.

      Harsy also added student involvement in research projects show students can work on a project independently. During the research process, a student does not know the direction of the research, unlike the more structured learning in the classroom, Harsy said.

      Szczurek said students would get the experience of looking for answers that may not be obvious. With this experience, students will learn more problem solving skills to apply to different areas of science and computer science, as well as apply the skills to different aspects of their lives, according to Szczurek. Students also learn key skills as part of working on a project, such as coding and specific technology, he added.

     “Students also gain useful skills in terms of working with others and being able to collaborate,” Szczurek stated. He also said students will learn how to express their ideas through writing and presentations, and work on building their communication skills. Szczurek emphasized the necessity of proper communication skills when explaining the research findings, and the importance of the findings.

     Harsy said participation in research prepares students as they will have exposure to direct tools they will use on the job, and students will solve problems using creative skills. This is something they would do on the job, she added.

     According to Harsy, when a student talks to an interviewer for a potential job, the interviewer will ask the student about the research and the student will demonstrate the knowledge gained. “Being able to talk about a research project allows the job candidate to own that part of their education and be the expert in the room while talking about their project,” she said.  

     “Employers look for people that have research skills,” Szczurek emphasized. He added those with research skills could solve problems others may not be able to solve. Students with these skills are better able to “adapt to future changes in technology and types of problems the companies need to look at,” according to Szczurek.  

     In addition, these students are better lifetime learners, Szczurek said.

     Furthermore, students gain experience putting together presentations and going to conferences to present, Harsy added, and she added this also prepares students for their capstone projects.

     Students can prepare for presentations in a number of ways, Harsy stated. Students should “keep track of their work on the research,” Harsy added. She also added the students should also do a literature review to make sure of the current research in the field.

     Harsy advises her students to introduce the problem, go over the current background or methods used, the results, and then the future research. She recommends students practice presentations beforehand and time themselves to ensure the presentation is of a correct length for the time given. Harsy also advises students to practice giving the presentation in front of someone unfamiliar with the research.

      She also encourages students to look at examples of past presentations of similar research, and build their research project off of the past presentations.

     Presentations also benefit students in their future careers or continuing studies. “We are asked to share the results of what we find on the job,” Harsy said. In a job setting in the fields of computer science or mathematics one would “present results to your boss in a way that’s engaging and logical and tells your story,” according to Harsy. She added students get used to talking in front of a group during presentations, which is something they would have to do in a job.

Dr. Harsy, Dr. Meyer, Dr. Stephenson, James Sparks, Paul Buldak, Eric Redmon, Lauren Gerns and Miles Mena presented at the 2020 Joint Mathematics Meeting.

     This past January, three faculty members and five students from CaMS [Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences] gave presentations at the 2020 Joint Mathematics Meeting in Denver, Colorado. All the attending students were also part of the poster session.

     James Sparks, a senior majoring in data science, and Paul Buldak, a junior double majoring in computer science and mathematics, gave a presentation together called “Graph Theoretical Modeling of Fan Graphs in Self-Assembling DNA.” The Dr. James Girard Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program and Lewis’ Doherty Grant supported this research project.

     Eric Redmon, a senior double majoring in computer science and mathematics, gave a presentation “Optimal Tilings of Self-Assembling Bipartite Graphs,” which was supported by the Lewis Doherty Grant.

     Lauren Gernes, a junior majoring in mathematics, gave a presentation “The Probability of Easily Approximating the Positive Real Roots of Trinomials,” which showed her research findings during her time at a Research Experience for Undergraduates[REU] at Texas A&M University.

     Miles Mena, a freshman majoring in mathematics, gave a presentation “Graph Theoretical Design Strategies for Modeling Self Assembling DNA Complexes.”

      Mena, Buldak, Sparks and Redmon also presented with Harsy and Dr. Cory Johnson, associate professor of mathematics at California State University San Bernardino, “Using Graph Theoretical Designs of Self Assembling DNA to Motivate Undergraduate Research.”

     “Students were able to go to interesting talks,” Harsy said. She also gave three talks, served on a panel and judged undergraduate students’ poster sessions.

     “It’s a great opportunity,” Harsy said. She added some students have never flown on their own before. She said students see what it is like to be a mathematician.

      Dr. Harsy, Dr. Marie Meyer and Dr. Brittany Stephenson, assistant professors of mathematics, also presented together “Preliminary Analysis of the Impact of Active Learning in General Education Mathematics Courses,” which received support via Lewis University’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant.

     Stephenson also gave a presentation “Comparing Intervention Strategies for Reducing Clostridioides difficile Transmission: An Agent-Based Modeling Study.”

     As a whole, the student experience of participating in research projects has been positive, Szczurek said. “I think students tend to have been happy about doing research,” Szczurek added.

     He also added students work on projects on the cutting edge of science. Students “tackle questions where there is no current answer,” Szczurek said.

     Szczurek advises students to choose research topics that seem the most interesting to them. “Don’t be afraid to contact the faculty member and ask about the research opportunity,” he said.     

     “Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors regardless of your current skill levels,” Szczurek said. “Many students are afraid they don’t have what it takes to be a researcher,” he added and emphasized, “Professors are looking for people with every kind of experience.” Szczurek added students can always learn any additional needed skills.

     “Go out there and pursue the opportunity,” Szczurek said, “It’s the type of opportunity I wish I had as an undergraduate.”

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Virtual Reality brings technology to music composition

By Nadia Beidas

     The software application, solsticeVR, is a way for professional and amateur musicians to compose music using original samples they create via virtual reality and Unity.

     Dr. Mike McFerron, chair of the Department of Music, is using solsticeVR to compose an electronic piece of music intended to be nine to 11 minutes in length.

      McFerron said there are a number of ways to compose a piece of music, such as writing notes down via paper and pencil, sitting at a piano to improvise and singing the melody and writing it down. He said solsticeVR offers another composition method.

      The software solsticeVR was developed by Dr. Roy Magnuson, assistant professor of music theory and composition at Illinois State University. Students who are interested in using the software on their own systems can contact Magnuson. For further information, please visit https://www.solsticevr.net/.

Dr. Mike McFerron uses solsticeVR for electronic music composition.

          Some of the features of solsticeVR include recording in sound settings such as rain, snow or a cave. McFerron has used the cave setting for the acoustic effect. He also said he would like to possibly build another space setting this summer, a metal room, where the environment would be composed of metal.

     There are also global effects, which change the settings for all the music in the software, or local effects, which will only change a portion. The composer can adjust several settings, such as pitch, delay and modulation. The composer can also bring in their own recordings, such as on the piano, and utilize the recording in a composition.

     According to the solsticeVR website, users can import their own audio samples, such as .wav and .ogg, process audio via sliders and presets, assign their audio samples to specific colors and draw them for a 3D mix and record audio live to add to the composition. Additionally, to use the system one should have an Oculus Rift VR headset as well a computer with a discrete graphics card. Users should also have a Leap Motion Controller to track the movement of the hand.

Dr. Mike McFerron gives a demonstration showing different effects in solsticeVR.

     Minimum system requirements include Windows PC, Windows 10 operating system and a GPU [graphics processing unit] Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or higher, according to the solsticeVR website. Recommended system requirements include a GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, AMD RX 580 or higher.

     McFerron said he is excited about exploring this technology further, and said as an artist he is always looking for ways to change and adapt. He said he always looks for the best way to express what he wishes to express.

     McFerron said interested faculty and students can stop by his office and try the software. McFerron added computer science students interested in expanding the software are welcome.

     Lewis University offers a Computer Science + Music Bachelor of Arts degree program, which requires 27 credit hours of computer science courses, 4 credit hours of a mathematics course and 30 credit hours of music courses. For more information about this degree and the requirements, visit https://www.lewisu.edu/academics/compsci-music/index.htm and http://lewisu.smartcatalogiq.com/en/Undergrad-2019-2020/Undergraduate-Catalog/College-of-Aviation-Science-and-Technology/Computer-Science/CS-X-Programs.

     McFerron said the program is a great way for students to hold onto their interest in music during their college studies. He added students sometimes minor in music to find a way to keep music in their lives, “but the CS + Music program is a degree that fully integrates computer science, technology and music.” McFerron also said there has been a lot of interest in this major expressed by prospective students. 

     McFerron said the degree program is “One of the most direct paths to a sustained career that we have.” He said the career paths open to students with this degree include sound design, web technology and virtual reality technology. He added that if he was a college student today, then he would be pursuing the Computer Science + Music degree.

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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Lewis students will experience a changed world

By Nadia Beidas

     Lewis students are finishing the last month of the semester with social distancing in place. Over the last few weeks, we have adjusted to a new way of learning.

     Some of us are graduating, and going on to further uncertainty. There will be a significant economic impact. We are unsure of how it will affect graduating seniors, and students who are close to graduating.

     We will be looking for jobs, and the majority of us have student loans to repay. We might be fortunate in our field, as many jobs can be done from home. But it is still a pressing concern.

     We will face an economy where many people are out of work. Some of these people have years of experience and connections. Keep in mind, they will be interviewing for the same jobs alongside us, and we are all just starting our careers.

     Although this is intimidating, we must still try our best. We can use this time to work on our resume, and work on building a variety of skills. These skills are all necessary, and will be required as we are in a field of solving problems.

     The economy as a whole will be volatile for some time. There are those who lost their livelihood because they are unable to work from home, and they still have bills and other necessary expenses.

      Additionally, we see daily coverage of the economic impact on families. In some cases, people are driving and lining up for food. This is a very sad and heartbreaking scenario.

     Overall, we do not know when it will be safe to return to a normal life. We do not know how different our lives will be. But we do know the world we will face will not be the same.

     Perhaps we might adjust to new norms, such as wearing masks in public and continuing to keep six feet away from other people.  

     My hope is a vaccine will be developed faster than expected, and we will return to normal as soon and as safely as possible. 

     In life, we all face moments where life changes forever. Unfortunately, this virus is one of them.

     As a returning student, I remember the experience of September 11, 2001, and what we experienced as a nation. Our world and lives changed entirely that day. Our sense of security in the world was shaken.

     At the time, we did not know how our futures would change. And we worried for classmates who were planning to go into the armed forces, or the recent graduates who were already there.

     Although our country did not shut down at the time as is our current experience, yet there were many ways our lives permanently changed. I saw empty skies when it was usual to see a multitude of airplanes, and now I see empty streets from my window.

     Additionally, our normal patterns and ways of life changed. For some time, we were afraid to go into high-rise buildings and travel. However, as time passed, we chose not to live in fear, but to go forward. Eventually, we will all move forward and hopefully choose to live in hope.

     From a personal standpoint, I can recall another day where life completely altered. This was the passing of my grandmother in 2013.

     The lives of my relatives and mine permanently changed after her passing, and not for the better as we still miss her all the time. But it is a part of life, and we all had to move forward, though we will always remember and honor her.

     She was one of the kindest people I have ever met. She was the type who would reach out and help anyone, and everyone who knew her loved her. After she passed away, people from all over the country were coming to express condolences to my family for a whole year.

     I am fortunate she was my grandmother. I have a lot of happy memories with her, and we shared a lot of wonderful times together.

     My grandmother loved to tell stories of the past, socialize and she enjoyed happy occasions. Even though we had a language barrier, we would still find highly creative ways to communicate when someone was not around to translate.

     We both like music and songs in different languages, and this is something we bonded over. When I visited in the summers, we used to walk around her orchard and garden and sing together.

     One year, my mother and I had commitments in the summer and were unable to visit that year. In past summers, there were often weddings in the family during our visits. My grandmother jokingly told our relatives that someone needed to get married and have a big wedding, just so we could come over.

     My family visits were more fun when she was alive because of her lively spirit. We should all be so fortunate to have the privilege of knowing someone with this kind of spirit and goodness.

     I miss her stories and I miss the way she found humor in many situations. Every time I visit now, I still look at the places I used to find her in. I wish I could see her and talk to her again.

     My grandmother and others of her generation have always shared stories about their lives. They were always helping each other, and caring about other people. They were very close to each other, always enjoyed large gatherings and played music.

     It is always interesting to hear about how different socializing was in past generations, when they did not rely on devices. People made more of an effort to see each other and be together.

     I also hope, once we return to our new normal, that we will socialize similar to the way people did in my grandmother’s time. Sometimes, we are so wrapped up in our lives, responsibilities and devices that we miss chances to connect with each other person to person. When we lose that connectivity, we miss out on opportunities to for understanding, growth, reaching out to others and helping people. 

     We are forced to rely on our devices with social distancing, but hopefully we will go back to personal social interaction. As human beings, it is part of our nature to have social contact.

     Even though we are going through a difficult time, we can all work together for a brighter and better future. The human spirit is strong and resilient, as we all go through hard times and come back stronger and move forward.

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Lewis students can choose their emotional reaction to the COVID-19 crisis

By Nadia Beidas

     We are under a difficult situation with the COVID-19 virus. Every day we see the death toll rise in alarming numbers, and the death toll once this situation has passed is estimated between 100,000 to 240,000.

     This is extremely frightening. This is the most terrifying situation most of us ever remember facing. The news coverage of the rising death toll, anguished hospital workers and government officials and families who have suffered devastating losses are heartbreaking.

     However, it is vital to keep as positive of an attitude as possible and look to the future. There will be a day we can return to normal. The question remains what the new normal will be.

     In life as a whole, there are situations and circumstances we can control, and those we cannot. This situation happens to be one we cannot control. But we are in control of our reaction.

     Some people might choose to be angry or bitter. Others might look for ways to assign blame. Some might fall into despair and anguish, and this is extremely understandable, especially for those who have suffered a personal loss.

     Once the danger of this virus passes, we will not return to the same world as we knew it. Experience changes us all. We can choose how we will deal with the changes.

     Perhaps this experience will teach us the importance of social interaction. We live in a time where most of us are attached to our phones and other devices. When we return to a new normal, perhaps we will be more social.

     I miss talking to family and friends in person. I miss talking to instructors and fellow students in person. I even miss small talk while running errands.

     I hope we all appreciate the importance of kindness and compassion. So many people are suffering right now. I hope we can help each other as best we can now while observing social distancing.

     I also hope we will all continue to assist each other as we rebuild our lives after this crisis is over.

     I believe people are also more appreciative of the lives and advantages they had prior to this pandemic. I hope people will return to prosperity soon. The economic impact of this virus is also frightening.

     With elections coming in November, people may think more seriously about the candidates they choose. Instead of worrying about smaller issues, people will likely think about healthcare and the economy. Voters will likely choose candidates who have plans to address these concerns.

     We can also choose to think of the future, and choose to be productive and plan for jobs and other opportunities. This is the time to edit the resume and look at the Handshake site for internships and jobs. This is also the time to decide on pursuing graduate studies.

     In addition, we can anticipate aspects of our daily lives that we are missing now. We can look forward to the days where we can interact with loved ones again. Remember, we can all still communicate while observing social distancing.

     From a personal standpoint, I have enjoyed several long conversations with family and friends. Sometimes, we have not had the time to talk to each other at length. We send each other pictures and videos constantly.

     My uncle sent my mother some pictures of them growing up. I had actually never seen these. One particular picture that I loved was of my mother at her high school graduation with my grandmother, who sadly passed away in 2013.

    We have all been sending pictures to each other of past trips and other gatherings we have enjoyed in the past. We do not always have time to go through old pictures, and this has been an opportunity to remember pleasant times.

     My aunts and I also send each other pictures of flowers, coffee, cakes and chocolate to make each other smile. These extras that we might not always have time for ordinarily certainly brighten my day. These little gestures essentially have the same meaning; we all love each other, stay safe and stay well.

     I pass the heart of this message on to all of you. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Lewis students should make the most out of the stay-at-home order

By Nadia Beidas

     We are all immersed in a frightening and unusual situation with the COVID-19 virus. Every day there are higher numbers of people becoming ill and dying from the virus. Even young people are coming down with the virus in high numbers.

     In order to stop the spread of the virus, we are under a stay-at-home order in Illinois until April 30, though the order might be extended. We all must follow this order. It may be difficult to change our daily lives, or miss out on the rest of the semester and other events.

     However, nothing is more important than stopping the spread of this virus. Please stay safe, everyone.

     Technology offers us a multitude of methods of communication, and some of us might develop new communication technology in the future. Please do not forget to stay in touch with your loved ones. We may have to keep a distance, but we can still talk.

     I have been communicating more than usual with family and friends. Many of us are sending cheerful videos back and forth, or pictures of flowers, cake, chocolate and coffee. It is our way of saying we all love each other, stay safe and we hope we are together again soon in person.

     Although we are all at home, we must not fall into despair or get stuck in a rut of boredom. We should make the best of this situation, even though these are sad and difficult times.

Drs. Elvis Francois and William Robinson gave an inspirational performance of “Imagine.” This performance was featured on several new sites, including ABC World News Tonight with David Muir. Their performance shows hope during these difficult times. For more performances, please visit the YouTube channel Doctor Elvis Francois.

      Prior to spring break, as well as in previous semesters, many of us were constantly on the go and always rushing to get something done. There never seemed to be enough hours in the day to finish all the tasks we would like to accomplish. Plus, there were the demands of work, school, home and family, as well as the pressure of rushing from place to place or sitting in traffic.

     Now, at least, we can make the best of a difficult situation and take the time to pause. We cannot leave our homes except to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. But we can use the time we have now wisely and for our benefit.

     First and foremost, we should keep up with our studies. But many of us are often saying we wish we had time to learn something new, or spend time on other activities. This is an excellent time to do these tasks.

     For example, in CaMS [Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences], many of us wish we had time to learn a new programming language. Now we can study the programming language of our choice, and write new programs.

     Additionally, most of us have been frazzled with hectic schedules, and have wished for time to relax, or to spend on a hobby.

     I remember one afternoon nearly two years ago in the Maker lab, a discussion about the painter Bob Ross somehow started at the end of the day. One student remarked at the time that he wished he had time to paint, but could not due to the demands of his schedule.

      At the time, I thought it was unfortunate the student did not have the time to do something he enjoyed or was interested in. I fully understand and sympathize with the student. I have a lot of hobbies and interests that I never have enough time for, including drawing, singing and creative writing.

     I still have my clarinet that I played in school growing up. The last time I had time to play the instrument was four years ago at Christmas. My brother brought his French horn, and we played holiday songs for our mom. 

     I could only play the clarinet for 10 minutes due to a complete lack of practice, but I loved it. I still remember the notes and how to play the instrument. I was reminded of all the joy I had playing over the years, and any opportunity to spend time with my brother is precious now that we are busy adults.

     After the 10-minute concert I could give on the clarinet, I began singing instead and my brother accompanied me on the French horn. He joked our instrument playing ability was at a 6th grade level, and I actually think he was generous in my part of his assessment. I hope to practice the clarinet again soon.

     We can all pick up different hobbies or interests. Now is the time to learn or practice a foreign language, reminisce on past pictures, cook something new, exercise, or even watch a movie or program we have been meaning to see. The possibilities are endless.

     Time is a precious gift. Once time is gone, there is no way to get it back. We always and often wish we could have done something differently if we had a chance to do something over.

     This is not the way any of us would choose to have extra time. But we are in this situation. We should make the most of it.

      This crisis will pass. We do not know when, but one day we will be back to normal. And when we are, it will be wonderful to share the new skills and hobbies we developed with each other in person. 

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Lewis students should look for hope despite COVID-19

By Nadia Beidas

     Lewis students will not return to in-person instruction this semester, or the summer semester. We will finish this semester very abruptly and without closure.

     This is a sad situation for all of us, especially for us graduating seniors. Many of us had so many plans over the next few weeks. All upcoming events are canceled and graduation is postponed.

      And unfortunately, some of us students will not see each other again.

     From a personal standpoint, I wanted a few more weeks to talk to classmates and faculty that have been a big part of my life for the last few years. I also wanted to thank all my instructors personally for their support and encouragement since my journey began, and I had all my goodbyes mentally planned. Additionally, I had several topics I wanted to write about for the department, but none of that feels appropriate right now.

     But all of this should not be our biggest concern or hardship at the moment, even if it is an unfortunate turn of events. We are dealing with a frightening global crisis with COVID-19. Our entire way of life has changed, and we are living in fear of an invisible enemy.

     Young people are also coming down with the virus in higher numbers. Some young adults are not following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and are still meeting in large groups. This is not the time to ignore warnings as no one is invincible.

     Please be careful and safe everyone.

     I find the spread of COVID-19 terrifying. I keep thinking of my family, as I have several close relatives over 60 and others with preexisting conditions. I also keep checking on everyone.

     Although it is extremely difficult, it is very important not to fall into despair and bleakness. We must be hopeful. This crisis will pass.

     And we should show kindness and compassion to everyone. People everywhere are facing difficult times.

     As I mentioned last week, we need to keep up with our studies. Our knowledge will be needed during this crisis and after the crisis passes for a variety of situations, such as preventing or stopping cyber attacks, medical technology, education and communication.

     Please also show kindness and understanding to your instructors. They are also finding themselves on new ground, and they are working hard to make sure we can still receive the best education possible in this unusual and uncertain situation.

     We must look to the future. And we must be vigilant in taking care of ourselves and those around us, as well as check on loved ones while observing social distancing. Thankfully we have technology to enable us to communicate with each other.

     I would like to give a big thank you to all of our healthcare professionals who are fighting this virus daily, at the risk of their own health, to keep us all safe. We can all never thank you enough.

      Although we are constantly bombarded with coverage about this frightening virus, yet we need to look for positive contributions people are making, however big or small the contribution is.

     Mr. Rogers, host of the children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, said famously, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

     The series inspired generations of children, myself included, about the importance of kindness, compassion and being a good neighbor. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had a long run from 1968 to 2001, and we can certainly use the words of wisdom and the lessons he taught us over generations.

     Currently, we see different moments of hope globally. During these difficult times, people in Italy stand on their balconies and sing together. In Spain, people go to their windows and applaud healthcare workers.

      Celebrities are also contributing to helping people stay positive. Josh Gad, whose famous roles include voicing Olaf from Frozen and playing LeFou in Beauty and the Beast, is reading children’s books online. Singers Keith Urban, John Legend, Coldplay and Pink live streamed concerts from home. 

      And CNN posted a video of a family standing outside the home of their relative, a 95-year-old woman whose birthday celebration was canceled, singing happy birthday to her.

     These are only a few of the stories of hope and kindness. It is important and essential to look for positive messages and uplifting stories amid the chaos. And we need to cling to hope.

      Be safe, be well and I wish you all the best. I hope to see as many of you as possible when it is safe for all of us to see each other again.

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Students face uncertain times with COVID-19

By Nadia Beidas

     We are living in a very unusual time. Over the past week, our school has stopped classroom instruction and is in the process of shifting to online instruction.

     We have also seen a number of unsteady changes all around us including the spread of the virus worldwide, political officials and celebrities catching the virus, schools closing all over the country and grocery stores are out of soap, toilet paper, antibacterial soap and other essentials. Even entertainment that usually brings us joy is affected, such as television shows taping without an audience and the closing of Broadway and Disney parks. In addition, we are all isolating to stop the spread of the virus.

     Despite all this uncertainty, it is important to remember not to panic, to stay calm and face challenges as they come. In CaMS [department of computer and mathematical sciences], we students learn the newest developments in technology, and problem solving is a large part of our curriculum. As we begin our careers, we never know what challenges we will face.

     Our education includes programming, building apps, cyber security and networking. These skills are applicable to a number of fields, including the medical field. In the near future, people will be looking to us to for solutions, and we should be prepared to be lead and find the right solutions.      

     We are very fortunate to receive an education in computer science and computer engineering that will enable us to contribute to society at large. In addition, the pursuit of knowledge and facts, and the sharing of the knowledge and facts is keeping up with the university mission.

     Currently, there is a lot of misinformation out there on the Internet about the Coronoavirus. As future leaders in technology, we should endeavor to examine the sources and follow facts. We have a moral responsibility not to spread panic on our social media, but to share articles and posts that are factual.

     A safe place to start is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at https://www.cdc.gov/.  We can also look at updates from our university at https://www.lewisu.edu/covid-19/index.htm.

     We also should take care of family, friends and ourselves. Please reach out and check on those you care about. You might not be able to see each other in person, but at least keep up with the communication.

     Please also do not forget your studies. This time period might seem like an extension of spring break, but it is not. We still need to study, those of us who are graduating still need to graduate and we should finish the hard work we started on a positive note.

      We probably need to work harder to understand the material and complete our assignments. We should still start our assignments early and ask our instructors any questions we have as soon as possible.

      This consideration will help make this unusual time run more smoothly for both our instructors and us students. Our instructors are good about answering emails, and they are also working hard to transition their lectures to online classes.

     We are all capable of performing our best despite this disruption to the semester. I truly believe all of you are bright and talented and have promising futures. We can all succeed together.

     This uncertainty will not hold us back. Rather, it will make us stronger and society will need our knowledge to assist in the changing field of technology. 

     We are adjusting to uncertain circumstances, but please take heart. This crisis will pass. It might take time to find our balance again, but we will. Remember, we are the problem solvers. 

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Girls Create with Technology brings girls together in Computer Science and STEM

By Nadia Beidas

     On March 21, there will be a Maker Session for girls from 6th through 10th grades entitled Smart Home as a part of Girls Create with Technology. They will have the opportunity to utilize programming and the Gravity IoT [Internet of Things] Starter Kit in order to create smart home devices. The Gravity IoT [Internet of Things] Starter Kit contains seven Internet of Things modules that are capable of interacting from a smart device as well as wireless monitoring.

     There will also be an afternoon session on the same day for Girl Scouts to earn their robotics badge, according to Dr. Cindy Howard, co-chair and associate professor of the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences.

     Another upcoming Maker Session is called Fun with Finches where girls have their finch robots move, light up and other features via the Python programming language. For more information about the Maker Sessions, visit http://cs.lewisu.edu/gct/schedule.html.

     On June 22 through June 25 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. there will be a summer camp for Girls Create with Technology, Howard said. The girls will learn Raspberry Pi and build a robot.

Girls learn how to build robots of their own creation during the summer camp session of Girls Create with Technology.

     “My favorite thing is what we do in camp, build robots,” Howard said. She added the girls use craft materials to build the robots. Howard said the materials, such as cardboard boxes and bottles, are gathered year round by Christine Morrow, Administrative Assistant for the College of Aviation, Science and Technology.

     The girls also write code for the robots to move or have light or sound, Howard said. The girls use either the programming languages Python or Snap! Snap! is a visual programming language allowing the programmer to drag and drop blocks of code. About a day and a half of the camp is spent on building the robots, Howard said.

Girls also write code for their robots to light up.

     “Technology and computer science is a creative field,” Howard said, adding this is an important aspect for girls to see and experience in Girls Create with Technology. “Put it on their radar. This is something they can do,” Howard said. She said the age group of 6th to 10th grades are a good time for the girls to have exposure to these fields, especially at a time in their lives when they are thinking of their futures.

     Howard also emphasized the importance of encouraging girls and women to be a part of STEM fields. “Having different people with different perspectives is so important,” Howard said. “A more diverse group comes up with better ideas,” she added.

The summer camp session of Girls Create with technology offers girls an opportunity to learn several skills, including coding, security and encryption, taking computers apart and putting them back together, Raspberry Pi and 3D printing.

     Girls and women also face challenges in pursuing STEM fields. “I think right now the biggest challenge is feeling comfortable when there aren’t a lot of women,” Howard said.

     She added it can be hard for girls to have few or no other female classmates in a classroom setting, but the girls should reach out and find other women in the field. Women can join ACM-W [The Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing], and attend the Grace Hopper Celebration conference, Howard said.

     Students and faculty can get involved in Girls Create with Technology, and should contact Dr. Howard at howardcy@lewisu.edu for further information. Every Girls Create with Technology session has three or four student mentors. Students are eligible to receive a stipend for their assistance.

     Girls Create with Technology began in 2013 supported by a contribution from AT&T, Howard said. Currently, Girls Create with Technology is supported via contributions from Driskill Foundation, Ecolab, Caterpillar Foundation, PPG Foundation, Romeoville Walmart and ARCO Murray Construction.

     Through Girls Create with Technology, the girls learn several important skills, including security and encryption, coding, taking apart and building computers, 3D printing and Raspberry Pi, Howard said.

     “I would hope they would find it interesting that they can build and create things with technology,” Howard said. She added that she finds it rewarding to see the girls get excited about their projects.

Dr. Cindy Howard, co-chair and associate professor of the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, leads the summer camp of Girls Create with Technology with assistance from Lewis students.
Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Esports Club available for student connections and future career possibilities

By Nadia Beidas

     On March 3, from 3-5 pm, esports will host a grand opening for students to come and learn more about the esports club. This event will be hosted in the esports club lounge, located on the first floor of Fitzpatrick Hall.

     Prior to the esports club lounge, esports had space in St. Charles Borromeo and had to cart equipment between buildings for tournaments, according to Jill Siegfried, Director of Student Recreation, Fitness and Wellness. With the new space, the equipment stays in one place, Siegfried said. The lounge features include 24 computers and two separate rooms. The rooms are for practice or for competitive gaming between schools in order for them to compete without distraction.

     Siegfried added she is curious to see the kind of growth the esports team will get with the new facility, and the growth of esports as whole has been phenomenal. “It’s nice we’ve positioned ourselves to be a part of the enthusiasm that’s blooming in esports,” Siegfried said. 

The esports lounge is located in Fitzpatrick Hall. It is open for students to play games for leisure or for competitive gaming.

     Dr. Dana Dominiak, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences and faculty advisor of esports, said the students put in a lot of effort into building the esports club. She said the students held fundraisers, created posters, held bake sales and hauled around their own equipment. She added that she helped the team get the necessary equipment and set it up.

     Yesenia Gonzalez, who is pursuing her master’s degree in computer science with a double concentration in cyber security and digital forensics, was one of the seven founders of the esports club. Gonzalez said she handled the club’s infrastructure including organizing meetings, events and she planned the club charter.

     Gonzalez also attended esports meetings and tournaments at Joliet Junior College and Northern Illinois University to see how the other esports clubs handled meetings and tournaments. These experiences assisted Gonzalez to develop background knowledge to plan Lewis esports events, she said.

     “I love seeing how far the club has come and I look forward to seeing where is will be in the next couple of years,” Gonzalez said.

Students gather together and work on their gaming skills.

     Computer Science major Tyler Starkus is the president of the esports club. Starkus said students can come to the lounge and play games or they can participate in competitive gaming. The esports club is open to all students and all majors and meets on Fridays at 3 p.m. in the esports lounge, Starkus said.

     He added the club can put together teams, based on student interest, and participate in tournaments. The games for tournaments include League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Typically, tournaments are held on Saturdays, Starkus said.

     This semester, there are three teams within the esports club preparing for tournaments in the games League of Legends, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Hearthstone, Starkus said and added there is always the potential to add more teams for tournaments. The League of Legends tournament will be held April 18.    

Tyler Starkus is the president of the esports club. The other club officers are Michael Bojarski, Brendan Cagampang, Ryan Corrigan and Leonard Luchek.

     Last semester, the team won a trophy in a League of Legends tournament, Starkus said. In the other tournaments they participated in last semester, the team was one loss away from qualifying for the next stage of the tournaments in League of Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch and Rocket League.

     The College League of Legends, led by Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, is composed of League of Legends players from colleges in the U.S. and Canada, Starkus said. Currently, the Lewis esports team is placed 24 out of 102 teams in their division, Starkus said.

     In order to prepare for tournaments, the team practices playing games together and separately, Starkus said. Dominiak also said she will provide any support she can to help the team win more tournaments.

The League of Legends trophy is on display in the hallway in the CaMS [Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences] department.

     Starkus was interested in joining the esports club due to playing video games. “I’ve been playing video games my whole life,” Starkus said. He said his older brother was a part of the esports club and Starkus later joined the club as well.

     Starkus was a big part of setting up the esports lounge, and would like more students to know about esports. “I want people on campus to know we [esports] actually exist,” Starkus said. He encourages students to join regardless of their skill level in gaming.

     When asked how the esports team at Lewis compares with other university esports teams, Starkus said, “We are not a full program yet, so we don’t have recruitment. Our players come from the luck of the draw.” He mentioned it was fortunate that a team of good players came together to win the League of Legends tournament.

     He added other universities have opportunities in the recruitment of students as well as full-ride scholarships for esports, similar to football team scholarships. He said even a $500 scholarship could make a difference in bringing more students to Lewis interested in esports. Starkus hopes these advantages will be available to Lewis students in the future.

     Gonzalez also said she would like to see scholarships offered for esports, and the scholarships could bring in more students from around the country and abroad. She added she also hopes there will be an esports arena in the future.

There is a second room in the esports lounge. This room can be used for practice or for competitive gaming between schools.

     Dominiak said esports is an opportunity for the future as there are careers in competitive video games. She added that there are talks about the possibility of a degree in esports in the future.

     Dominiak said, “College esports is predicted to grow faster than college football.” Dominiak also said she expects the esports club at Lewis to grow by leaps and bounds.

     Siegfried said the team could expand to having a varsity team and a junior varsity team. There is also the possibility of having two spaces for esports in the future, Siegfried said.

     Dominiak added the esports lounge also gives students a safe place to hang out on campus, which is a comfort to parents.

     “Club sports in general are a great way for students to connect, make friends and form lifelong relationships and really feel a part of the university,” Siegfried said, “I see this as an opportunity for those who do esports to do the same thing.”

Students can play different games on the computers in the esports lounge.