UCF to Celebrate Success of 30-Year-Old NSF Funded Program

The University of Central Florida will celebrate the 30-year success story of the nation’s longest-running Research Experience for Undergraduates on Monday, July 17, with an all-day program focused on how research can help undergraduate students succeed.

REU is a National Science Foundation-funded program. It offers grants to universities to establish research experiences that enrich undergraduate students’ educational experiences and encourages them to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

The grants are highly competitive and even when secured it is rare for a university to hang onto the funding for more than one two-year-cycle.

UCF has the longest continually funded REU, which is housed in the College of Engineering & Computer Science’s Center for Research in Computer Vision. The center’s goal is to promote basic research in computer vision (the science of electronically acquiring, analyzing and understanding images in ways superior to the human brain) and its applications in all related areas, including national defense and intelligence, homeland security, environment monitoring, life sciences, and biotechnology and robotics.

The students are given a stipend for the summer along with a housing and meal allowance so they can travel to UCF to participate. While at the university, they receive a tailored program that includes instruction, interaction with senior faculty, access to special presentations and workshops, and then they are assigned a project they must complete before the end of the year. The projects often lead to publications in peer-reviewed journals.

UCF has landed other REUs over the years, but the computer vision program has impacted nearly 300 students from around the nation. Of those who have completed the program at UCF, more than 80 have co-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals and about half of them have gone onto graduate school. Others have gone on to become faculty members or business entrepreneurs. At least 13 participants have been from UCF.

Some success stories include:

  • Paul Smith, who participated in 2001, received a Barry Goldwater award for his REU project. It was the first Barry Goldwater for UCF.
  • Jim Davis, from the ‘93-’94 class, went on to earn a Ph. D. from MIT and is now a computer science professor at MIT.
  • Michael Wallick, ’98-’99, went on to work for NASA and received a national award for his computer software work that contributed to humanitarian efforts for volcano monitoring. Tamara Berg ’07-’08 went on to get her Ph. D. from UC Berkeley and is now an associate professor at UNC Chapel Hill.

Computer science Professor Mubarak Shah, who earned the first REU grant at UCF and started the Computer Vision Center, said the rigor and focus of the program is the reason for its success.

“We immerse undergraduates in research similar to what Ph.D. students go through,” he said. “We give them a desk in the lab, they participate in meetings, colloquium, other social activities, etc. It is a focused experience in computer vision.”

The university is holding an all-day program with multiple speakers on the main campus to celebrate. The program kicks off at 8 a.m. in the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. Scheduled to speak are President John C. Hitt and Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies. One of NSF’s deputy assistant directors, Erwin Gianchandani and representatives from elected official’s offices are also scheduled to speak. Several graduates of the program will talk about their success and how the REU experience at UCF made a difference.

The two keynote speakers are:

  • Shree Nayar, from Columbia University, is well known for computer vision research, is a member of National Academy of Engineers, and has earned multiple awards.
  • Moshe Vardi, from Rice University, is a member of the National Academy of Engineers and the National Academy of Science. He is a senior computer science professor and editor in chief of communication of ACM (Association of Computing Machinery), the largest computer-science society.

For more information about Monday’s program visit:  http://crcv.ucf.edu/.