Xiao Fu earns NSF CAREER Award

Xiao Fu in front of his computer.

Xiao Fu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and artificial intelligence, has received a Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, award from the National Science Foundation. Fu will use his five-year, $500,000 award to develop a suite of nonlinear factor analysis tools and contribute to a deeper understanding of unsupervised machine learning and sensing systems. 

Factor analysis tools are cornerstones of many sensing and learning applications, such as document analytics, hyperspectral imaging, brain signal processing, and representation learning. They’re designed to detect meaningful information hidden in large data sets, such as prominent topics within a large collection of documents.

However, many classic factor analysis models can be thwarted by phenomena known as nonlinear distortions, which frequently cause inaccurate results. To address the problem, Fu must first establish a deeper theoretical understanding of the so-called nonlinear factor analysis models, which are not well understood.

One of his goals is to use nonlinear factor analysis to understand and advance unsupervised deep representation learning, which is considered a critical tool to alleviate the high demand for labeled data in modern AI systems. 

Supervised machine learning algorithms learn through exposure to labeled inputs that correspond with specific outputs. A system may be trained to recognize dogs through exposure to a huge archive of labeled images of dogs. Eventually, the system will learn to independently identify dogs. But the training process can be costly and time intensive, because reliable data annotation must be done by experienced workers.  

Fu hopes to “reverse engineer” the data generating/acquisition process, so that machine learning and sensing algorithms can recognize and categorize unlabeled data — images, for instance — without being trained, by identifying and interpreting essential factors hidden within the data.   

“I’m envisioning important theoretical advances and breakthroughs to understand this inverse learning process that does not require labeling. From there, I might be able to build systems with many new functionalities,” Fu said. For example, unsupervised machine learning algorithms might be used to interpret satellite images of remote places. “Those images don’t come with any labels, so an unsupervised machine algorithm could be used instead to figure out what they contain.” 

May 19, 2022

Sensing opportunity

A picture of Sanjida Yeasmin working in a laboratory.

In a way, Sanjida Yeasmin is pursuing her PhD in electrical and computer engineering not just for herself, but for countless others as well.

“I’m trying to bring electronics to the medical field to save lives or make lives better. This always drives me,” she said.

Yeasmin’s current research centers on biosensors, analytical devices that noninvasively detect biomolecules and other chemicals in the body to measure aspects of health. Her interest in biosensors started five years ago when she was studying for her master’s degree at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.   

“I developed a sensor which can detect a biomarker in the human body related to heart attacks. When someone has a heart attack, the marker is released inside their body in the early stage, so we can know how they are affected,” Yeasmin explained.

After earning her master’s degree in 2017, Yeasmin, who is from Bangladesh, prepared for her next international move: joining the research staff at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. There, she developed colorimetric paper strips that change color when exposed, in bodily fluids, to specific markers associated with lung cancer.

“My master’s thesis and my research experience in Singapore motivated me to pursue my main goal of bringing laboratory-based diagnostics to rapid onsite, at-home testing,” Yeasmin said.

For this undertaking, Yeasmin set her sights westward for Ph.D. programs. 

Although accepted by multiple universities, Yeasmin quickly gravitated to Oregon State. One reason is the Outstanding Scholars Program, which offers two-year stipends and professional development opportunities to adept computer science and electrical and computer engineering graduate students whose work will positively impact the future. From 2019-21, Yeasmin was one of 12 students in the inaugural Outstanding Scholars cohort.

Further, Yeasmin chose Oregon State because her research interests align with those of Larry Cheng, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, who is now her project advisor. Together, they are developing two types of sensors; the first is an electrochemical sensor that detects cortisol, a hormone correlated to stress, in the body.

“We are making a wearable sensor which can be attached to your skin. When cortisol is released in your sweat, the sensor will detect it and give you a signal in your phone,” Yeasmin said.

This at-home diagnostic approach has several advantages. It saves time and promotes accessibility, because the test does not need to be sent to a lab, which could take weeks. It is also less expensive, because, unlike other commercial sensors, it does not require enzyme analysis.

“We are trying to make an enzyme mimetic material to replace the enzyme to reduce the cost,” Yeasmin said. “We want to make it robust, something which can be used at home simply, like pregnancy sticks.”

The second sensor Yeasmin and Cheng are developing involves light-emitting carbon dots, which could have applications in bioimaging, disease detection, hormone level analysis, and other aspects of human health.

“These are very small, nanometer-range particles, which can emit red, orange, green, blue — every color, really. We are working on that to use in biosensors and also for micro-LED displays,” Yeasmin said.

Most LED technology relies on quantum dots, but these nanoparticles present environmental hazards because they contain heavy metals, such as cadmium. The European Union banned cadmium and other harmful substances in its 2011 Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive for electronics. Cheng and Yeasmin have developed an alternative.

“The new material is primarily made of carbon — no metal. We are making an eco-friendly product with good light-emitting properties and a very high quantum yield,” Yeasmin said.  

Cheng and Yeasmin’s carbon dot project has received support, via the Accelerator Innovation and Development fund, from Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator. The program funds innovative, tech-based projects, aiding researchers from conceptualization through commercialization. Its support perfectly reflects Yeasmin’s own desire to be an entrepreneur upon graduating. 

“We are doing something that can solve existing problems and have the potential to go to market immediately. That’s the thing that always drives me,” Yeasmin said. “Starting from material synthesis, device fabrication and sensing — everything is conducted in the Cheng research lab. We’re developing sensors that can rapidly and precisely assess health conditions, thereby reducing health risks and avoiding hospital visits. This is the beginning of a new adventure for me, and I’m looking forward to it.” 

March 18, 2022

Seeing the future in 3D

Bradley Heenk working on a 3D printer.

As an undergraduate student in electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, Bradley Heenk and his fellow students often printed 3D parts to use in their class projects. Since many students needed custom-printed parts at the same time, Heenk saw this as opportunity to start a business and help his classmates get quality parts more quickly.

Having spent two years taking community college courses, Heenk was already a junior when he transferred to Oregon State. It was soon after that he started Corvallis3D in a closet in his house with a few 3D printers.

While he was happy to provide this service to students, Heenk also wanted to grow his start-up while continuing to go to school, he developed a website and reached out to prospective customers. Corvallis3D became a partner with a global company that opened up opportunities for them to create products for customers across the globe.

“This was a big shift for the business,” said Heenk, who then was able to lease an office and buy more printers. He also was able to hire an employee to keep up with the orders.

Heenk ran his business on the side as he continued to work toward his degree. He an internship lined up at Tektronix for the summer after his junior year but because of the pandemic, that was delayed for a year.

Bradley Heenk shows an example of the types of objects his company produces.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and a minor in computer science in 2021. Heenk did the internship at Tektronix and eventually accepted a full-time job there as a software quality engineer. Working fully remotely from Corvallis, he is able to also continue running Corvallis3D.

“I work on the business in the evenings and on the weekends, and since I have an employee who helps fill the orders, I can do both,” Heenk said. “There are also many processes that I’ve been automating.”

To help automate the order fulfilling process so there are fewer hands-on steps they need to take to get the parts printed, Heenk built an API, or an application programming interface. He also automated much of the shipping process.

People often ask Heenk about the types of orders he gets. “It could be a cup holder. It could be an enclosure for something. It could literally could be anything,” he said.

Like many entrepreneurs, Heenk plans to eventually expand the company, perhaps moving it to the Portland area and acquiring bigger clients.

“This is a good start,” he said. “I like to do some planning but I like to take things day-by-day. I don’t want to make any big crazy moves all at once.”


March 10, 2022

The softer side of electronics

Callen Votzke working on a robot.

Soft robots are made of pliant, supple materials, such as silicone. Some can squeeze through tiny spaces or travel over broken ground — tasks that stymie rigid robots. The field of soft robotics is still in the early stages of development, but it offers remarkable potential. One day soon, soft robots may be used in applications as diverse as searching collapsed buildings or as exosuits that facilitate recovery from injuries or strokes.
But soft robots need soft circuits that can bend and stretch with the devices they inhabit. “Regular circuit boards are too rigid,” said Callen Votzke, a doctoral candidate in robotics and electrical and computer engineering, and a graduate fellow with the Semiconductor Research Corporation. His research has been devoted largely to developing circuits for soft robots and other stretchable electronics. 

A crucial component of those circuits is liquid metal made of gallium, indium, and tin, mixed with nickel microparticles, whose consistency resembles that of toothpaste. It’s used to connect microchips or sensors to create fully functional circuits, all encapsulated in channels within the silicone. 

The possibilities seem endless. For example, stretchable electronics could be used in physical therapy. “Imagine a silicone exosuit that makes sure rehab patients are doing their exercises correctly, and even assists their movements,” Votzke said. “As the liquid metal wires stretch and contract with the exosuit, their electrical resistance changes, and that information can be used to measure motion.” Using an early prototype, Votzke successfully demonstrated the idea’s feasibility. 

He’s also made important progress toward the development of a soft robotic gripper, which will be studded with dozens of microprocessors and sensors, all networked with liquid metal connections. (Rigid microprocessors and sensors  are so small nowadays that many of them can be embedded in a soft robot without compromising mobility.) Ideally, it will use only tactile feedback for determining the position and shape of objects and for grasping. “That would be a huge improvement on many current grasping technologies, which rely a lot on visual input,” Votzke said.  

Votzke and his colleagues in the lab of Matthew Johnston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, meet regularly with another group of Oregon State researchers, led by Joe Davidson, assistant professor of robotics, whose goal is to build robotic grippers capable of picking fruits and vegetables. “Replicating that action with robotics is extremely challenging, but we’re getting closer,” Votzke said. 

Votzke says he feels lucky to attend Oregon State University for his doctorate. “The faculty have given me a tremendous amount of latitude, but also welcome guidance, to explore this field and to build things that almost nobody else in the world is building,” he said. “And I’ve developed industry connections that have given me a sense of where I can fit in after I leave the university to further develop my work.” 

Feb. 11, 2022

A circuitous path leads student to create light-sensing technology

Debbie Chou working with electronics

Debbie Chou, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, is a researcher at heart. This is how she knew that Oregon State’s College of Engineering, where she also earned her master’s degree, was her ideal graduate milieu.

“I was studying at National Taiwan University for my undergrad and thinking of the U.S. for graduate school,” Chou said. “I was doing IC (integrated circuit) design, and Oregon State has a great electrical engineering program, especially in IC design. My undergrad professors shared scientific papers from some of the groups at OSU with us, so I knew there was important work being done at the university.”

Coming into her master’s program in 2019, Chou was interested solely in integrated circuits. However, she had the opportunity to make important advances in a recent graduate’s project, working on an optical sensor called a single-photon avalanche diode in the Sensors and Integrated Microelectronics Lab supervised by Matt Johnston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Having learned a lot from this experience, she began to expand her areas of research interest.

“At first, I just focused on the IC design part, but because I had to get to know every facet of the project, I started to take courses about semiconductors and process integration. The core semiconductors course in our program, ECE 614, has been especially helpful,” Chou said.

Less than two years later, Chou placed third in the 2021 MWSCAS Best Student Paper contest for her work on the SPAD optical sensor. That same summer, she also completed a virtual internship with TDK-affiliated InvenSense, where she helped design analog circuits for motion sensors, such as gyroscope sensors found in smartphones. Just as she intended, Chou has learned to comfortably navigate the complex relationship between IC and semiconductors. 

“I’m now trying to explore the applications of my work,” she explained. “For example, think of HDR imaging. When your cellphone switches to HDR mode, it sees the bright and dark parts of images. I’m working on creating a wide dynamic range optical sensor similar to the HDR mode in cellphones, but this sensor is for biomedical experimental applications, where the targeted illuminance is lower and fluorescence detection needs to be better.”

In terms of eventual career goals, Chou, who has just begun her doctorate, will remain flexible and open to any research-related opportunities. Being flexible and proactively participating in class is also her advice for future College of Engineering graduates with similar goals.  

“My courses at OSU have given me a lot of experience in designing, improving my skills, and working in the lab. The professors are very helpful; we all cooperate together,” Chou said.

Feb. 11, 2022

Stepping up and giving back

A picture of Quentin Onyemordi.

When Quentin Onyemordi reflects on his time at Oregon State University, he seems genuinely impressed by how far he’s come on his journey as an engineer.

“From the moment I came to school, I was definitely interested in engineering, but I didn’t have the technical knowledge,” he said. “Every year, I’ve added new milestones in that regard and taken some big steps toward becoming an engineer. The entire learning experience has been amazing.”

Onyemordi, now in his fourth year in electrical and computer engineering, joined the National Society of Black Engineers during his first year. He has enjoyed the wide range of experiences and networking opportunities NSBE offers — from conferences with engineering experts to community outreach with schoolchildren — as well as the group’s focus on personal growth and the technical aspects of engineering. During his second year, he became chapter secretary and traveled with the group to Los Angeles to tour Boeing — an opportunity he cherished for the chance to see what life is like for engineers in the field.

Onyemordi is now chapter president this year, and he’s looking forward to creating opportunities to connect with elementary and middle school students, hopefully in person.

“We want to help minority students understand that engineering is definitely a possibility for them,” he said. “We had big plans last year, to get more involved in the community, but it’s been difficult with COVID.”

Onyemordi’s personal plans for the past year also shifted because of the pandemic. He ended up returning home to Canada, visiting Corvallis briefly in spring term to participate in his junior-year capstone project. Inspired by the needs of the pandemic, he’s been working on a contactless temperature sensor that can wirelessly transmit data.

“I really enjoy working with microcontrollers to accomplish a variety of common tasks,” he said. “In the device I’m now working on, the microcontroller is able to read the data and send it immediately to a spreadsheet on my laptop, so I can document all the temperatures that have been recorded in the last 24 hours.”

Another crucial component of Onyemordi’s engineering journey has been the Distinguished Scholars Initiative, a program that provides community, fellowship, and mentorship for men of color studying at Oregon State. Since his first year, Onyemordi’s involvement with DSI has created a sense of community and provided a place to have serious conversations as well as fun group outings. He’s found mentors who have helped him navigate university life and put him on the path toward engineering success.

This past summer, he completed an internship with TRC, a leading global consulting, engineering, and construction management firm. As an energy efficiency engineering intern, Onyemordi provided technical and analytical support for the firm’s energy efficiency programs, focusing on energy retrofits for multifamily housing.

“I was frequently in contact with TRC’s engineers on the post-installation and verification teams and those conversations propelled the interest I have in power engineering and energy efficiency,” he said. “I hope to act on these interests more in the upcoming summer and gain more technical experience to build on the fundamentals that I have acquired from this past internship.”

Onyemordi learned about TRC through his involvement in Emerging Leaders PDX, which has the goal of improving the racial and cultural diversity in leadership at companies in and around Portland by matching college students and recent graduates from underrepresented populations with paid internships at top companies throughout the metro area.

He also says he’s grateful for the networking and the mentoring he received through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and acknowledges its impact on his time at Oregon State and his journey as an engineer.

“LSAMP and my mentors are a huge part of the foundation that has set me up for success,” Onyemordi said. “Last year I got to serve as a mentor and hopefully will next year as well. Coming in as an out-of-country student, I didn’t even know a single person in the state of Oregon. I want to help new students navigate that transition and encourage them to get involved on campus. It will take their college experience to another level.”

Oct. 18, 2021

Oregon State to play major role in AI research institute for agriculture

story of banner.

Oregon State University will participate in a new research institute that will develop artificial intelligence solutions to tackle some of agriculture’s biggest challenges related to labor, water, weather, and climate change.

The institute, funded by a $20 million federal grant, is led by Washington State University and will involve 13 Oregon State faculty from the College of Engineering, spanning computer science, electrical engineering, and robotics. It’s one of 11 institutes launched by the National Science Foundation and among two funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2021. Called the AgAID Institute — for USDA-NIFA Institute for Agricultural AI for Transforming Workforce and Decision Support — its work will involve collaborative efforts among faculty and scientists with expertise in a diverse range of areas in computer science, agriculture, and agricultural outreach.

“As the climate changes and the human population grows, it is essential to improve the robustness, efficiency, and adaptability of food production,” said Alan Fern, professor of computer science and principal investigator representing Oregon State. “The institute aims to achieve this by identifying the most synergistic ways to integrate humans and AI/robotics technology.”

While traditional AI development involves scientists making tools and delivering them to end-users, the AgAID Institute’s development process will involve the people who intend to use AI solutions, such as farmers, farm workers, and policy makers, said Ananth Kalyanaraman, a WSU computer science professor and the institute’s lead principal investigator. 

Other institute members include the University of California, Merced; University of Virginia; Carnegie Mellon University; Heritage University; Wenatchee Valley College; and Kansas State University. Private sector partners include IBM Research and the start-up innov8.ag.

According to Fern, the key principle behind the institute’s work will be to take a human-first approach, which will include iterative cycles of working with end-users to design and build workflows involving AI/robotics technology that will have real utility and, hence, be used.

“This is in contrast to focusing on advanced AI/robotics research that conceptually relates to agricultural problems but never materializes into actual deployments that deliver utility,” he said. “Humans and AI/robotics have very different capabilities and competencies, and there are many possible ways of combining them for any given agricultural application, but only some of those combinations will be effective.”

Fern added that Oregon State’s team will serve as the lead for fundamental and applied research in AI, robotics, and human factors. Its researchers will work closely with agriculture researchers and, most importantly, with agricultural end-users to identify, develop, and deploy synergistic workflows involving humans and AI/robotics technology that will have a significant impact on agricultural practices.

Kalyanaraman added that AgAID institute researchers will seek solutions that can adapt to changing environments and amplify productivity by combining human skills and machine capabilities to be more effective than either would be alone. For instance, pruning trees is a highly skilled task, but a beginner-level worker could benefit from an AI tool that provides expert guidance to help decide which is the best branch to prune. The task is done better, and the worker starts to learn from the feedback. With the current shortage of skilled labor, AI can benefit both the orchard and the worker.  

“It’s a partnership. AI can help us bridge the divide between high-skilled and low-skilled workers,” Kalyanaraman said.

Educating the workforce at all levels will also be central to the AgAID Institute, not just to encourage AI adoption but as a matter of equity, according to institute leaders. Multiple education programs targeting K-12, higher education, and workers are planned. The goal is to raise AI skill levels and open new career paths, which can improve pay and quality of life for agricultural workers and attract more people to agriculture and computing professions.

The institute will undertake several challenging test cases involving specialty crops, many of which grow in the Western United States, such as apples, cherries, mint, and almonds. These crops encompass several major challenges: they require intensive labor and irrigation, and they are vulnerable to weather events and climate change. Specialty crops account for 87% of the U.S. agricultural workforce, and about 40% of these crops are perennial, requiring long-term management and resource planning.

“The biggest impact the institute can have will not necessarily be specific agricultural solutions,” Fern said, “but, rather, the knowledge gained and disseminated about the processes involved in going from initial application concepts to deployments that deliver real value to end users.”

July 29, 2021

New AI degree program prepares leaders of ‘the next industrial revolution’

AI degree program.

Oregon State University’s College of Engineering is launching a unique program for graduate study in artificial intelligence, with an initial cohort of about 40 students to be enrolled in fall 2021.

Oregon State’s program will be the first in the United States to offer both master’s and doctoral degrees in artificial intelligence as an interdisciplinary field of study, said Scott Ashford, Kearney Dean of Engineering. A small number of institutions throughout the country have launched undergraduate or master’s programs in AI, and a few offer doctoral programs specializing in machine learning.

“AI is what I like to call the outward-looking face of computer science,” said OSU’s Prasad Tadepalli, the new program’s director and a professor of computer science. “Much of computer science is associated with how to make computers faster, better, cheaper and so on. AI is more focused on how to apply computer science to other fields.”

In addition to offering courses and research opportunities in core AI topics — machine learning, knowledge representation, reasoning under uncertainty, sequential decision-making, natural language processing and computer vision — the program allows students to choose relevant courses from a wide range of disciplines across the university.

The crux of artificial intelligence is using computers to make decisions. As machines have become more “intelligent,” the decisions we delegate to them have become more and more complex, even as the technology has become increasingly unnoticeable to users.

“People use AI every day without even thinking about it, every time they search Google or ask Siri for directions,” said Julie A. Adams, associate director of OSU’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute, or CoRIS, and a professor of computer science.

The impetus to create the AI graduate program arose from CoRIS, which launched a similar interdisciplinary graduate program in robotics in 2014.

“Like robotics, artificial intelligence is a field that is going to have, and is already having, a vast impact in our lives — in consumer goods, technology used by first responders, government systems and more,” Adams said. “In the broader context of society, the goal of this program is to train individuals to be leaders in industry or academia, to start new companies, to make their own contributions to this rapidly expanding field.” Houssam Abbas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, second from the right, employs artificial intelligence in his work on the formal theory of ethical autonomous robots, and on secure cyber-physical systems, such as self-driving cars and drones.

Previously, students could select artificial intelligence as an area of concentration in computer science. Oregon State’s computer science graduate program typically accepted 30 to 40 AI-focused master’s and doctoral students from more than 400 applicants each year.

It’s significant that Oregon State’s new program does not require a computer science degree as a prerequisite, said Alan Fern, associate head of research and professor of computer science for OSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“Often students who are well-poised to study artificial intelligence don't come from a traditional computer science background,” he said. “The AI program is meant to be more flexible and will be enriched by having students with advanced knowledge in areas outside of computer science. Sometimes getting a domain expertise is much harder than getting the necessary expertise in computer science and statistics. People who have deep domain expertise plus knowledge and expertise in applying decision-making AI tools are going to be very highly sought in the job market.”

From an economic and strategic perspective, expertise in AI will be crucial for the United States to maintain its position as a world leader, Tadepalli says.

“People think of AI as the next industrial revolution,” he said. “Many advanced countries are very much aware of that and are investing a lot of money and resources and energy into AI. Being competitive in the world, in this century, will essentially depend on how well we can advance this field, not only making research advances, but also educating the public in the right ways of using the technology.” Rebecca Hutchinson, assistant professor of computer science, advances knowledge of Earth’s ecosystems using machine learning.

Darrell Boggs, vice president of CPU engineering for NVIDIA, whose founder and CEO is Oregon State graduate Jensen Huang, noted that what used to be science fiction is now becoming reality – from autonomous motor vehicles to a range of technologies in the medical sector.

“Artificial intelligence is changing our lives by helping health care professionals tackle critical challenges like drug discovery and disease detection,” he said. “AI is being used to increase diagnostic accuracy, enabling the medical imaging community to improve patient outcomes. A new AI model was developed to detect COVID-19 in CT scans with 96% accuracy. And spurred by the need to keep employees and patients safe, thermal imaging cameras enhanced with AI have been used to detect individuals with elevated temperatures in real time as they enter facilities.”

About the OSU College of Engineering

The 10th largest engineering program based on undergraduate enrollment, the college received nearly $60 million in sponsored research awards in the 2019-20 fiscal year and is global leader in health-related engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced manufacturing, clean water and energy, materials science, computing and resilient infrastructure. The college ranks second nationally among land grant universities and third among the nation’s 94 public R1 universities for percentage of tenured or tenure-track faculty who are women. 

April 22, 2021

Becoming a student of leadership

A picture of Anjali Vasisht.

During the summer of 2020, Anjali Vasisht worked as a software engineering intern at Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). Along with a team of software engineers, a product manager and a technical program manager, she worked on a feature for the OCI console. While Vasisht enjoyed the process of addressing customer and user concerns to develop the feature, she was equally focused on how managers and engineers interacted and collaborated.

“I’m really interested in leadership,” she said. “Seeing how the different teams and managers worked together was great for me, and helped inform the sort of career path I wanted to explore in the future.”

In her first year at Oregon State University, Vasisht joined the Association of Computing Machinery, Women’s Chapter, drawn to its mission of supporting women in technology and creating opportunities for professional development. She took on the role of treasurer and began thinking more seriously about leadership. 

Now a fourth-year computer science major, Vasisht eventually worked her way up to serving as ACM-W’s president and grew the club’s ability to help women and minorities in technology with her team of officers. In addition to inviting industry representatives to network and provide opportunities for members, Vasisht and her team developed a new mentoring program, pairing older students with incoming first-years to assist them on their tech journey.  

“Being a leader for ACM-W has been one of my most impactful experiences at Oregon State,” she said. “It’s where I’ve been able to exercise project management skills and people management skills as well, and come together as a team with the other officers and strive toward one goal.”

As a second-degree black belt in taekwondo, Vasisht knows what it takes to stay committed to a goal. Her tech journey at Oregon State began as a research assistant in the Human Machine Teaming Lab, working with Julie A. Adams, professor of computer science, to develop a Myo Armband wearable device that detects muscle functions. The idea behind the project, facilitated through URSA Engage, is to help paramedics quickly communicate important information with ER doctors in order to bridge the communication gap when a patient is transferred. 

During a summer internship at Intel in 2019, Vasisht had the chance to combine her engineering expertise with her people skills. Working on demos for a new deep learning-assisted computer vision technology called OpenVINO, designed to address business and customer needs, she created her own demo to track a person’s walking path based on their heat map.  

“I was able to present in front of dozens of customers about Intel’s computer vision technology when I flew to California with my team,” Vasisht said. “It was a big achievement, because it was where I was really able to interact with customers.”

The experience with customers at Intel, along with what she learned at Oracle and her time as a leader in ACM-W, convinced Vasisht to set her sights on becoming a leader in tech. This spring she landed a product management internship with Jam City, a mobile gaming company; she’s been busy analyzing data and pitching innovative features to improve customer engagement. 

“A product manager translates customer needs into innovative product-, business- and software engineering-solutions,” she said. “I’m very user focused. I really want to help people and customers solve their problems while making an impact as a leader in the tech industry.”

April 14, 2021

Changing course

A picture of Jill Hubbard teaching a student.

Computer science, historically, has not been a welcoming place for women and people of color. This inequity persists to this day, even as industries scramble to fill available positions in the field. Recognizing the benefits of a larger and more diverse workforce, Oregon tech companies, including Intel, signed a tech diversity pledge in 2015.

Researchers at Oregon State University are working to broaden interest in computer science by helping schools deliver a curriculum that breaks through the typical barriers for students in underrepresented groups.

“In the past, computer science has been taught as programming. But in our world today, computer science is much broader,” said Jill Hubbard, instructor of computer science at OSU-Cascades. “And if we don’t give our kids — all of our kids — that fundamental knowledge, we’re going to further create a society of haves and have-nots. That’s what this is all about, that bigger picture of democratizing computer science.”

The National Science Foundation initiated a nationwide effort during the Obama administration to provide inclusive computer science learning opportunities in K-12 schools. To support this effort, NSF has awarded “Computer Science for All” grants throughout the nation.


Hubbard is co-principal investigator on a CS for All grant called CS for Oregon, which advises statewide policy for computer science education and provides support for high school teachers and undergraduates majoring in education. The program has impacted 40 Oregon schools, including those with the most diverse student populations in the state. The project, now in its third year, is headed by James Hook, associate dean of engineering and computer science at Portland State University, in collaboration with Joanna Goode, Sommerville Knight Professor in the College of Education at the University of Oregon, another coprincipal investigator.

Over the past three summers, 52 teachers have been trained on an evidence-based introductory computer science curriculum. Hubbard leads the professional development, which typically happens at OSU-Cascades during the summer, and works with teachers quarterly during the school year. This year, all trainings were conducted online instead of in person.

With a curriculum based on inquiry rather than lecture, teachers act as facilitators and the students shape the conversation to their interests. Through discussion and activities, students are introduced to human-computer interaction, problem-solving, web design, programming, computing and data analysis, and robotics. The coursework includes computer science concepts and computational practices, using a variety of tools and platforms.

“What makes it accessible to all kids is that we’re not sitting here coding every day,” said Donald Carter, who teaches at Bend Senior High School. “Coding is great for just a narrow demographic of kids, and that’s been the historic problem. We are incorporating arts and crafts and design, so everybody has a little buy-in to the class.”


Jennifer Parham-Mocello, assistant professor of computer science, is leading another team to teach computational thinking with tabletop games, such as Connect Four, with support of a CS for All grant. The idea grew out of the need to develop a curriculum that would not require schools to obtain and maintain expensive technology, as well as a desire to make the classes interesting to a broader group of students.

“The premise of this grant is that there needs to be a variety of alternatives for people to get involved in computation,” Parham-Mocello said. “It doesn’t need to always be about a programming language, and especially initially because that can be very intimidating to some students.”

The curriculum is designed for two levels: An introduction to computational thinking for sixth graders using familiar tabletop games, and an introduction to programming for seventh graders using a domain-specific teaching language for board games, developed by co-principal investigator Martin Erwig, Stretch Professor of Computer Science.

The curriculum was created in partnership with teachers and administrators at Linus Pauling Middle School in Corvallis, a Spanish/English dual language school. The curriculum was tested in two camps over the summer, and the full classes began in fall 2020. Maggie Niess, emeritus professor of education and co-principal investigator, is helping to assess how well the curriculum is working.


Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the team had to quickly adjust to delivering content remotely, using online games. The modification turned out to be a boon.

“It worked to our advantage because the students had to communicate their moves formally using numbered rows and columns. And that’s what computer science is about,” Parham-Mocello said.

During the camps, the teachers also got a chance to practice the tools and techniques they would need for teaching remotely this school year.

“My experience teaching in the summer camp allowed me to help my peers as we launched the school year online,” said Kina Bellah, who teaches at Linus Pauling.

But there was also a bigger-picture lesson. “Programs like these can help bring an interest and understanding of computer science within reach,” Bellah said.

Dec. 29, 2020
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