Imagine working on important projects for major companies such as Adobe, FamilySearch, and Qualtrics as an undergraduate student. That’s what students do for their final projects in Dr. Quinn Snell and Dr. Christophe Giraud-Carrier’s Big Data Science and Capstone course in BYU’s computer science department.
But these projects are more than just another end-of-the-semester assignment.
“The students are getting their hands on real projects; not just something for an academic class,” Dr. Snell said.
Final grades are not the end goal—the end goal is giving the students an opportunity to contribute to the businesses in ways that help the companies move forward.
“These companies are really excited about their technology,” Dr. Giraud-Carrier said. “They’re sitting on gold mines of data and they are glad for all the help they can get to use it.”
These gold mines of data are big data—data whose volume is typically exceeds several terabytes. Snell and Giraud-Carrier’s students take these gigabytes and terabytes and make sense of them so companies can use the data effectively.
“This is real work, these are real projects, and this is real data,” Dr. Snell said. “Christophe teaches the data mining techniques. Then I come in the following class period and say, ‘Now that you’ve got that under your belt, what happens when you put it on a big computer?’”
The data that will be put on those big computers will be coming from big companies including the aforementioned Adobe, FamilySearch, and Qualtrics, as well as HireVue, ThinkBig, BlueCoat, and Lucidchart.
“[The students have] been working in collaboration with these companies and the idea is that part of the class is reporting to us and that’s the academic side of things,” Dr. Giraud-Carrier said. “Then there’s the industrial or real world experience of closely collaborating with the company that they work with.”
Dr. Snell and Dr. Giraud-Carrier guide their students, who this semester are split into 11 groups, as they work with their companies on innovative projects.
One team is working with Owlet to analyze the data they are collecting from a tiny sensor placed in a baby’s sock. The sensor monitors the baby’s heart rate, pulse oxygen, and other important vitals, which a group of students will analyze for specific patterns.
Another team is working with Lucidchart to analyze data that will help the company better advertise more effectively and enhance the user experience.
Other projects include working on seismic signatures with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and analyzing data that has been submitted to the LDS Church website with FamilySearch.
Overall, each of the projects offers the students opportunities to learn and be a part of groundbreaking work.
“When Quinn and I went to the kickoff party for the projects last October, we looked at each other and we were like, ‘Why don’t we do these projects ourselves?’” Dr. Giraud-Carrier said. “Send the students home and we’ll do them!”
All of the innovation and collaboration will culminate in a presentation meeting on April 12 where students will showcase posters about their projects and give 15-minute presentations to the companies with which they worked.
In addition to the companies directly involved with the projects, representatives from Xerox, Goldman Sachs, and Walmart will be present to give feedback and observe the talent that BYU has to offer.
“With all of these projects…our hope is that some of these kids will end up getting hired,” Dr. Snell said.
However, employment is not the only impact that Dr. Snell and Dr. Giraud-Carrier want their capstone course to have.
“I’m hoping this builds good relationships between BYU and these companies, and they’ll come again next year and possibly donate grants for research,” Dr. Giraud-Carrier said. “We want these companies to say, ‘Hey, BYU is doing cool stuff.’”