Undergraduate Research Makes a Difference

sure2015Two students in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences (CaMS) at Lewis University participated in the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) this summer. Betsy Langland and Michael Korzon, both of Downers Grove, presented their projects at the annual SURE Symposium on Wednesday, August 5, to a packed room.

Betsy, a senior Mathematics major, presented a project entitled “Determining the Success of a Mathematics Major”. With the guidance of Dr. Amanda Harsy-Ramsay, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Betsy explored how data from the student records system could be used to help predict the likelihood of success for a student to complete the Bachelor of Science in Mathematics degree. She investigated correlations between grades in the Calculus sequence and students’ cumulative GPAs. Her analysis also explored other possible correlations in an initial attempt to identify which data might help predict success or failure in the major. By exploring the data further, Betsy and Dr. Harsy hope to identify ways to boost student performance. For example, they plan to identify the relationships not just between final course grades and cumulative GPA in the major, but also whether success or failure in certain units of a course might correlate with overall performance in the degree program. Their techniques, which apply the tools of Data Science to problems in academic support, could benefit every degree program on campus.

Michael, a senior Computer Science major who also works at Argonne National Lab, addressed the problem of data overload in cyber security operations. Intrusion detection systems, networking appliances, and operating systems monitor network and computer traffic constantly, and they collect an immense amount of data in the process. This data has to be stored somewhere, but it is difficult to do so because it takes up so much space. Yet, for digital forensics purposes and legal reasons, the data has to be stored without loss, preferably for a period of time long enough to enable investigation of an incident several weeks or even months after it occurred. Michael worked with Dr. Ray Klump, Professor and Chair of CaMS, and Elie Shmayel, a Computer Science alumnus and currently a student in Lewis’ Master of Science in Information Security program. The team explored ways to compress data from packet capture systems and log files that took advantage of the special data formats of these systems to compress cyber security data better than what standard compression algorithms can accomplish. Their efforts yielded custom compression strategies that were able to achieve, in some cases, significantly higher compression ratios on cyber security data than what standard algorithms give.

Involving undergraduates in scientific research is a top priority for all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs at Lewis. The STEM departments – Biology, Chemistry, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, and Physics – take a learn-by-doing approach, and they emphasize empiricism in their courses. Students are encouraged and challenged to experiment, to uncover their own insights into the material, to master concepts by seeing them in action. In CaMS, students will learn a mathematical concept, such as differentiation, by studying rates of change in a computer simulation, or by estimating it from real data. They will learn computer science often by trying out an example such as those presented on CS Unplugged before trying to code it themselves, so that they understand thoroughly how a particular technique works, which helps them understand its strengths and limitations. Of course, anyone studying cyber security through Computer Science knows that hackers are just tinkerers, and that trial-and-error is simply the best way to learn.

CaMS is very proud of the work Betsy and Michael did this summer. We are even more pleased to play a big role in bringing outstanding research-based learning opportunities to our students. Undergraduate research is an essential component of modern science education, and it is a big part of what we’re doing in the STEM fields at Lewis.

About Ray Klump

Professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University http://online.lewisu.edu/ms-information-security.asp, http://online.lewisu.edu/resource/engineering-technology/articles.asp, http://cs.lewisu.edu. You can find him on Google+.

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