More than 250 students from UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) showcased their talent and mingled with industry professionals on June 1, 2022, at the Second Annual ICS Project Expo. Held in the new state-of-the-art Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building (ISEB), the event was a culmination of months of hard work, offering the students the opportunity to present projects completed for undergraduate capstone courses in informatics, computer science and data science, as well as for the Butterworth Product Development Competition. Project sponsors and students alike look forward to this annual opportunity to highlight projects they’ve labored over throughout the year.
Partnering With Industry
“The expo really ties together the four foundational elements of engagement that our programs offer —project experience, entrepreneurship, mentorship and opportunities for internship,” says Jason King, senior associate director of corporate relations in ICS. “The expo benefits project sponsors looking to recruit and showcases all the great work of our students.” These ICS undergraduates spent anywhere from 10 to 20 weeks experiencing hands-on learning working on real-world projects, collaborating with industry partners.
Peter Colligan, a senior technology executive for the SAP S/4HANA Industry Cloud, was one of 40 industry professionals in attendance at the expo. Speaking of SAP’s goal of helping “to accelerate collaboration between academia, startups and industry,” Colligan stresses the importance of these types of events. “I get a chance to directly and informally interact with student teams and talk about the engineering skills and projects they care about. Those discussions can sometimes go deeper, where professors themselves step in and get a chance to highlight and validate ideas and common challenges with industry practitioners,” he continues. “Very realistic and concrete outcomes have come out of this, such as ideas for future capstone projects, full-time employment work, or joint industry-research initiatives.”
Jason King thanks the corporate partners.
Gaining Real-World Experience
Recognizing the tremendous benefits of providing opportunities for practical application and industry engagement, the Department of Informatics has been offering a capstone course for more than a dozen years. It is now a graduation requirement for informatics, and ICS has also added elective undergraduate capstone courses for computer science and data science majors.
“Presenting your work professionally in a conference-like event is a very valuable experience for our undergraduate students,” says Computer Science Professor Sergio Gago-Masague, who launched the computer science capstone course in 2020. “I personally enjoyed watching students and sponsors engaging in very interesting discussions about projects and ideas for future work.”
One of the top computer science capstone projects leveraged artificial intelligence to create a personalized recommendation system for quick service restaurants (QSRs). For the “AI-Driven Personalized Menu Content for the QSR Drive Thu” project, students Ezra Hammond, Rieko Konishi, Arian Namavar and Ryan Sakuma partnered with Delphi Display Systems. They developed a machine learning system that presents relevant items to users based on their preferences and dietary restrictions to improve the drive-thru experience. They also presented their project and competed at the National Capstone Design Conference in Dallas, Texas, on June 6, 2022.
“The capstone project gave me the confidence that after my four years of education, under the school of ICS, I am ready to tackle new and unfamiliar projects successfully and implement what I’ve learned,” says Namavar, who graduated in June. “During the interviews I had with various companies, I would always answer their questions with my experience with our ICS capstone sponsor and project in mind —which I think helped me secure an offer!” Namavar will be working as a software developer at Nisum. “The ICS Expo was also a great opportunity to present our project [and] take ownership of our result. Seeing the progress other students made was another aspect that made me proud of ICS.”
Informatics Lecturer Darren Denenberg was similarly impressed by the students’ progress, noting that everyone “was able to achieve something great with their capstone,” but he was most surprised by the “AudioScribe” project by Alexis Diaz, Ellen Kulla, Jinli Duan, Qiantai Duan and Yuan Wang.
“They did a project on cough diarization,” says Denenberg. “It was a project I thought no one would be interested in, and it ended up being one of the best groups, best projects, and they also went to Dallas to compete in the national capstone conference.”
Informatics Professor Hadar Ziv attended the conference with the AudioScribe team and says they represented themselves and the school of ICS very well. “They really held their own, conducting multiple high-quality presentations and enjoying their interactions with their peers and with capstone instructors from around the country.”
However, even students who don’t have space in their schedule for a capstone course (or conference), or who aren’t upperclassmen, have opportunities for entrepreneurship, thanks to the Butterworth Competition. This product development competition is designed to encourage the creation of new technologies with the potential for commercialization. This year’s winning project, Leprendo, was on display at the ICS Project Expo, letting participants view the online farmer’s marketplace created by computer science major Dylan Riffle, computer science and engineering major Kanu Chandra, business administration major Dan Ta, and psychological sciences major Nina Nguyen.
“By developing our pitch deck and going through the competition, we learned the importance of being able to combine the technical development of a product with business development and communicate this effectively,” says Riffle. The team will continue to develop Leprendo over the summer.
“We’re firing on all cylinders and increasingly promoting the value of capstone projects, showing why regional and national companies should be involved with these programs and the talent pipelines they offer,” says King. “Our programs are well-rounded, and the expo showcases the breadth of experience gained from an ICS education.”
— Shani Murray