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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

DataSAIL offers students opportunities with industry experience

By Nadia Beidas

     DataSAIL [Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory] is an organization that involves faculty and students collaborating on projects related to data science and artificial intelligence. DataSAIL was founded in 2015 by Dr. Piotr Szczurek, Associate Professor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences and Director of the Data Science program. This semester, DataSAIL offers an opportunity for students to work on a project with the Yorkville-Bristol Sanitary District.

     Dr. Sam Abuomar, Associate Professor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, said students will be designing a system for Yorkville-Bristol Sanitary District to classify images based on the condition of waste, such as solid or liquid.

     “There is also a project on oceanography and geoscience data analytics modeling where Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) meter was used to collect several datasets by measuring water current velocities over a depth range using the Doppler effect of sound waves scattered back from particles within the water column,” Abuomar said.

     DataSAIL members are currently working on a building recognition project, Szczurek said. The project involves gathering images of different buildings on campus from different angles, different times of the day and different seasons in order to identify the correct building, Szczurek said. The data will be used to come up with a predictive model.

One DataSAIL project involves gathering pictures of campus buildings in order to build a model to identify the building.

     DataSAIL prepares students for the future job market by giving students experience in designing solutions to real life problems, Abuomar said. “When they are ready to graduate, they can pursue any project in data science,” he added.

     Dr. Mahmood Al-khassaweneh, Associate Professor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, said, “We give them experience developing up to date algorithms.”

     Abuomar said DataSAIL is open to all students, regardless of major. DataSAIL meets on Fridays at 3 p.m. in AS-106A.

     DataSAIL has a set mission statement, “to help foster the collaboration of faculty and students working on data science program to help the community, society and the university,” Szczurek said. The idea behind DataSAIL was “primarily to get more people to know what data science is and give the faculty the opportunity to be matched up with students to work on different research projects,” Szczurek said.

     During the meetings, members present their work, or they discuss problems in the industry and how to solve them. “The meetings are an opportunity to share ideas, skills and experiences, Al-khassaweneh said.

The DataSAIL team includes faculty members Dr. Sam Abuomar, Dr. Mahmood Al-khassaweneh, Dr. Michael Lewis, Dr. Jason Perry and Dr. Piotr Szczurek (founder of DataSAIL). Student team members are Sebastian Bigos, Joel Feddes, Sheila Lesiak, Frank Martinez, Andrew Milligan and Will Pulkownik.

     There are also two data science research opportunities in development pending approval, Abuomar said.

     One opportunity involves collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, which in under review by the National Science Foundation, Abuomar said. The purpose of this research is to apply data analytics to ALD [atomic layer deposition].

     “Atomic layer deposition (ALD) is a thin-film growth technique that offers the unique capability to coat complex, three-dimensional objects with precise, conformal layers. In addition, ALD allows atomic-level control over the thickness and composition of the deposit,” according to Argonne National Laboratory.

     The second research opportunity is in collaboration with Mississippi State University’s biomedical engineering department about a project examining the reasons for traumatic brain injury, Abuomar said. The project is a joint proposal to the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.

     There is also an additional research opportunity, Al-khassaweneh said, via a grant, Caterpillar Scholar Award from Caterpillar Inc., for the project entitled “Video Auto Tracking System.” This is a video and audio tracking system for drivers and human safety.

     For example, on a two lane road, a car in one lane might stop at a stop sign for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, Al-khassaweneh said. The car in the second lane might not see the pedestrian is crossing, and continue on their way without seeing the pedestrian. An application will be developed to warn the driver that a pedestrian is present, and even send a picture from one car to the other that a pedestrian is in the crosswalk.

     Additionally, another application will warn drivers about lane changes, Al-khassaweneh said. This warning is applicable to situations such as if a driver is distracted and parts from a lane, or if the user’s car is coming too close to the car in front of the user.

DataSAIL team members discuss projects related to data science and artificial intelligence.

     There are further research opportunities available, Szczurek said. One is the SURE [STEM Undergraduate Research Experience] program, which provides students the opportunity to work with faculty over the summer and receive a stipend, Szczurek said.

     Another opportunity is PUMA [Promotion of Underrepresented Minorities in Academic STEM] Alliance, which is funded by the NSF [National Science Foundation] LSAMP [Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation] program, Szczurek said. This provides opportunities for underrepresented minority students to work on research projects, Szczurek said.  

     Currently, Lewis degree programs include a Bachelor of Science in Data Science, a major in Computer Science with a concentration in data science, a Master of Science in Data Science as well as a 4 + 1 program for students to finish their undergraduate and master’s degrees in data science in five years, Szczurek said. Additionally, students from other majors not relating to STEM can add a Bachelor of Arts in Data Science or a minor in Data Science, Szczurek said.

     The degree programs provide all the skills students need to go in the industry and work as a data scientist, Szczurek said. He added data science and artificial intelligence will take over a lot of industries and encourages students to develop the necessary skills now. 

     “The beauty of data science is it can be applied in different majors and fields,” Al-khassaweneh said. For example, a student of Al-Khassaweneh’s developed an algorithm to differentiate if a skin growth or sore is cancerous or not, based on a data set of over 10,000 images. The algorithm can also detect the type of skin cancer the patient has. Currently, the student’s research paper will be edited and sent to an IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] conference.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected employment growth for computer and information research scientists should increase by 16 percent from two years ago, 2018, to 2028.

     The enrollment of the data science program is increasing, Abuomar said. Students who major in data science or have a concentration of data science with their computer science degree have many possibilities of future careers including as a data scientist or as a systems engineer.

     Dr. Ray Klump, Associate Dean of the College of Aviation, Science and Technology and Professor of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, said, “DataSAIL is another example of how the department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences provides hands-on extracurricular opportunities for students. Students get a chance to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world problems. This helps prepare them for their upcoming careers.”

    “A number of students became much more interested in data science as a result of DataSAIL and went on to work in the data science field,” Szczurek said. He added other students went on to pursue their doctorate in research pertaining to data science or artificial intelligence. 

     In 2017 and 2018, DataSAIL participated in Kaggle competitions, Szczurek said. Kaggle is a platform for analytics competitions where students receive data and compete to create the best predictive model. Last year, students participated in a Datathon, which was a Kaggle competition set up at Lewis. Students prepare for these competitions through online tutorial sessions as well as in meetings, Szczurek said. 

     Szczurek hopes to repeat the Datathon at the end of the current semester. In the fall semester, there are plans to compete with other schools in the ACCA competition. 

DataSAIL meets Fridays at 3 p.m. in AS-106A.

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