Math Majors Organize Student-led Seminars: No Teachers Allowed (Sort of)

TCNJ mathematicians are satisfied with the proof that student-led seminars are back in action within the department, giving majors the opportunity to learn from each other while putting the fun back into numbers.

The seminars were the brainchild of math alum Brendan Kelly, and he says the benefits are twofold: to sharpen the presentation skills of student speakers showcasing their work and to offer the audience an inside look at research opportunities in the field. “Mathematics is a broad subject and, despite the best intentions, the typical curriculum does not delve into many beautiful areas that interest students,” said Kelly, now a Ph.D. graduate student in mathematics in his second year at the University of Utah. “So the seminars became a discovery point for the audience and almost a training ground for presenters looking to go on to national conferences.” MathStudentSeminars2010

This year, sophomore mathematics major Eric New organizes the seminars in conjunction with his role as president of the Math Club. “Math is a language you must keep listening to in order to develop,” explained New. “A bunch of students are working on some really interesting research papers and senior capstones that they would like to share with peers. The student seminars are a way to do so.”

Statistics majors Michele Meisner and Kati Lentz conducted a seminar last semester about their research in the field of Data Mining. Under the guidance of their faculty mentor, Dr. Chamont Wang, the pair worked to discover a model to increase prediction accuracy for a cancer dataset and a storm dataset. Meisner says her specific portion of the presentation dealt partially with the results of the storm project but primarily with describing her experiences presenting at national conferences, including the Joint Statistical Meeting in August and the M2009 SAS Data Mining Conference in October. “I think that the students who attended the presentation left with an appreciation for the type of research they could potentially do with a faculty adviser,” she said. “Some of the benefits of this type of large-scale research projects are the exposure to the research process as well as the opportunity to meet academic professionals in your field.”

Accompanying the full program of student-led seminars, Math Club membership has skyrocketed and, according to New, a great deal of excitement surrounds the weekly meetings. The agenda includes clever math jokes, problems the group can solve together, and question & answer sessions with a different faculty member each week. Other activities include pizza parties, a pumpkin picking excursion, and presentation of “Calculus the Musical” in the spring.

“I find it important to have a major where I can connect with my classmates,” said New. New is not the only one delighted with the club’s success, Dr. Aigli Papantonopoulou, head of the Mathematics and Statistics Department at TCNJ, has also expressed her satisfaction with the number of new members along with the executive board’s creative ideas. “I am very happy with the Math Club this year,” she said. “We have some great students in this department and I am pleased to see them get involved.”

Praising the Math Club as an excellent way for students to get to know their professors and learn more about research and graduate school opportunities, New urges those interested to stop by on Wednesdays. The club meets at 1:00 pm in the Science Complex, Room SCP-229, followed by the student-led seminars at 1:30 pm.

View article on TCNJ’s School of Science website

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Faculty Profile: Dr. Andrea Salgian

Ever wondered how computers see? Dr. Andrea Salgian, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, has dedicated her career to the study of that very question through her work in the field of computer vision. Here at TCNJ, Salgian shares her expertise with students both in and out of the classroom through a variety of research programs, including gesture detection, face recognition, and an interdisciplinary project working to build a robotic “maestro” conductor.
Salgian

It was the native Romanian’s first encounter with computer games in middle school that sparked her lifelong passion for computer science. “I was fascinated by the fact that I could actually make the machine do whatever I wanted it to do,” Salgian explained. “Computer science requires a new way of reasoning and logical thinking that is absolutely intriguing and even before high school, I knew what I wanted to study for the rest of my life.”

After earning a degree in computer science from the “Babes-Bolyai” University in Cluj, Romania, Salgian came to the United States to attend the University of Rochester and graduated in 2001 with her M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science. In the course of her studies, Salgian developed an interest in computer vision and upon graduation, worked on a face recognition system as part of a government-funded project at Equinox Corporation. Computer vision is a subfield of artificial intelligence that aims to replicate human vision by bridging the gap between the nature of images (arrays of numbers) and their descriptions. As Senior Systems Engineer at Equinox, Salgian applied her computer vision skills to the development of a computer-based face recognition system utilizing both visible and infrared cameras to identify individuals from a stored database of faces.

Following the completion of four successful years at Equinox, Salgian decided to take a position as Assistant Professor here at TCNJ in the fall of 2005. “I was still interested in research but had gotten my taste of what I wanted from Equinox,” said Salgian. “In many ways, academia can be more exciting than working in the field. I love that every year I have a new class of talented students and the chance to pursue different research projects.”

SalgianOf these projects, perhaps the most exciting is a cross-disciplinary collaboration of faculty and students from the three difference academic Schools at TCNJ: Science, Engineering, and Arts and Communication. This cross-disciplinary team of students and faculty are working closely together in a two-semester undergraduate research seminar entitled, “Conducting Robots.” Fostering creativity, computational thinking, and scientific methods, participants are collaboratively designing and building artificial systems that can not only conduct an orchestra but also respond to musicians via animated visual displays providing feedback equivalent to the facial expressions of a conductor. The National Science Foundation has awarded Salgian, as principal investigator, and co-principal investigators Teresa Nakra, Assistant Professor of Music; Christopher Ault, Assistant Professor of Interactive Multimedia; and Jennifer Wang, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, a $360,000 grant aimed at fostering interdisciplinary creativity through the integration of teaching and research in this seminar.

According to Salgian, she and her students had informally collaborated with these professors on a number of other projects, for instance, developing vision systems for robots built by Wang’s student team. “Since we had already been collaborating, we decided to put everything together into a class,” Salgian said. “We first analyzed the gestures of musical conductors to uncover their meaning and how this information is interpreted by the orchestra and thus correlates to the music. With the popularity of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it wasn’t a far stretch to consider having a robotic conductor rather than just a tool with which a human conducts.”

Salgian
In addition to teaching and mentoring research students, Salgian is the advisor of the computer science honor society, Upsilon Pi Epsilon, and coach of the TCNJ programming team, which every year sends two teams of three students to participate in the Association for Computing Machinery Collegiate Programming Contest. “I love being with students both in class and out, whether through research or clubs. To see a student thoroughly enjoy a class or even if they may be struggling with a concept but then something clicks and they finally get it, it is just so rewarding” said Salgian. “Plus, in doing activities with my students outside of class, you get to know a different side of them.”

When she is not building robotic conductors or analyzing face recognition systems, Salgian enjoys spending time with her young daughter, reading, and traveling.

For more information on Salgian’s research projects, publications and courses, visit http://www.tcnj.edu/~salgian/

To view videos with the highlights from the initial test of the “Conducting Robots” course with the TCNJ Orchestra, click here. All of the cross-disciplinary student teams developed working systems that were able to fulfill the requirement of conducting at least one minute from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, second movement.

Winter Break Assignment: Master Web Tools Every Journalist Should Know

Having completed my fall semester as a sophomore Journalism major this morning, it is awfully nice to sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. Yet not even 24 hours have passed and already there is a nagging feeling at the back of my mind: what should I do with all this time? With over a month sans schoolwork ahead, I am determined not to waste these precious weeks on junk food and MTV reality shows (though the controversy spurred by the fist-pumping “Jersey Shore” cast is certainly compelling). Instead, I want to learn as much as I can about web programming, design and tools like HTML and CSS.

My interest stems from the current emphasis on journalists learning multimedia tools in order to succeed in today’s digital age. As new media journalist Vadim Lavrusik so aptly described in his post, “8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist,” aspiring journalists must reconfigure their skill set to include, and eventually master, not only the fundamentals of journalism but also multimedia storytelling, blogging, web programming, business and, of course, a willingness to learn new skills. Throughout my Introduction to Professional Writing class this semester, I was definitely challenged to adapt to these expectations and though I still have only the most rudimentary understanding of HTML, I was able to build a functional website using Dreamweaver (check it out!).

So, back to my ambitious goal. Tomorrow I will be heading to the library to check out a few instructional manuals and will go from there. Ideally, I hope to become more familiar with HTML and CSS, learn some more about Dreamweaver and overall, be more confidant using new digital tools. As a way to keep track of my progress, I intend to post updates and interesting tips I learn along the way. In the meantime, take a peak at this list of open source programs for Macs. Cyberduck, Smultron and Nvu all look like software that may come in handy throughout my endeavor.

Cartoon about web design credentials

Democracy Now: Blogging Revolution Worldwide

“Blogeteers”: What are the protections for web journalists?

The year was 1776 and discontent under British rule had driven the American colonies to the brink of revolution. In the midst of it all, an anonymous political pamphlet captured the rising revolutionary sentiment in a rousing cry for independence that blazed the trail for popular support of the revolutionary movement. With the dissemination of pamphlets like “Common Sense,” written in plain language that spoke to the common people of America, Thomas Paine and other everyday citizens were given a voice in the marketplace of ideas.

In the intervening years, “freedom of the press” has shifted away from the average citizen into the hands of the powerful, and sometimes elitist, mainstream media. Yet with the advent of the Internet and the relative ease of publishing within the blogosphere, writer citizens like the pamphleteers of yesteryear have harnessed the tools to make their voices known and in doing so, are transforming the way journalism is practiced today. As with any new medium of communication, blogging raises compelling legal questions in how journalism is defined, the applicability of media law in the blogosphere and whether bloggers qualify as journalists for the purposes of a federal shield law and other journalistic privileges.

Once the obscure hobby of angst-ridden teenagers and pajama-clad, basement dwellers spewing opinion, blogging has evolved into a diverse and creative web phenomenon with millions of “blogeteers” contributing daily to the virtual marketplace of ideas. By 2004, blogging had come to be regarded as a mainstream web activity, so much so that the Merriam-Webster online dictionary afforded blogWord of the Year.” Much of blogging’s appeal lies in its accessibility, with software such as WordPress, Live Journal and Xanga automating much of the HTML coding needed for Web publication. Though one writer has deemed blogs, “something [we] can no more easily define than a Rorschach splotch,” most are united by an underlying style and function (Hendrickson 188). Among these defining characteristics are the reverse chronological order of postings, unfiltered content, space for reader comments and the presence of hyperlinks to other websites. Another essential element of blog writing is the individual’s unedited voice, adopting either a flip, informal style or a more serious tone, but always boasting the “rare combination of spontaneity and solidity, of dash and detail, of casualness and care” that George Orwell lauded in his appraisal of pamphlets half a century prior to the advent of the blog.

Though the natural advantage of newsgathering and production remains with traditional news organizations, blogs have the advantage of speed and an abundance of tips courtesy of open-source information sharing. Where some blogs provide valuable eyewitness accounts in events like the September 11th attacks and the tsunami in Sri Lanka, others scoop the mainstream media, think “Rathergate.” Following Dan Rather’s CBS broadcast accusing former President George Bush of shirking his National Guard duties, three amateur journalists at the Powerline.com blog were primarily responsible for discrediting the documents used to support the allegations. Though this willingness to venture where traditional media hesitate to journey constitutes a large part of blogs’ allure, rampant anonymity and lack of accountability on the web are indicative of irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information and hinder the growing movement to establish blogging as a form of journalism.

So, are bloggers journalists? The best answer seems to be yes, they can be, sometimes. In his media blog, “PressThink” Jay Rosen, NYU Journalism professor, refers to the press as the public service franchise in journalism and notes that with its shift in social location, the argument of whether bloggers are journalists has lost its footing. “Much of it is still based in The Media (a business) and will be for some time, but some is in nonprofits, and some of the franchise (“the press”) is now in public hands because of the Web, the weblog and other forms of citizen media.” Jim Brady, executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, echoes this sentiment in Mark Glaser’s Mediashift piece, “I think the argument about bloggers vs. journalists has been over for years. We’ve all co-existed just fine for a while now, and the truth is, the distinction is less relevant every day. There are thousands of journalists who now blog, and there are lots of bloggers who are trained journalists.” Though these affirmations are accurate, the fact remains that defining who qualifies as a journalist has serious implications in media law, most importantly who shall be protected in shield laws.

Branzburg v. Hayes 1972

Supreme Court acknowledged difficulty of determining who constitutes a journalist in the context of a debate over reportorial privilege, ultimately concluding that the First Amendment was an invalid defense for journalists summoned to testify before a grand jury. Writing for the majority, Justice Byron White noted that the administration of a constitutional reportorial privilege would present, “practical and conceptual difficulties of a high order,” namely the “questionable procedure” of defining those categories of newsmen who qualified for the privilege despite traditional doctrine that, “liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods.”

Shield Laws

Laws that specifically protect media, such as Alabama’s reference to newspapers, radio and television stations, do not cover blog material. On the other hand, laws with expansive terms, such as Nebraska’s reference to “any medium of communication,” do in fact extend to bloggers and other web journalists. However, the majority of state laws fall between these two extremes and determining whether the phrasing is sufficiently ambiguous and expansive to protect web journalists is something bloggers must deal with on a daily basis. Journalists of all stripes depend on the confidentiality of sources and unpublished information to acquire news content and communicate it to the public. Therefore, bloggers that perform the same function as journalists yet are left unprotected poses a threat to the free flow of information in the blogosphere.

Apple v. Does

The California Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District recently ruled in Apple Computer, Inc. v. Does that the state’s shield law did in fact cover a website editor who published news about Apple computer products. Under California shield law, journalists are protected from being held in contempt for refusing to disclose confidential sources and although the appellate court easily concluded O’Grady was in fact an editor/reporter engaged in the dissemination of news, the more difficult question was whether the shield law’s protection for journalists applied to PowerPage. Ultimately, the court found that PowerPage was not a newspaper but an online magazine or “e-zine” which are “highly analogous to printed publications…and differ from traditional periodicals only in their tendency, which flows directly from the technology they employ, to continuously update their content” (Apple).

Josh Wolf

Video blogger jailed for 226 days (setting the record for an American journalist held in contempt of court) for refusing to turn over unpublished video footage of a 2005 clash between anti-G8 demonstrators and San Francisco police. Released only after negotiating with prosecutors and handing over the video.

Conclusion

In the absence of a clearly defined constitutional protection for journalists and bloggers alike, it can become a guessing game to figure out whether statutes apply to the disclosure of sources, notes and information. there was fear that negotiations would eventually leave citizen journalists and bloggers unprotected. In my opinion, bloggers should benefit from any privilege that extends to journalists because otherwise, the courts would have to decide on a case-by-case basis by looking at professional credentials and experience. Take for example the case of Vanessa Leggett, who spent five months in jail after refusing to turn over her notes because she was a “virtually unpublished freelance writer.” Rather than viewing web journalists as competition, the mainstream media should recognize blogs as valuable adjuncts to quality journalism.

Though the blogosphere poses challenges to the application of media law, journalists and bloggers alike should work together to formulate a federal shield law that will protect freedom of speech for all.

Classmate’s quiz breaks down who I should have voted for…Corzine!

Check out my classmate’s civic engagement project on the New Jersey gubernatorial race. Its a pretty neat quiz that matches up your beliefs with each candidates’ stance on a range of important issues: taxes, health care reform, gay marriage, education and so on.

At times, it seems that the hyperbolic mudslinging that goes on during campaigns overshadows the actual issues (accusations in Corzine’s ads that the albeit corpulent Christie “threw his weight around” to get out of a traffic ticket?). It was definitely refreshing to take a look at the issues that really matter, not whether Christie’s girth makes him unfit to govern.

Who SHOULD You Have Voted For?

Your Result: Jon Corzine
 

You SHOULD have voted for Jon Corzine, New Jersey’s incumbent governor. Among Corzine’s campaign promises were to support health care reform and the insured mammogram, and, even though he raised taxes twice in his term as governor, he vowed to cut them if he won a second term. Based on your own personal views, you SHOULD have voted for Jon Corzine, but who DID you vote for?

Disclaimer: Answers reflect campaign platforms and rhetoric and the quiz-maker’s interpretation, and not necessarily the current viewpoints of this gentleman.

Chris Daggett
 
Chris Christie
 
Who SHOULD You Have Voted For?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Thoughts of a Future Doctor

Rahool Davé, sophomore philosophy major and seven-year medical student, shares his thoughts on health care reform, malpractice insurance, global systems and Chris Christie.

Visit my civic engagement project blog for more information about health care reform!

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more about “Thoughts of a Future Doctor “, posted with vodpod