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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Gender gap still exists in technology despite significant achievements from women

By Nadia Beidas

     Earlier this month, a TikTok video of a young female student, Claire McDonnell, in STEM [science, engineering, technology, and mathematics], interrupted by her male classmates during a video call went viral. Following the video, McDonnell received a lot of support from fellow women in STEM commiserating on their own experience as far as being interrupted, talked over or not having their ideas taken seriously.

     About 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees are received by female students, however; only 18 percent of these degrees are computer science and information sciences, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology [NCWIT], a non-profit community that strives to bring more women into the computing field.

     There is also a gender gap in the work force. About 26 percent of computing occupations are held by women, according to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the women in computing, about 66 percent are white.

     A 2017 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found about 50 percent of women reported they faced gender discrimination within the STEM work force.

     Women have been instrumental in pioneering the field of computer science as well as achieving breakthroughs. However, a wide gender gap remains.

     But an examination of history highlights the importance of women in the field. The examples to follow only represent a small part of the contributions women have made.

     In the mid-1800s, Ada Lovelace wrote an algorithm to be used for a computing machine. She would be dubbed “the first computer programmer.” Lovelace’s notes reflect on the ways a device can handle not only numbers, but letters and symbols, through codes.

     The looping process utilized by current computer programs was a method Lovelace came up with. An instruction series could be repeated. For more about Lovelace, please visit https://www.biography.com/scholar/ada-lovelace and https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem.

     In 1922, Edith Clarke was the first female electrical engineer who was professionally employed. She struggled to find employment in her field of study in contrast to the typical jobs women worked in at the time. Clarke undertook difficult mathematical calculations prior to the invention of modern calculators and computers.

     For more on Clarke and other inspiring women in STEM, please visit https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem.    

     Computer programming was a new field at the time of World War II, and during this time, women were hired to be human computers.

     In 1939, Barbara Canright, the first human computer, undertook a variety of tasks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. These tasks included calculations of the number of rockets necessary for a plane to become airborne, and the type of rocket propellants required in order for a spacecraft to propel. The calculations were completed by hand and took over a week to complete.

     Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, her work was important and necessary to the army. One of her responsibilities was to compare the engines performance under a variety of conditions. As the work increased, more female human computers were brought in to work.

     In 1958, Barbara Paulson played an important part of the United States’ first successfully launched satellite via the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Paulson plotted received data given by the network tracking station and the satellite. Paulson and other human computers brought the U.S. into the Space Race.

         For more on the human computers, visit https://www.history.com/news/human-computers-women-at-nasa.

     At NASA, Dorothy Vaughan was an expert at the FORTRAN coding language. Vaughan also was a part of the SCOUT Launch Vehicle Program that put satellites in space. The story of Vaughan and other black female mathematicians at NASA is played out in the movie Hidden Figures.

     From 1949 to 1958, Vaughan also headed the segregated National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics [NACA] West Area Computing Unit. In 1958, NACA transitioned to NASA and segregated facilities were removed. Vaughan and others from the former unit subsequently joined the Analysis and Computation Division [ACD], which integrated gender and race for electronic computing.

     For more on Dorothy Vaughan, please visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/dorothy-vaughan-biography.

     Grace Hopper was a part of the navy in World War II. During this time, she programmed the Mark I computer. Following the war, she and a team came up with the first compiler for computer language. This compiler led to the COBOL language.

     For more on Grace Hopper, please visit https://www.biography.com/scientist/grace-hopper and https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem.

      Again, these are only a few examples. Yet, we must ask ourselves why the disparity still exists.

     From my own experience, I grew up in a generation where we were taught from an early age that there were some fields for boys and some fields for girls. When I was in elementary school, I gravitated more toward the subjects of science and math then I did toward English and history.

     But when I went through junior high and high school and got into the honors program, my abilities were often put down and even mocked due to old school ideas. As a result, I lost faith in my ability in science and math, and I stopped trying for a long time.

     Fortunately, I further developed my love of writing, and this love led me to pursue a creative field once I began my initial undergraduate studies. However, when I made the decision to pursue another degree in computer science, I noticed a shift in attitudes.

     In my experience, the instructors in ECaMS [department of engineering, computing, and mathematical sciences], are all encouraging of female students and have emphasized the importance of women coming into the field.

     There were times I was the only female student in the class, or there were one or two others, and I was asked a few times if that made me uncomfortable. As an older returning student who has had a variety of life experience, I was not uncomfortable. But if I was a traditional-age college student I might have been uncomfortable or intimidated from speaking.

     For female students in the program, do not be afraid to ask questions, suggest ideas and be creative. If someone tries to talk over you or dismisses or insults your ideas and abilities, then stand firm while being respectful. Someone who puts you down is either afraid of what you can do, or they are insecure themselves.

     And for male students, please hear out your female colleagues and be open to suggestions. Examine whether your opinion would be different if her words came from a male colleague.

     Change and progress start with all of us. We have the power to bridge the gender gap, starting in our studies and continuing to the work force.

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Diversity in STEM: Why It Matters

By Stephanie Quick

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs

Many people will agree that the value and implementation of diversity is an important life principle, while others may not understand the significance behind the value. Because of this, I believe it is important to focus on what diversity is and why it should matter not just in the workplace, but socially and globally. 

 There are many different ways to define diversity, but the main aspect to take away from what this principle means is differences. Diversity considers differences in racial and ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic. Diversity also involves different religious beliefs, heritage, and political beliefs.

With all those different characteristics, we find an extremely broad spectrum of lives that deserve to be treated equally. I believe that society should embrace people of different backgrounds and values, whether it be racial, religion, or anything else. We are all unique and we live in a world that creates such lovely cultures that should be appreciated. 

Respecting cultural diversity includes valuing the individual or group of people, along with their unique qualities, cultural practices, and needs. The first step to becoming a diverse society is to acknowledge this diversity, accept it, and even celebrate it.

While diversity is greatly important in all aspects of life, diversity should also be encouraged and respected in the workplace. A majority of jobs in the technology field do not have equitable racial and ethnic representation in their employees, nor the proper accommodations for cultural differences.

In the workplace, is it important to see different perspectives of your colleagues to make better decisions and more efficiently tackle problems than a group with only one or two perspectives. This is the value of diversity. Things like race and gender influence people’s perspectives on particular issues and generally, the world at large. 

This can prevent “groupthink” where a homogenous group shuns dissenting viewpoints so they can fit in and conform. The more diverse a group is, the more likely it will be open towards a variety of viewpoints and less likely to make an error in judgement. 

Secondly, diversity helps give access to a greater range of talent, and not just talent that belongs to a particular world-view or ethnicity. It helps provide insight into the needs and motivations of all your clients or customers, rather than just a small portion of them.  As Steve Jobs points out, when we make a product and we’re not aware of cultural preferences and needs, this might lead to us creating products that only a fraction of the population could want, need, or enjoy. 

Specifically in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics], there is a large gender gap, along with few female leaders, and minority women are underrepresented. Only about a quarter of STEM workers are female, even with the increasing number of jobs in these fields. Female workers also statistically earn 14% less than male employees even in high-paying positions in STEM. For every one dollar a male employee earns, women in STEM earn $0.86.

By looking at statistics over the years, the gender gap is slowly improving, but it is still not ideal and can be improved if more efforts were given by more of society. While there is no clear path that we can take yet to increase the percentage quickly, there are some things that we can do as a community that can help this gap close. 

If you can be a role model, then be one! Girls and young women have a hard time imagining themselves in STEM roles or don’t have encouragement. Seeing women who work in the STEM field already will help remind girls they have a place in these fields if they want it. Also, seeing minorities in this field as leaders can help others envision their own path as well. 

Provide hands-on experiences. Girls who participate in STEM clubs/activities outside of school are more likely to pursue these fields later on in their education. Brad McLain, a social scientist at NCWIT [National Center for Women and Information Technology], has researched this and believes this to be true. 

At Lewis University, we have the Girls Create with Technology program that is run in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences by Dr. Cindy Howard. This program gives young girls a chance to explore some interests and see if this field is something they would be interested in.

Provide encouragement. Girls who are supported by teachers and parents will end up showing more interest in continuing with STEM learning in their future. Try asking fellow leaders in your organization or program what’s being done to support girls or minorities in STEM. This could spark a conversation among senior leaders and could result in change. 

Diversity is important to excel in our society, workplace, and as a community. A diverse and inclusive community fosters additional experiences and points of view, while also improving the openness and tolerance of different cultural habits. Let’s help each other to make this a more important value in our STEM community. Let’s be the change we want to see.

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Productivity Tools: Software Every Student Should Know

By Stephanie Quick

Ever wondered if there is an easier way to get the software you need? Or if there was software you were missing out on? Trust me, I’ve been there. There have been many different software packages that I never knew existed until well into my undergraduate degree. If I knew about them, it would have saved me hours of frustration. 

Thankfully, I spoke with some fellow students and alumnae to put together a list of some tools that should help you through your studies. From package managers to simple software apps that help manage homework, this list should accommodate the needs of almost every student, and even faculty! 

Package Managers

A package manager is a system or set of tools used to automate installing, upgrading, configuring and using software. Most package managers are designed for discovering and installing developer tools. 

Typically, package managers use specific instructions to download an application depending on what the user needs. Once the manager follows the given instructions, the software is then installed and configured onto your computer. The package manager reduces the time spent getting an environment ready, and it helps ensure the same versions of packages are installed on their machine.

Ninite and Chocolatey are two of the most popular package managers for Windows systems. While Ninite does have a GUI [Graphical User Interface], Chocolatey does not. Because of this, people who are unfamiliar with using the command line should try using Ninite to begin with. Large companies like NASA and Sony use Ninite as well. 

If you are using a MacOS or Linux device, don’t worry, as there is a package manager for you too. Homebrew is terminal-based, similar to Chocolatey for Windows. You can simply make a script or go into your terminal to do so. 

From these package managers, you are able to download and install a wide variety of applications all at once. Some of the generic types of applications you can download includes developer tools, web browsers, media, and even security tools. Specific software include VLC, Blender, FileZilla, Eclipse, PuTTY, and many more. 

I know that some students might already know about package managers, but never felt the need to use them. However, using package managers has saved me a lot of time compared individually downloading each software and worrying about if it’s the right version. I believe that it’s worth giving a try yourself and deciding if you prefer this approach.

Integrated Development Environment [IDE]

Throughout my programming courses, IDEs have always been an essential software that I have used to assist me with programming. I couldn’t imagine coding without using one now, as it greatly enhances the experience.

However, I noticed many people would use a simple text editor to program. I have nothing against text editors, but many of these people never wanted to download another software when the editor worked perfectly fine. I believe that IDEs are worth working with and spending the time finding the one that you need. 

One of the biggest benefits to using an IDE is how amazing it is to debug with this software. Instead of using ‘echo’ or ‘console.log’ commands to debug, it takes some time to find out where the bug is located and it’s a lot of typing. With IDEs however, there is a debugger tool within the environment. 

A debugger is a tool that is used for analyzing programs on a line-by-line basis, monitoring variables, and output generated. There are also features to debugging such as breakpoints, stepping, spawnpoint control, and remote debugging. All these features make debugging a breeze and finding solutions faster. 

A few other benefits to using an IDE is that you do not have to go into the command line and compile your code yourself. The IDE does that for you when you run it! There is also automatic code generation, organized imports, and unit tests. 

Some specific IDEs that are useful for students include Eclipse, Pycharm, NetBeans, and Visual Studio Code. Eclipse is primarily used for developing Java applications, but it is also used for C, C++, C#, JavaScript, and even PHP. 

PyCharm is specifically used for Python alone, but since that is an increasingly popular language it is definitely worth learning about. NetBeans also supports Java and C++/C, but also XML, HTML, and PHP.

 Lastly, Visual Studio Code is a light-weight source-code editor and is a bit different from the others above. While Eclipse and Pycharm are strictly IDEs, Visual Studio Code allows you to have extensions to download support for whatever languages you need.

Office 365

As most people have used Word or PowerPoint at some point in their education, many people start using Google Docs once they graduate high school because they don’t want to pay for Office. However, one thing that some students don’t know is that a lot of universities provide licenses to their students for free. 

Like many universities, thankfully Lewis University also provides Office 365 for their students for free. To obtain your license, you can go to the office website yourself and enter your myLewis username along with @lewisu.edu afterwards. If myLewis username was joDoe, then the email I would enter would be joDoe@lewisu.edu. The link will be given at the end of this email. 

Homework Management

Most students struggle with procrastination and become disorganized with their coursework pretty early on in the semester. From then on, it’s always a catch up game to turn in assignments on time and college becomes the biggest stressor in your life. However, using some of these homework management tools can significantly improve your time management skills and take some stress off your shoulders.

One of the homework applications I used the most throughout my undergraduate career is the myHomework app. I discovered this during my sophomore year and it changed my procrastination habit ever since! 

The one thing I love about myHomework is that I can use it on my phone (Android or iOS) or on my computer (Windows and MacOS) as well. As long as you’re signed into your account, the new assignments you add will stay synced so you can access it whenever you like. 

Not only that, but the GUI is extremely organized and friendly for adding/dropping new classes every semester. It is a great substitute if you don’t have the time to write in a planner or always forget to carry it on you. It has definitely kept me from forgetting little things that were due for my general education courses and kept me on track of my assignments. 

Links for Software Mentioned

Package Managers:

Chocolatey: https://chocolatey.org/

Ninite: https://ninite.com/

Homebrew (macOS): https://brew.sh/

Supported packages (Chocolatey): https://chocolatey.org/packages

Supported packages (Homebrew): https://formulae.brew.sh/cask/

IDEs

Eclipse: https://www.eclipse.org/downloads/

PyCharm: https://www.jetbrains.com/pycharm/

NetBeans:https://netbeans.org/

Visual Studio Code:https://code.visualstudio.com/

*Supported on all platforms*

Homework Management:

MyHomework: https://myhomeworkapp.com/

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

A New Beginning: Future of the Flyer Tech Blog

By Stephanie Quick

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” – Albert Einstein

My name is Stephanie Quick and I recently graduated from Lewis University this past May. I studied computer science, with concentrations in security and pervasive computing. Currently, I am getting my Master’s Degree in Software Engineering, and my future plans are to freelance. 

While a student at Lewis University, I actually did not choose computer science as my first major. I started off as a Biology major, but did not feel as passionate about it as I did with technology. After taking the introductory course in the Computer Science department, I fell in love with using turtle graphics in python, making websites, and watching my creations appear on the screen. 

Since then, I have learned much more than I could have imagined throughout my four years here. The core courses pushed me to expand my knowledge and see where my limitations lie. while my chosen electives let me explore my interests. Many of my professors helped me to where I am today, and because of Lewis University, I have grown to become a useful addition to this field. 

With this newsletter, I hope to give guidance to the current students of ECaMs [department of engineering, computing, and mathematical sciences] on how to achieve their goals during their time here at Lewis. I plan on writing posts concerned with how to handle the stress that comes with university and how to be more involved in clubs in the department. I would also like to offer tools and tips that I wish I knew sooner that helped me excel as a student.

I want to contribute not only to the students of ECaMs. but also the faculty and staff. I believe that creating a stronger connection between the students and faculty will make our department grow even further. One of my ideas for achieving this is to do community spotlights to showcase current projects that faculty are working on. I also plan on interviewing professors of the department so we can become more acquainted with our fellow members.

I would like to thank the founder of this newsletter, Nadia Beidas, and the department, for giving me this opportunity to give back to the Lewis community. Nadia will continue to write posts on this newsletter in the last week of every month. We hope that it will be beneficial to the students to see an alumnae’s perspective.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who takes their time to support this newsletter. Of course there will be more topics discussed throughout the rest of the academic year, but I believe that the topics I mentioned above demonstrate the vision I have for this newsletter. Most importantly, if anyone would like to suggest a particular topic to be covered, I’ll gladly consider your suggestions and determine how I can incorporate them into the blog. 

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Lewis students vote for the first time in a pandemic

By Nadia Beidas

     The presidential election will be upon us in November. The majority of traditional-age students are voting for the first time, but some have not or will not vote due to a belief that one vote does not make a difference.

     When you do not vote, you give away your right to have a say in any of the decisions that govern your life. If you think this does not affect you, think again.

     You are all in the pursuit of higher education, and you will graduate in the future. If the economy does not improve, you might find it difficult or impossible to find a job. To top that off, you will likely have student loans you cannot repay.

     You have the power to choose a candidate who could forgive some or all of your student loans. You have the power to choose a candidate who will create jobs, so you can work in the future.

     In addition, many of you are also covered under your parents’ insurance, provided your parents have employment. But when you are 26, you will no longer be covered. If you become sick or are in an accident, you might find yourself with bills you cannot recover from.

     But there are more frightening possibilities. We study history to avoid the mistakes of the past, but it is terrifying to think some of these dire situations could reappear.

     In Nazi Germany, over six million Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others were exterminated in concentration camps. And this statistic is thought to be higher.

     In the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, an estimated 20 million Soviets were killed.

     During World War II, following Japanese forces bombing Pearl Harbor, about 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forced in internment camps here in the United States.

     There are those of you who believe this all happened a long time ago, and that this cannot possibly happen now. I wish you were right.

     There are thousands of immigrants detained in detention centers. Children are separated from their parents, and they are in unthinkable conditions.

     In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] reported an allegation of forced sterilization of women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE]. It is despicable to decide who can reproduce and who cannot, and it is against nature, religion and humanity as a whole.

     Over the past few months, we have seen reports of Americans of Asian descent being attacked since the outbreak of COVID-19. We have seen unarmed black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killed. The video of Jacob Blake shot in the back several times in front of his children went viral, and he is now paralyzed and was even handcuffed in the hospital on top of his paralysis.

     Back in 2016, there was talk of a Muslim registry. A registry is the first step to concentration camps and atrocities. Back in World War II, Jewish people were forced to wear the Star of David to be identified as Jewish publicly.     

     Additionally, there are those who use the terms Arab and Muslim interchangeably, even though there are Arab Christians and Muslims who are not Arab by descent. What is to prevent everyone who is Arab or Muslim from being lumped into the database? What is to prevent all Americans of color from this type of database?

     Or worse, what will prevent all people of color from being sent to internment camps? It happened during World War II. And we have detainment camps of atrocities now.

     You might think you are powerless to stop anything, but you are not. One vote can help change the course of history. In a close election, every vote counts.

     If you wish to vote by mail, then fill out the forms and vote early. If you vote on election day, find your polling place early. Take food, take your studies, and wait as long as you have to in order to vote.

     If you fail to vote, it is a slap to everyone who fought for that freedom. It is your right and civic duty to vote.

     If anyone prevents or tries to discourage you from voting, then they do not have the best interest of the country or you at heart, and it is illegal. If you give in, then you let injustice triumph over justice. And what sort of future do you think you will have?

     By voting, you are allowing your voice to be heard, and you are fighting to have a future. If I encourage even one of you who was not planning to vote into voting, then this article accomplishes something on the right side of history.

     As members of the Lewis community, our core values are knowledge, fidelity, justice, wisdom and association, which all play a role in voting in the election.

     We must seek knowledge and be always learning. In this election and our voting process, we must learn everything at stake while studying history, so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. In addition, knowledge gives you power, and you can use this power for the greater good of humanity in social and economic justice.

     In fidelity, we seek the truth, a commitment to our faiths, as well as an openness to other faiths.

     Through wisdom, we utilize our critical perspective in order to take a deeper look into society, culture and the human experience. We use our knowledge in order to solve problems.   

     Justice affirms the equality and sacredness of every life, as well as personal and social responsibility. We are at a point in history where justice is needed more than ever.

     And with association, we learn, grow and succeed via collaboration and respect. We have to work together to achieve good purposes.

      In ECaMS [department of engineering, computing, and mathematical sciences], our computer science courses include cybersecurity, software and artificial intelligence. These skills will help prevent election hacking and the spread of misinformation. In the future, some of you may pursue careers along those lines. You will be on the side of justice and protecting our country.

     You do not have to wait until the start of your career to do your part. You can begin safeguarding our country now by voting.

     In the future, you might be asked where you stood at this moment in history. Stand on the side of right and vote.

Categories
Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Lewis students find their way through pandemic challenges

By Nadia Beidas

     Lewis students are facing a dark, difficult time in history with the pandemic. Students will continue their studies amid drastic lifestyle changes the pandemic had brought. But worse than the lifestyle changes are the constant and continuous fear for the health of loved ones, a crippling economy and several forms of upheaval.

     Despite the challenges upon us, it is important to reflect on the positive aspects of life. You should count yourself fortunate daily if you have a roof over your head, food on the table and you and your loved ones are healthy.

       It is very easy these days to fall into despair. But we must cling to hope, and we must believe this time will pass. And we all must try to make plans in a very uncertain future.

     Some of you are juniors and seniors and will shortly be facing a drastically changed economy. Like so many fields, the tech industry has had several job cuts. This means the competition for jobs is tougher, and it is not easy for college graduates in normal times to find their first job.

     I do not write this to discourage anyone. I would like to encourage you all to keep working as hard as you can. You are all bright and capable of great things.

     Start job searching now, and see what classes and skills would help you for the role you hope to assume in the future. You might also want to consider delaying graduation and taking another concentration, or pursuing your graduate studies.

     I will also advise you to beware of scams. Check and see if a company has an actual address, reviews, and LinkedIn pages of employees. If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, and there is no address for the business, then it likely does not exist.

     At the same time, keep an open mind, apply to jobs heavily and pursue any legitimate opportunities for your future career, including job fairs.

     I attended a virtual tech job fair this summer. Due to the number of people at the job fair, I could only get into two chat rooms out of several listed. I waited in line for a long time for other rooms, but they did not open at all in the four-hour event.

     One thing that stood out to me was the number of people in the job fair looking for their first job. Many of them had graduate degrees in computer science or data science or computer engineering and were from all over the country. I wonder what the industry is currently missing without the talent out there.

     Different types of talent can shine with diversity inclusion. Unfortunately, we are seeing too many examples of divisiveness. This should be absolutely unacceptable in 2020.

     In technology and across all industries, it is essential to have a variety of people from all walks of life making contributions. Otherwise we stay in one mindset, we do not grow and we miss out on something potentially spectacular.

     Diversity inclusion involves all of us practicing the mission values that are core to who we are as a Lewis community. Befriend different types of people. Befriend people who have a different belief system and outlook than you hold, and you will learn and grow.

     Do not ask someone where they are from, ask about their religion, remark on their accent, or flaunt stereotypes. When one does any or all of these things, it emphasizes to the other person that they are different and makes them extremely uncomfortable. These types of questions can come across as exclusive rather than inclusive, especially if you are asking the first time you meet someone.

     Make an effort to get to know people, and let the other person decide when or if he or she will tell you about their background. When inquiring comments are made about a person’s background, it does not come across as getting to know a person. Instead, it comes across as a need to define and categorize a person into a stereotype, and it is very hurtful.

     We must stand together now and show each other kindness and respect. We must celebrate and embrace our differences. This is the way forward, and it is something we all have control over in a time where so many things are out of control.

     You also have the power to keep heartily pursuing your academic and career goals, and I encourage you all to keep working hard. As the new semester starts, I wish you all the best. Students and teachers all deserve credit for their commitment to education and learning in an unprecedented time with numerous challenges.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.