By Ebonee Johnson
On Friday, April 24th, CIS students gathered to present their projects at the Spring 2020 Senior Design Alumni Presentations.
Due to the current COVID-19 crisis and its subsequent effects, “gathered” took on a virtual connotation: Seniors were asked to attend using video call platform Zoom.
CIS Associate Professor Ani Nenkova facilitated the event, and despite a few technical difficulties, Penn perseverance prevailed. Robert Zajac, one of 14 panelists, believes that the presentations shone bright although communication during these final months of development must have been undoubtedly more difficult.
“Ordinarily you would have a more human element when seeing the project in person,” said Zajac. “But I think the understanding among everyone is that we have to just do the best we can and try extra hard to have empathy for each other.”
Students were separated into breakout rooms (or sessions) on the call, with 3-4 teams presenting in each session for a group of assigned panelists. The seniors utilized PowerPoints to demonstrate their work via frontend and backend analysis, algorithm and tech evaluation, and planned improvements.
Team members included Jack Buttimer, Matthew Kongsiri and Siyuan Liu (Team 7) introduced an interface they called Newsfluence, which hopes to help users recognize their own biases by allowing them to see how media outlets are comparatively reporting. Studies that the group encountered suggested that those who are most susceptible to fake news are “tech illiterate,” so their most prioritized metrics included interface friendliness, intuitiveness and seamlessness.
Like Newsfluence, many of the groups have working models of the projects currently available.
The Online OH Queue project – winner in the social impact category and created by team members Steven Bursztyn, Christopher Fischer, Monal Garg, Karen Shen and Marshall Vail (Team 19) – has already been effectively helping students and faculty schedule electronic office hours during this global crisis.
“It is rare in this class to have a project deployed and used by 1000+ people before the end of the Spring semester,” said Nenkova via email. “This year is a first for that.”
Zajac, who received both his BSE and MSE in Computer Science in 2019, sat in on the presentation of a document reader called CoParse. Group members Jacob Beckerman, Josh Doman, Sarah Herman and James Xue (Team 5) posed the question, “What if we could navigate contracts like we navigate the web?” and replied with an app that allowed for just that. The project was awarded the panel’s technical sophistication honor.
“CoParse was a smart legal document reader that used natural language processing to build a rich representation of documents,” said Zajac. “It was impressive because the team received interest from industry in trying the product, which is not always common for senior design projects.”
Zajac, currently a Software Engineer with company Two Sigma, imparts words of wisdom to future presenters:
“Start your presentation with the problem you’re solving and explain why it’s meaningful! If we don’t first agree on why the problem is meaningful, we can’t begin to talk about the technical solution.”
The complete list of winners is as follows:
Technical sophistication: Team 5 (Jacob Beckerman, Josh Doman, Sarah Herman and James Xue): CoParse: Performance-enhancing document reader for legal contracts
Creativity: Team 14 (Alexander Chea, Yi Ching, Vijay Ramanujan, Anelia Valtchanova, Leon Wu): Gamifying Physical Therapy Using Virtual Reality
Societal impact: Team 19 (Steven Bursztyn, Christopher Fischer, Monal Garg, Karen Shen, Marshall Vail): Online OH Queue
Alumni’s choice: Team 16 (Suyog Bobhate, Tsz Lam, William Sun, Zeyu Zhao, Zhilei Zheng): Data Synchronization
Click HERE for a full list of participants and panelists