Homeland Security is focus for Data Sciences Summer Institute

7/22/2010 12:04:00 PM

While some students use the summer as a time to regroup and catch up on sleep before starting another school year, a select group of them spends its summer in Champaign-Urbana at the University of Illinois’ Data Sciences Summer Institute (DSSI).

Institute participant Alexandra Mirtcheva discusses the Crime Map project.
Institute participant Alexandra Mirtcheva discusses the Crime Map project.
The six-week-long program gives students the opportunity to grow through intensive courses in the mathematical foundations of Data Science, contact with experts in the field and significant work on a group research project. This year, DSSI was home to 22 students.

“You are unlikely to find a community more supportive or more focused on solving problems rather than their own particular individual accolades and rank than this one,” said Evan Misshula, doctoral student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Public Service at the City University of New York.

Student groups at DSSI select a project to work on from a provided list of topics and present their projects at the end of the six weeks. This year, the three projects were the Crime Map Project, the Expert Search Project and the Computer Vision Project.

The Crime Map Project expanded on a web and iPhone application called Illini Crime, developed by recent Engineering at Illinois graduates Matt Gornick and Blaine Fahey. The application previously only mapped out crimes on campus, but through work done at DSSI, the application is now capable of mapping crime throughout Champaign (see video presentation).

DSSI student describing heat map of campus crime areas.
DSSI student describing heat map of campus crime areas.
The Expert Search Project uses web crawling, data mining and natural language processing technologies to accurately and intelligently create mailing lists of experts in various disciplines and interest groups.

The Computer Vision Project is a system where a user submits an image, which is then identified and labeled by comparing it to similar images in its database.

DSSI provides students a chance to work on a research project, but it also lets students work with world-class experts and faculty and learn what resources are available for engineers. Alexandra Mirtcheva, a fourth-year Computer Science major at the University of Florida, said the DSSI offered her experiences unavailable elsewhere.

DSSI student discussing DSSI Computer Vision project.
DSSI student discussing DSSI Computer Vision project.
“It's a really great program,” said Mirtcheva, who worked on the Crime Map Project along with Misshula and others. “It really opened up my eyes to a lot of different fields within computer science, as well as technologies and tools. The professors and faculty were amazing, and the speakers were very interesting.”

The program is funded by the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence--Command, Control, and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis at the University of Illinois’ Multimodal Information Access and Synthesis Center. The connection to the Department of Homeland Security made for an underlying theme of public safety in the student research groups. The groups took this to heart, in addition to their more general hunger to research and learn.

“The larger question the Data Sciences Summer Institute addresses is how do we take data and learn what is important? How do we make inferences and resolve controversies?," Misshula added. "I can’t think of more fundamental questions to answer. Moreover, if along the way we make the world a safer and more caring place, it has been a pretty good summer.”

Contact: Nancy Komlanc, education director, Data Sciences Summer Institute.

Writer: Alex Iniguez, Engineering Communications Office.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office, 217/244-7716, editor.