Strolling through the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building at UC Irvine on May 25, 2023, local industry leaders saw more than 40 projects on display — including innovative medical solutions, education technology for improved learning outcomes, and projects that could one day spark new startups. These capstone projects, developed over 20 weeks, showcased the knowledge and skills of students in UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS).
The event itself — the third annual ICS Project Expo — exemplifies how ICS is leveraging corporate partnerships and alumni relations in educating the next generation of computer scientists, software designers, game developers and tech experts, ensuring students have the hands-on training and real-world experience needed to excel after graduation. This year, ICS further increased Expo excitement and engagement by adding a judging component and awarding $20,000 in prizes across four different programs.
“ICS is raising the bar every year, always thinking outside the box when it comes to providing the technical expertise and skillsets students need for success,” says ICS Director of Corporate Relations Jason King. “And we could not do this without our industry partners, who offer unique opportunities for professional development and mentorship.”
The Capstone Experience
The projects on display were completed for undergraduate capstone courses in informatics, computer science, and game design; for the ICS Honors Program; and for the Butterworth Product Development Competition. These programs benefit not only students, who gain opportunities for practical application and important soft skills, but also benefit program sponsors, who gain opportunities for recruitment and support for under-resourced projects.
“Once again, there was a wide range in the diversity of projects, covering domains ranging from web development and social media, to AI and machine learning, to all the hot topics of the day,” says Informatics Professor Hadar Ziv, who taught the first informatics capstone course in ICS back in 2009. “In fact, two of the three winning projects for informatics were in the medical field, with a direct impact on society.” These projects were BeatingMelanoma.com, sponsored by Hoag, and Memory Air, which enhances memory-recall through the sense of smell.
There were also novel games on display. “In game design, we talk a lot about polish — making those small adjustments that take a game from good to great. Capstone is the class where they get to see a project all the way through,” says Informatics Professor Kurt Squire, who led the capstone projects for the Game Design and Interactive Media major. “The students work closely with industry mentors who can point them to resources and processes that go beyond what any one faculty can do alone.”
Computer Science Professor Sergio Gago-Masague, who leads the capstone course for the Department of Computer Science, also highlights the benefits for students. “The program gives students the opportunity to apply their computer science skills and knowledge to real-world problems, and to closely work with industry partners to develop innovative solutions,” he says. “It is a great opportunity to learn and grow, and the ICS Project Expo really is the culmination of these efforts, bringing all the program parties together and rewarding everyone’s good work, especially the students’.”
With more than 300 attendees — including students and faculty, project and corporate partners, and alumni — the event excelled in uniting a variety of industry and academic stakeholders.
New to the ICS Project Expo this year was the chance for each team to win up to $2,300 for the top awards. A group of industry leaders, ICS alumni and faculty used the RocketJudge app to score all of the projects, with the top awards going to the following teams:
- Computer science: the SAP team (Chloe Chau, Karen He, William Hsu, Athena Rubio and Junyan Wu).
- Game design: Upside Down Squire (Benedict Hsueh, Srayan Jana, Matthew Knight, Nathan More, and Ed Slee).
- Informatics: Spelling Dystance (Aaron Luevano, Drew Anzalone, Andrew Le, Jonas Chen and Orviel Alzate).
The award for the top honors project went to math and data science double major Zhengran Ji, whose project applied machine learning to predict the oxidation state of iron elements from microscope spectrums. “I believe what I am doing is essential in developing the next-generation intelligent electron microscope,” says Ji, adding that he was honored to win the first-place prize for the ICS Honors Program.
“The caliber of students and their projects, the level of complex creativity, and technological ingenuity showcased in these remarkable projects was truly impressive and inspiring,” says Pooja Lohia Pai, an independent business consultant and ICS Alumni Chapter board member who served as a judge. “These projects and the Expo are a great way for students to learn project management, navigate team dynamics, manage delivery deadlines, develop solutions for real-life business problems, and — most of all — practice and hone presentation skills. I am very excited to see the capstone program grow and evolve and hope a variety of companies leverage project sponsorship as a tool for recruitment and engagement.”
Developing a Tech Talent Pipeline
Another Expo attendee, Mark Percy, president of the CEO Leadership Alliance of Orange County (CLAOC), also hopes to encourage more corporate sponsorships. With CEO members representing a good cross section of large, medium and small employers in the region, CLAOC is working to grow OC into a “tech talent” hub.
“I was incredibly impressed and found the program introductions valuable to understand the breadth and depth of talent within ICS,” says Percy. “The students were super sharp and the ones I spoke to were very articulate explaining their projects.” This piqued his interest in potential collaborations.
“I hope to encourage more of our members to undertake future projects and mentor the ICS students,” he says. He similarly hopes to encourage ICS students to look for job opportunities in Orange County. “All of our CLAOC members want to invest in local talent, and most are developing a tech talent pipeline right here.”
The ICS Project Expo highlights how UCI is instrumental in supporting that pipeline and keeping local companies on the cutting edge of technological advances. “The ICS capstone program is only growing,” says Ziv. “The future trajectory is exciting.”
— Shani Murray