Roanoke Students attend Grace Hopper Conference

by Scotty Smith on October 21, 2014

Roanoke Collegel students at Grace Hopper Conference

From left to right: Emily Huffman, Megan O’Neill, Elena Stone, Maya Shende, Stephanie LaFever, Melissa Eckert, and Marisa Patton.

Computer Science is stereotypically a male dominated field. However, this was not always the case. Many of the pioneers in the field have been female. One of the biggest names from the field is Grace Hopper, a Navy Rear Admiral who developed the very first compiler for a programming language. She is even the individual credited for coining the term debugging, as it applies to eliminating errors in computer software.

The Anita Borg Institute, a non-profit organization created to promote enrolment and retention of women in technological fields, hosts a yearly conference called the “Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing.” Seven Roanoke College students, organized by Dr. Anil Shende, had the opportunity to attend the 20th conference held in Phoenix, Arizona this year. These seven students represent all levels of our Computer Science major and minor.

Roanoke Students take selfie. #ConferenceSelfie

Students take a selfie before the first keynote address at the conference.

The focus of the conference each year is the celebration of Women in the field of Computer Science. The theme for this year’s conference was “Everywhere. Everyone.”, a celebration and discovery about how computer technology is ubiquitous in our every day lives. Our students had a chance to attend talks by the creator of the NEST thermostat system and Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. They also attended a career fair that demonstrated the opportunities not just for women, but any student in the field.

The students attended one of the talks that made international news. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft made headlines due to a comment he made at the conference about women asking for pay raises. Emily Huffman stated that “It was as if all of us that witnessed this interview were a small part of history.”

The students who attended the conference were blown away by their entire experience. They had opportunities to hear about different opportunities that they likely would not have been made aware of before. “I have never (before) heard something or seen something and immediately thought, ‘that is what I want to do with my life’…” said Maya Shende about listening to Arti Prabhakar talk about her work at DARPA. Megan O’Neill was able to talk to representatives from Disney and Yahoo! about internship opportunities, and Elena Stone said “This really opened my eyes to different fields of study as well as what I would like to do in the future.” A few of the students before hand felt that a majority of the conference would be over their heads, but Marisa Patton “…left feeling like I could do anything and everything I wanted to.”, while Melissa Eckert said “it also ended up being more empowering and inspiring than I had expected.” Stephanie LaFever summed up her experience by saying “I hope Roanoke continues to give this opportunity for women here in the Computer Science department in the future.”



Recent Roanoke MCSP graduate Elizabeth Ciskowski is one of nine new teachers this fall at The O’Neal School, a private college preparatory school in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

Lizzie graduated in Spring 2014 from Roanoke College with a double major in Mathematics and Physics. From her frequent Facebook posts about the start of her term there, we’re glad to hear that Lizzie likes her new job. Way to go, Lizzie!


A Hit in the Big Time

by Roland Minton on September 10, 2014

Wolfram 1

Taylor Ferebee and Stephen Wolfram

Taylor Ferebee is a sophomore, double majoring in Physics and Mathematics. Her summer research at Wolfram Science Summer School (WSSS) is one of the best research experiences ever. Taylor designed a movie app in close consultation with Stephen Wolfram, the world famous inventor of Mathematica and author of the visionary manifesto A New Kind of Science. The app will reside in the Mathematica cloud. She is continuing her work with Wolfram during the school year and has plans to return to WSSS next summer.

Taylor found about WSSS while searching for summer research possibilities. She sent in her application, and was one of four Americans and two teenagers chosen. She quickly found herself working on preparatory homework problems – if you can call unsolved mathematical teasers “homework” – while reading A New Kind of Science and writing proposals for potential summer projects.

The on-site portion of WSSS was a month in Boston, attending lectures on mathematical logic, programming, game theory, image processing, and data scraping (the latter two tailored to her interests), collaborating with interns from around the world, and having one-on-one meetings with Stephen Wolfram (he calls this “ultimate professoring”) to determine her project. Her project ended up being an app that inputs critical information about movie marketing (e.g., genre, title, colors used in posters, season of release) and predicts the success of the movie. She used machine learning algorithms and sophisticated statistical procedures (it might be relevant here to note that this fall she is enrolled in our introductory statistics course) in developing her predictions. Her 2014-15 school year project with Wolfram is to develop software to enable the viewing of videos from the Wolfram cloud.

Wolfram 3

Taylor, as she says, “struck gold” with her summer work: brainstorming with interesting and famous people (check), learning cutting-edge mathematics and programming techniques (check), becoming friends with bright young scientists and artists around the world (check), securing her future and landing the perfect job forever (well, I may have gotten carried away on that one, but she’s got a foot firmly in that door).

Taylor emphasizes how thoroughly all of this depended on her taking the time to find the opportunity and then apply. She also brought important assets to the table: previous research experience with NASA and an inquisitive mind that explores ideas just for fun. She describes Stephen Wolfram as “whimsical but logical” and applies the same phrase to the other members of WSSS.

“Whimsical but logical” could serve as a desired characteristic of all Roanoke College graduates. The whimsical part means combining computer science and criminal justice, or physics and Italian. You’re missing the point if you’re wondering what good such combinations could do for you. After all, an interest in mathematics and film worked out quite well for Taylor Ferebee.

Wolfram 2

Taylor (upper left) in class at WSSS


Physics students Cam Cassady and Chris Valentine do summer research at Oak Ridge National Lab

August 23, 2014

For senior physics students Cam Cassady (middle right) and Chris Valentine (far right), the summer was spent engaged in research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, Tennessee.  Their research projects were a result of the Visiting Faculty Program funded by the US Department of Energy.  Under the direction of ORNL research scientist Matthew Blackston […]

Read the full article →

Mathematicians in Portlandia

August 19, 2014

Congratulations to Roanoke College mathematics majors Jon Marino and Sam Parsons for winning prizes for their research presentations in Portland, Oregon, on August 8! Their papers on “Integer Compositions Applied to the Probability Analysis of Blackjack” and “Protecting Confidentiality and Scientific Integrity Through Synthetic Data and Mediator Servers,” respectively, were named winners in the Pi […]

Read the full article →


August 15, 2014

Please watch this short video about a local valedictorian’s hero. Mr. Boyer is Geoff Boyer, a Roanoke College mathematics major, class of 1998. Geoff has a great sense of humor, served as volleyball coach for several years, and has done PA and radio announcing for the Craig County football team. He is a wonderful […]

Read the full article →

Singing Our Praises

August 13, 2014

One way to sing the praises of our MCSP students is to note that many of them sing in the Roanoke College Choir, the Oriana Singers, and a cappella groups such as Looking for an Echo. The Choir has a remarkable record of performances abroad and professional recordings, and has just been named a Finalist […]

Read the full article →

Princeton Review Ranks Roanoke as a Great School for Majors in Computer Science

August 5, 2014

The 2015 rankings from the Princeton Review are in, and Roanoke College once again finds itself among the 379 Best Colleges.  In addition to this ranking, the Princeton Review has named Roanoke College as a great school for majors in Computer Science.  This is the fourth consecutive year that the Computer Science department has received […]

Read the full article →

We Get the Best Jobs!

June 3, 2014

Which major prepares you for the best jobs? It partly depends on how you define “best jobs” but CareerCast ranks jobs on the basis of work environment, income, outlook, and stress. These are broken down into subcategories (for “stress” they use level of risk, toughness of deadlines, and 9 other factors), the scores are added […]

Read the full article →

Nobody Expects the Math Inquisition

May 7, 2014

Our chief weapon is surprise. Yes, surprise and fear. Our two weapons are fear and surprise. And ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons … among our weapons are … Let’s start over. In a process that we hope is more logical than the Monty Python sketch quoted above, senior mathematics majors undergo an oral examination by […]

Read the full article →