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Students show off summer research

Posted on Aug 4, 2009

Katie Sofia '10 talks about her summer research on solar energy systems.

With more than 120 students conducting research at Union this summer, the first of two poster sessions in Olin Rotunda on Tuesday was energetic and rich in diverse information.

Peter Bonventre ’11 discussed his work with porous silica gels and Katie Sofia ‘10 explained her project on solar energy, while across the room Daniel Barringer ’11 talked about his physics research with electrical engineering student Isaac Rogers ‘10.

For many of the presenters, this was their second or third summer doing some kind of research.

“It's real experience,” Barringer said. “We’re not in a class. We’re in labs where things will go wrong and we’ll have to figure out why, which is what it’ll be like when we actually go out into our chosen fields.”

Student presentations will continue Thursday, Aug. 6. To learn more about this year’s summer researchers, click here.

Daniel Barringer '11 discusses his summer physics research with Isaac Rogers '10 in Olin Rotunda.

Michael Topka '09 and Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering Becky Cortez discuss his summer research.

Peter Bonventre '11 discusses his summer research with Rachel Gray '10 and Valerie Angell '10 in Olin Rotunda.


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Outsiders become insiders with summer internship at Hearst

Posted on Aug 4, 2009

The New York Daily News did a piece on a group of students participating in the Hearst Internship Summer Program. As part of their activities, the group recently toured the College. One member of the group, Manny Fabre, is an incoming first-year student at Union.

To read the story, click here (registration may be required).

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Camp helps foster female engineers

Posted on Aug 4, 2009

For the eighth straight summer, Union hosted the “Educating Girls for Engineering” camp. Seventeen high school students spent two weeks exploring opportunities in the engineering profession.

According to the Society of Women Engineers, females make up just over 11 percent of the engineering workforce.

A reporter and photographer for the Daily Gazette visited the camp.

"It’s a rare sunny day that actually feels like summer, and a group of 17 high school girls from up and down the East Coast are sitting inside a classroom at Union College staring at light boards and computer screens.

"The sun is creeping through the windows and casting shadows on the white dry erase board at the front of the room, but they are too focused on their projects to notice.

"The 17 girls vary in age, musical tastes and hometowns, but they have one thing in common — they’re interested in pursuing engineering as a career, and that’s why they’re spending 10 days of their summer vacation inside a classroom."

 To read the rest of the story, click here (registration is required).


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Computing across disciplines: NSF grant enhances computational education

Posted on Aug 3, 2009

Statistics have a way, sometimes, of inspiring people to take action.

“Nationwide, undergraduate computer science enrollments are down 40 to 60 percent,” said Valerie Barr, Computer Science chair. “It’s important that we figure out how to get these kids back into the field. Computation is a fabulous tool and there are really exciting problems out there that need computer science as part of their solutions.”

Compuster Science Chair Valiere Barr works with a student.

In 2007, Barr and Chun Wai Liew of Lafayette College jointly won a $1.15 million National Science Foundation grant. The five-year award comes from the NSF program, “CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education,” and is funding the two institutions’ “Campus Wide Computation Initiative – A New Model for Computing Education.”

Now, two years into the project, Barr is already seeing results that are changing the computer science landscape at Union. These results compliment efforts that were already underway in the CS department to create five theme-based introductory courses.

The upcoming terms mark the first time all these classes, which encourage non-CS majors to do discipline-specific but computation-intensive work, will be offered in the same academic year.

Barr and her colleagues also want to see computation in other departments. The grant provides funding that supports summer research collaboration between professors and students from all academic backgrounds.

“The goal is for faculty to develop a lab or module that incorporates computation in a way that’s relevant to their discipline,” Barr said. “Out of every one of these summer initiatives comes some way of infusing computation into existing courses.”

This summer, for example, engineering Professor Ashraf Ghaly and Trevor Porter ’11 used Second Life, a 3-D virtual world, to build a pyramid complete with all its tunnels and secret chambers.

“When Ashraf takes students on the Egypt mini-term, getting into some of the pyramids can be challenging,” Barr said. “But he really wants students to experience as much of the pyramids as possible, and Second Life gives them one way to do this.”

It also provides students with the opportunity to actually learn computing skills since they must ultimately use program code to change the appearance of the virtual pyramid.

Trevor Porter '11 answers questions about his summer research with engineering Professor Ashraf Ghaly. All students who conducted computing work this summer gave presentations Wednesday July, 29.

Six of the nine modules created this summer in subjects ranging from film studies to astronomy will begin running in courses during upcoming year. Two more will debut in the 2010-2011 year.

These numbers represent tremendous growth from last summer. In 2008, four projects were undertaken, two of which resulted in modules that were immediately taught in macroeconomics and acoustics of speech production.

Further adding to this year’s success, two teachers from Bard High School Early College also developed modules. This thrills Barr because engaging high school students in computation early on, she said, will only strengthen participation at the collegiate level.

And cross-disciplinary education at the collegiate level is both beneficial and desirable, as evidenced by Union’s most recent class. The College just graduated its largest number of CS majors since 1992, and half of these students were double or interdepartmental majors.

“I look at a company like IBM that’s hiring biologists and economists, and our computer science students will be able to go into an interview and say, ‘I already know how to work with people from these fields,’” Barr said. “Because that’s what they’ve done here.”

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