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CCI Holds Spring Reception Celebrating Outstanding Faculty and 2018 Isaac L. Auerbach Innovation Award Winners

May 30, 2018

In the five years since its founding in 2013, the College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) has fostered innovation and provided its students with the tools and knowledge to serve as leaders across industries. In January 2017, CCI launched its inaugural Isaac L. Auerbach Innovation Competition to gather innovative and actionable ideas from faculty and professional staff, specifically calling for proposals that were both contemporary and practical in providing solutions to specific challenges at the College. In its second year, the competition was expanded to allow submissions from students.

Submitters to this year’s competition were provided with five college priorities to help guide the development of their projects, which included:

  • Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of CCI
  • Advancing the Women in Computing Initiative
  • Creating Societal Impact
  • Building a Vibrant CCI Community
  • Enhancing the Student Experience

The 2018 Innovation Award winners were determined by a Selection Committee composed of faculty, professional staff, students and alumni. During the crowd-source ballot voting phase, more than 600 project votes were recorded. The top 10 projects, based on the ballot voting, were selected as finalists and reviewed by the Selection Committee for the award decisions. Out of the 33 submissions that were received, five cash awards were given to teams and individuals, with a total value of $25,000.

The Innovation Awards were made possible through the generous support of Carol and Isaac L. Auerbach. Isaac Auerbach graduated from Drexel with an electrical engineering degree in 1943 and a went on to earn his master’s in applied physics from Harvard in 1947. He was in the U.S. Navy from 1943-6, and would go on to become an influential figure in the field of computer technology. He founded the International Federation for Information Process (IFIP) in 1960, and in 1990 served on Drexel’s board of trustees. Before his death in 1992, he held 15 patents and had been involved in philanthropic efforts in the Jewish community.

On May 21, CCI hosted a reception to celebrate the five winning submissions to the 2nd Annual Isaac L. Auerbach Innovation Awards. Greg Hislop, PhD (Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) and Dario Salvucci, PhD (Professor and Computer Science Department Head) were also honored during this ceremony for their leadership and administrative service to CCI.

Winners of the 2nd Annual Isaac L. Auerbach Innovation Award are listed below (in alphabetical order by project title):

Dean Yi Deng and Ali Shokoufandeh present an innovation award to Brenna Martin and Stefan Jewett

CCI AI Co-op
Stefan Jewett (CCI professional staff) and Brenna Martin (CCI professional staff)

“The proposal is that we utilize machine learning techniques to solve ordinary business problems, and hopefully foster a culture of data driven decision making,” explains Jewett.

From Alexa playing inappropriate adult content to a toddler, to Microsoft’s Twitter chatbot “Tay” turning into a Nazi within 24 hours, today’s AI has shown itself to be lacking in the professionalism and composure necessary to succeed in the office of the future. Despite these setbacks, we do not think our future software overlords are hopeless- they are simply unprepared! Drexel has a reputation for preparing students for the workplace through applied education and Co-op. We think that CCI could harness our expertise to train the algorithm of the future to become a valuable, thoughtful worker.

Dean Yi Deng and Ali Shokoufandeh present an innovation award to Mashour Rahman

Dragoncoin: Blockchain for Students
Mashour Rahman (CCI undergraduate student)

“My idea is to use blockchain technology to help build and foster a community for CCI students. I got the idea after reading several news stories about how companies like IBM and Walmart were using blockchain in creative ways to improve their business model, and I thought Drexel could benefit from it in some way as well,” said Rahman.

Dragoncoin, a mineable cryptocurrency, could be used both as a learning opportunity and as a “key” for CCI student-exclusive applications. An example of a student application might be an online forum where submitting messages requires Dragoncoin. The exposure to blockchain technology will help to foster innovation in the students at CCI and build a more technological campus.

Dean Yi Deng and Ali Shokoufandeh present an innovation award to Abrar Alalhamri, Afnan Almohiameed, and Talal Dawood

The iCommons Application
Abrar Alalhamri (CCI graduate student), Afnan Almohiameed (CCI graduate student), Talal Dawood (CCI graduate student)

The iCommons application would give the CCI community a single place to request iCommons room reservations, reserve equipment, make appointments with a specialist, report technical issues, and view all services provided to CCI students, staff, and faculty. An application could save time and effort, raise awareness about the provided services, and facilitate communication.

“Our idea came to mind when we were trying to reserve the iCommons meeting room and we asked if there was an application where we could do so without going back to the iCommons help desk. We also found that many students are unaware of all the services provided by the iCommons – for example, equipment reservation and technical support,” Alalhamri explained. “Hence, the iCommons application could utilize technology to get everyone in touch with the iCommons services more easily.”

Dean Yi Deng and Ali Shokoufandeh present an innovation award to Will Ahern for his submission with Joe Tighe (not pictured)

Sophomore Retention Initiative
Will Ahern (CCI professional staff) and Joe Tighe (CCI professional staff)

About half of CCI’s attrition occurs during or after their sophomore year. Major fit and faculty engagement are critical factors to retain sophomores. The Sophomore Retention Initiative would provide retention programming designed to meet the specific needs of sophomores, including a living learning community, outreach for students with declining academic performance, and CCI Dean’s List reception for sophomores would expose them to faculty and broader academic opportunities.

“Will and I see the need for more focused support for our sophomore-level students, so we put together a package of programs and approaches to specifically target sophomores and address their specific needs,” said Tighe.

“We drew from CCI data, University-wide data, and higher education research to discover ways to better engage and support our sophomore students,” explained Ahern.

Dean Yi Deng and Ali Shokoufandeh present an innovation award to Kerry Boland

Women in Computing Pre-Orientation Program
Kerry Boland (CCI professional staff) 

“As I have been supporting marketing of the College’s Women in Computing Initiative for the last few months, I’ve been researching a lot about women in STEM, and kept seeing statistics on how women of color are severely underrepresented in the tech field. My hope is for CCI to continue to be a driver for equality in computing and to help bring those numbers up. This pre-orientation program is designed to help women of color to make lasting personal and professional contacts to support them in their Drexel journey from day one,” explained Boland.

The CCI Women in Computing Pre-Orientation Program is a four-day program open to 15-20 minority women students immediately prior to Welcome Week that features seminars with women leaders in tech and industry partners, discussions and social events with members of Drexel’s Women in Computing Society and FreshWomen Cohort, and experiential learning opportunities (e.g., co-op site visits, hands-on activities).

Read the full abstracts for each project and learn more about the second annual Isaac L. Auerbach Innovation Awards here