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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Study Abroad Offers Students Unique Experience in Technology and Growth

By Nadia Beidas

     Lewis University offers opportunities for students to study abroad. Eric Spangler, Assistant Professor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, will be leading three opportunities in China. 

     Following the spring 2020 semester, the first opportunity is at Sanda University in Shanghai for about five to eight weeks. Students will be able to take the classes Exploring Technology on the Global Stage or Forensics, as well as studying the Chinese language, Spangler said. Students will also attend a technical conference and spend time in Shanghai visiting the sites.

     Students would also have the opportunity to study the Mandarin dialect of the Chinese language and pick up different aspects of the culture such as dance, Spangler said. Additionally, the campus is about an eight-minute walk from the metro where students can easily get to different sites or shop. Conveniences include an individual dorm room, a gym and a snack cart area where students meet after 11:30 p.m.

Students have the opportunity to study at Sanda University in Shanghai.

     Additionally, Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan offers several academic workshops. For the workshops, students will stay in a hotel.

     One of the workshops is Chinese Language + AI Robot. The workshop runs from July 5 through July 18. Lectures on the subject are offered including Printing & Writing Robots, Industrial Robots and Human-robot interaction.

     There are also opportunities to learn the Chinese language, martial arts and calligraphy. The schedule offers visits to places such as Wuhan Museum of Science and Technology, Hubei Provincial Museum and Huawei corporation.    

     Another workshop is Chinese Language + Mobile Internet. The workshop also runs from July 5 to 18. Lectures include Mobile Internet in China, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

     Students will also have the opportunity to learn the Chinese language as well as calligraphy and martial arts. Students will also learn how to play the Chinese Guqin, which is a traditional musical instrument. Field trips include a visit to the Yellow Crane Tower, the National Optoelectronics Research Center and iFLYTEK corporation.

     Spangler said studying abroad is very beneficial for students as they get to add another component to their student experience in addition to their education. “That will enhance the learning process,” Spangler said. He also added that students will interact with people from different cultures. They will also see how other cultures handle tasks differently than how we handle tasks in the U.S. and students’ perception will change.

     For example, time might be elastic in other countries, Spangler said. If a meeting is supposed to start at 10 a.m., it might start at 11, Spangler said. Students might not ordinarily get that experience without working for a company for several years, Spangler said.

     Chris Swanson, Director of Study Abroad, said the deadlines are approaching for the summer and fall programs at the end of February. There are available opportunities to study computer science and mathematics at universities in England, Australia and Ireland, Swanson said.

     “The cost of the programs, which includes housing, is Lewis tuition plus $350,” Swanson said. The $350 is the administrative fee and airfare and usually meals are not included, Swanson said.

     Students also have an increased level of maturity and confidence in their abilities upon returning from study abroad programs, Swanson said. “Students who study abroad tend to have a higher focus on their major and they tend to have a higher GPA after they return,” he said and added, “After they graduate, they tend to get hired twice as fast and they tend to have about a 25 percent higher salary when they first start.”

     “The ability to show a potential employer that you have international experience, that you can work with people from a variety of backgrounds and that you’re flexible with a variety of situations goes a long way,” Swanson said.

     Hector Dondiego, a junior majoring in computer science with a concentration in pervasive computing, spent the fall 2019 semester in Japan.

     Dondiego said he chose to study in Japan due to an interest in Japanese culture and technology he developed in high school. At the time, his attention was caught by the field of robotics as well as an interest in anime.

The field of robotics inspired Dondiego to spend a semester in Japan.

During his semester in Japan, Dondiego studied Elementary Japanese, Western Philosophy and Anime in Contemporary Visual Culture. Dondiego particularly enjoyed Anime in Contemporary Visual Culture. In this class, he had the opportunity to draw anime characters, work in groups to create anime media and act in a movie as part of a final project.

     In the movie project, Dondiego and two other classmates played the parts of five characters. The characters were three current students, a teacher and a new student. The movie started with the three current students who did not like each other. Over the course of the movie, they learn to overcome their differences.

     Dondiego was also responsible for editing the movie and other videos. He used OpenShot Video Editor and VEGAS Movie Studio 13 Platinum, and he expressed a preference for the latter. He plans to use this software in part for his future capstone project.  

     Dondiego saw several notable technology devices during his stay in Japan. One was Pocketalk, a device that served as a voice translator. One could speak in one’s language of origin and the device translates what is spoken to another selected language.

Dondiego had the opportunity to use Pocketalk.

        However, the device has challenges with pronunciation and dialect that will hopefully be improved upon in the future. Dondiego said the sentence, “We think the device is really cool.” The translation was slightly off. One translation version understood and showed the translation for will you sing this is a pretty cool device, and another translation version understood and showed we sink this is a pretty cool device.

Dondiego used Pocketalk to translate his sentence.

     During his travels, Dondiego usually used Google Translate on his phone. He said it is not a full translation, but gives a general idea of the intended communication.

     Dondiego also found it interesting that the electronics stores had a few differences as compared to the U.S. He said there were a variety of sizes for computer mice. He also said he saw around 30 different kinds of wireless earbuds.

     Additionally, in the shopping mall he saw an Android robot. It was not connected during his visit, but Dondiego speculates that this is a personal assistant robot.

     Dondiego also spent some time in the video game arcades. He discovered a music game called Wacca, and later found out this game is also in the U.S. In the game, players tap to the rhythm. In Japan, he enjoyed another music rhythm game called Chunithm.

     “The music game inspired one of my ideas for my capstone, making my own music game,” Dondiego said.

     Additionally, he got to experience part of the culture. During his travels, Dondiego was part of two dance groups at the university. He had the opportunity to learn Japanese traditional dances and contemporary dances as well as perform with the group.

Dondiego as Tetsuo from the anime film Akira.

     He also formed friendships with international students from Czech Republic, Canada, Portugal, Great Britain, Mongolia, Australia, Slovakia, Peru, Germany and Finland. They still keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. “The people you spend time with is the most valuable experience,” Dondiego said. He said they shared a lot of stories, memories and did several activities together, such as traveling to other towns, playing in arcades, going to the movie theater and singing karaoke. 

     Dondiego said his overall experience was wonderful. “I loved it. I wish I could explore more areas.” In the future, he hopes to visit the Aomori Prefecture, which is known for its apples. He also hopes to visit the city of Sapporo for skiing.

     He added that if he visited as a tourist instead of studying abroad for a semester, then he would not have had the experience of visiting the rural areas of Japan. He particularly enjoyed hiking around Lake Tazawa, especially spending time in nature and having time for reflection.

The view during a hiking trip with Dondiego and his friends in Tazawako.

     He would encourage other students to study abroad in Japan or another country for the chance to experience something new, such as the traditional dances, and a chance to make friends from different parts of the world.

     Dondiego encourages students to study abroad as it will give them a chance to travel and continue their studies without losing time in finishing their degrees. He also said it is a chance for personal development and growth. He added, “You get to discover new things about yourself. It [studying abroad] is an experience you will never forget.”

     Dondiego is also considering career opportunities in Japan in the future. Additionally, Japan was the second international study abroad trip he took in 2019. During the spring 2019 semester, Dondiego and computer science students Levi El Fattal, Janeise Davis and I, Nadia Beidas, traveled to Brazil as a part of Eric Spangler’s Exploring Technology on the Global Stage course.

     “The Brazil trip was great,” Spangler said, “It was the first trip of its kind for CaMS [Lewis University Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences]. It had to be good.” He added that one particular advantages involved Lewis alumni, André Siffert, whose company campus b helped set up the trip. Another advantage was the assistance from one of his former students, Maria Clara Leal, Spangler said. She was happy to show her culture in northern Brazil, which does not get a lot of visitors from abroad, Spangler said.

     We visited two universities as well as a variety of technical companies. At the Federal University of Piaui in Teresina, students showcased a variety of projects. One project was a robotic arm. The sensor could sense movement and if one clenched one’s hand, then the robotic arm would clench its hand as well.

     Another project involved virtual reality. One can place the virtual reality headset on and be taken into a room. One can change colors and styles of the furniture, walls, and floor. This is beneficial to an interior designer, who can show a client a room ahead of time and agree on a color scheme and style.

     There was also a program where a figure in a program senses your movement and moves when you move. This is beneficial to home security. A person can wave and be identified, and then the home would unlock.

     Another project showed a math app on the phone. The app simultaneously teaches English and math. The math equations are presented in English, sometimes just numbers and sometimes in words. The students were eager to show their projects and answered a lot of questions.

Janeise Davis uses the math phone app.

     The class also had the opportunity to visit a few companies. One company visited was 128 bits, a company that assists businesses with mobile and web technology. Another company, Aquabit, which is an intelligence platform for the production of fish. The app assists fish farmers and companies and places they sell fish to, such as markets and restaurants, by assisting them earn more, reduce cost, and sell more.

     Another company the class visited was Sebrae. It is an entity of representatives from the private and public sectors. Sebrae seeks to promote and assist small businesses grow with the country’s social and economic development policies. Sebrae has a bidding process to contract works, purchase of the products, and services. The bidding process is utilized to choose the best proposals in order to acquire services and goods.

Professor Eric Spangler with students Nadia Beidas, Janeise Davis, Hector Dondiego, and Levi El Fattal on one of several company visits.

     The class also participated in Cais Tech, held at the Floriano campus of the Federal University of Piaui. Students listened to presentations roughly translated to English on a variety of topics, including artificial intelligence. On the last day, we students gave our presentations.

     Levi El Fattal gave a presentation on the analysis of technical entrepreneurship in a global marketplace. “I took certain important technological hubs across the globe and discussed the culture, competitive advantages, and summary of public/private investment resources of each,” he said and added, “For example, Shenzhen, China is a special economic zone that was established as such in the 1980s. Because of this status, Shenzhen received an influx of investment (both public and private) and was turned from a fishing village into a bustling tech hub that manufactures 90% of the world’s electronics.”

     Janeise Davis gave a presentation about medical technology. “In my presentation I talked about bionic devices, prosthetic devices, and nanotechnology in conjunction with other various types of medical devices,” Davis said.

     I, Nadia Beidas, created and presented a program in Visual Basic entitled The Story Generator. The program asks the user to choose from three characters. The user answers three questions and an original short story written by me displayed.

     I was very happy to have the opportunity to combine creative writing with the computer science skills I am continuing to build. Additionally, as a writer, I was very happy to see the audience enjoying the stories I wrote and laughing at the intended moments of amusement. I plan to expand this project to my capstone project.

     The conference opened with a presentation conducted by a few women, emphasizing the importance of women to enter the field of technology. They mentioned some of their struggles when they chose to study technology, and one said she was told she could not handle the material. They encouraged women not to give up or believe they cannot succeed in the field of technology, even if someone tells them they cannot or should not be pursuing a career in technology.

Group picture at the Cais Tech conference in Floriano, Brazil.

     Another presentation went over artificial intelligence and robotics, and highlighted that robots may replace humans for some jobs in the future. A video of robots stocking shelves in a warehouse was shown.

     There was also a presentation about Flutter, a user interface created by Google, which is intended to be a simpler application for users and programmers. Flutter uses the Dart programming language, which is a Google, virtual language, to incorporate widgets and framework. One can create the app and program in Flutter on mobile apps and devices. One can draw and develop the tool kit, then develop and create the app in mind, place it in the tool kit and then program it. The tool kit can be used on both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

     Another presentation went over medical problems solved by artificial intelligence, such as skin cancer detection. The software would take information from the pictures of the patients’ skin. In order to process skin cancer detection, the software looks at the symmetry, pigment and regression (the presence or absence) of lesions.

     There was also a program with a database of flowers. About 50 flowers are created in the system, identified by weight and size and other categories. Altogether, there was a variety of informative presentations.

Nadia Beidas, Hector Dondiego, and Levi El Fattal with one of our translators.

     El Fattal shared his thoughts about the Brazil trip. “While we were in Brazil we experienced much of the local culture and presented at a technical conference. We also met many technological businesses in the area and spoke to them about their work in the space,” he said.

     Davis said, “Going to Brazil was a unique adventure. I got to experience new foods, places, people, and a new language, Portuguese, along with a rich culture. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and participate in presenting on medical technology.”

      I found the class trip to Brazil to be very rewarding, culturally enriching and a chance to find out more about technology in Brazil. I found the visits to the universities and the companies to be highly informative. Additionally, I was impressed with the warmth and generosity of the people I met during the trip, and I still remain in continuous communication with two of them and have several other new Facebook friends.

     For more information about study abroad programs, please contact Chris Swanson at swansoch@lewisu.edu or visit https://www.lewisu.edu/academics/studyabroad/programs.htm.

Every evening, after the conference, we had the opportunity to spend time with students at the Cais Tech conference.

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