Rochester Students Compete in Engineering Competition

By Leonor Sierra
Press Officer for Engineering and Science, Univ. Communications

Two groups of Rochester students were among the 30 design teams from 18 institutions that showed off creations at the Intel Cornell Cup on May 3-4, 2013 at Walt Disney World.

One of the groups won an honorable mention for their work on the URead Braille project. Their concept was a refreshable braille display that acts as a computer screen for the blind. The braille display would be able to read in text and .pdf files and output the result on the screen through a tactile display.

The UV Swarm team modified some robots, similar to a Roomba hoover robot, incorporating a UV light that could sanitize large surfaces quicker than is currently possible.  These could be used in medical or sport facilities. They also programmed a central hub that would automatically oversee the operation so that these ‘bots’ are all synchronized with each other, ensuring the full floor is covered and limiting overlaps.

The teams worked for months on their projects, with the support of their advisers Randal Nelson, Ted Pawlicki and Chris Brown all from the Computer Science department. The teams were comprised of students from different majors, including computer science, electrical and computing engineering, and biomedical engineering, and from different years, from freshmen to seniors.

The goal of the Cornell Cup is to challenge engineering college student design teams to create embedded technology devices that address real-world needs and that might just catch an investor’s eye.

Senior Design Day Video Features UV Swarm:

The members of the teams were: Doug Miller (CSC ’15), Christina Kayastha (CSC/ECE ’14), Nate Book (CSC ’14), Ben Ouattara (CSC/ECE ’16), Samantha Piccone (CSC ’14), Erick Frank (CSC ’13), Morgan Sinko (ME ’16), Alex Kurland (CSC ’13/T5), Ben Vespone (BME ’14) and Andy Hevey (ECE ’14).

For more info about the Cornell Cup, visit

In the Photo: University of Rochester student design teams, UV Swarm and URead Braille, pose for a group portrait. From left to right: Doug Miller, Christina Kayastha, Nate Book, Ben Ouattara, Samantha Piccone, Eric Frank, Morgan Sinko, Ted Pawlicki, Alex Kurland, Ben Vespone, Randal Nelson, and Andy Hevey.

Summer Plans Series: UR Student Lands Columbia Internship, Among Other Activities

By Caitlin Mack ’12(T5)
Univ. Communications

Se Hoon Kim ’16 likes to be a busy guy. The rising sophomore brought Tiananmen protest leader Baiqiao Tang to campus last fall, founded the East Asian Affairs Association, and made time for Model UN, Taiwanese American Students’ Association, Japanese Students Association, and Korean Percussion Group. Now Kim, who intends to major in international relations, has a full line-up of summer activities ahead.

In mid-May, Kim began a three-week internship at a New York City marketing group, where he will assist in contacting companies to work out marketing deals.  “I am looking forward to interacting with various types of people and learning about business interactions,” said Kim of the experience.

In June, he will then begin an internship in Building Community at Columbia University, where he will serve as a residential advisor for a group of 10 high school students taking not-for-credit college courses. The two-month internship is geared toward gaining real-world perspective on leadership skills while mentoring American and international high school students.

­­­Kim will receive two weeks of training and attend seminars led by professionals in the field of community building. Following training, he will serve as a live-in resident adviser and a program assistant for six weeks at Columbia’s Summer Program for High School Students.

Using skills developed during the seminar, Kim will be responsible for creating a cohesive, lively, and respectful student body and organizing social events for his students, such as study breaks and trips to New York City attractions.Throughout the practicum, interns meet to discuss their experiences, challenges, and accomplishments, and write short reflective essays about their experiences at the end of the program.

Kim participated in the program during his high school years and wanted to come back as a residential advisor. “I wanted to give back,” he says.

Despite having some time off in August, Kim doesn’t plan on relaxing. “I’ll probably do some independent studying when I’m home,” he says. Also in the works for fall 2013: an event featuring author and Forbes contributor Gordon Chang that will spotlight the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Koreans.

In the Photo: Kim ’16 with Forbes columnist Gordon Chang.

This story is part of the Summer Plans Series, a collection of stories about how undergrads at the University of Rochester are spending their summer. Know of someone doing something cool over break? Email The Buzz ( and tell us all about it!

Computer Science Undergrads Embark on Weekend of “Extreme Programming”

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Over the weekend of March 15th, “Hacklemore”, a team of 10 undergraduate Computer Science students from the University of Rochester traveled to Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada to participate in the CS Games. The team, led by captains Julian Lunger ’14 and Emily Danchik ’13, took 7th place out of 22 teams, thanks to strong showings by the team of Charlie Lehner ’15 and  David Bang ’14 who took 2nd place in Web Development,  and the team of Dan Hassin ’16 and Joe Brunner  ’14 who took 3rd place in Extreme Programming.

CSUG-3The CS Games, an annual competition held by Canadian universities, is attended by over 300 students. Although most of the student participants are Canadian, both the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology have sent teams in recent years. In 2011, the University of Rochester team won the competition. This year, the University of Rochester was the only American university to send a team to the event.

Teams consist of a maximum of 10 people, and compete in 15 to 20 different competitions from Friday to Sunday. These competitions are in different programming areas which range from programming theory, which deals with designing algorithms,  to embedded programming, which deals with writing programs which run on small devices. In addition to the programming competitions, there also are competitions in a few unrelated areas, such as sporting competitions and even a campus-wide scavenger hunt.

Throughout the games, teams must also be on the lookout for “Puzzle Hero” challenges, which are timed “mini-games” that cover a variety of topics and are emailed to the teams at random times. During this year’s games, Team “Hacklemore” had to do everything from solving chess puzzles to identifying pictures and diagrams of obscure plugs and wires. “One challenge even had us listen to a highly modified soundfile and figure out what it meant. The file sounded like a short, high-pitched blip–but we eventually figured out that it was three consecutive Iron Maiden song outtakes,” says Captain Julian Lunger. The team also had the opportunity to participate in “Hacking Questions,” where team members were given a limited amount of time to access websites designed for the competition.

CSUG-2In addition to the challenges, the event also featured large social gatherings for all of the participants.”The social aspect is an important and sometimes surprising one at the Games. Some people typically think of CS majors as unsocial; however, the exact opposite is true at the CS Games,” says Captain Julian Lunger. “The teams of computer geeks there are fun, they are wild, and they stay up til 2, 3, 4 a.m. every night.” The Rochester team also had the opportunity to interact with Computer Science students from different backgrounds. “Meeting French-Canadian students was really cool because they have a different culture and think about things in a different way– it’s almost like they are Europeans in North America,” says Lunger.

This years roster included Emily Danchik (leader) ’13, Julian Lunger (leader, captain) ’14, Thomas Swift ’13, Emily Ansley ’14, Joe Brunner ’14, Nate Book ’14, Shuopeng Deng ’14, Dan Hassin ’16, Charlie Lehner ’15, and David Bang ’14.

The Rochester team already has next year’s competition in mind. Captain Julian Lunger encourages any interested students to contact him through email at

Program Inspires Rochester Student to ‘Pay It Forward’

By Joseph Bailey ’15
Univ. Communications

When asked why she’s here at the University of Rochester today, Abigail Gonzalez ’16 will most likely reply that were it not for New Pathways for Youth she’d probably still be back in her hometown, Phoenix, Ariz.  It’s because of programs like this that troubled youths can beat the odds and attend institutions of higher learning like Rochester.  Gonzalez comes from a family of modest means, and throughout junior high and high school depended on the counsel of her mentor, Ellen Dean, assigned by the program. Dean would help her with homework, career searching, and networking.  A poster child for the program’s success, Gonzalez was invited to return to Phoenix in February to serve as a guest speaker at the organization’s annual breakfast.

The program has undergone several name changes in the time Gonzalez has been involved in it, both as a mentee and as a returning alumna. First, it was called Arizona Quest for Kids, was later named Phoenix Youth at Risk, until program administrators settled on New Pathways for Youth, taking out the word “risk” altogether.

It’s programs like New Pathways for Youth that allow bright young minds like Gonzalez to flourish and do real good in the world. Like many students at Rochester, she came in with the mindset of becoming a doctor, but also like many students, came to the realization that pre-med was not for her. Now a business major, she has aspirations to begin a foundation. Right now, she enjoys the small, personal, diverse environment of the U of R. Her favorite class is Spanish. She feels that in spite of her Latino heritage, she never really learned to read and write Spanish well, and now she has an excellent opportunity to change that. Gonzalez participates in several undergraduate councils, including SUBS and MAPS, and is an active member of PAWS. Around campus, you might run into her working at the counter at Hillside Market.

When Gonzalez returned to Phoenix, she represented both the University of Rochester and the influential program that got her here. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to learn that in 10 or 20 years, she has established a new foundation for troubled youth, coming full circle from being on the verge of trouble herself.

UR Freshman Brings Tiananmen Protest Leader to Campus

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Two years ago Se Hoon Kim ’16 was sitting in a Barnes and Noble when an employee dropped a book. Curious about the title, My Two Chinas, Kim began to read and felt an immediate connection with the author, Chinese pro-democracy activist Baiqiao Tang.

The book chronicles Tang’s efforts as a student leader organizing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hunan Province in 1989, his arrest and imprisonment during the nationwide crackdown against “counterrevolutionaries” that ensued in China after the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, and his eventual escape to the United States in 1992.

Intrigued, Kim scoured the Internet for information about Tang, and eventually became friends with him on Facebook.  After some online exchanges, Kim, now a freshman at the University of Rochester, invited Tang visit campus to talk about recent developments in China.

“I feel that one should have a general idea of what’s going on in the international community,” said Kim, who plans to major in international relations and is interested in a career in diplomacy or education. “Tang has been criticizing what’s been happening in the [Chinese] government with facts that are globally known because he believes the Chinese people should be taking control of their own country.”

In an impressive feat for a first-year undergraduate, Kim’s wish was granted when associate professor of economics Michael Rizzo agreed to fund Tang’s Rochester appearance through the Alexander Hamilton Institute of Rochester. The lecture, which has held on Thursday, Nov. 15, attracted a sizeable audience.

Tang, who is a regular contributor for Radio Free Asia and New Dynasty TV, discussed many issues he feels affect the freedom of the Chinese people, citing the size of the government, the “internet police” and the government’s control of the nation’s media, rampant corruption, a biased education system, and an oversized police force.

As the founder of the China Peace and Democracy Federation, an organization dedicated to keeping the Chinese people informed about their government, Tang also made the case for a Chinese democracy. While some question the functionality of democratic institutions in China due to its size; Tang pointed out that India still strives for democracy despite the country’s similarly massive size. He also emphasized that any democratic system put in place in China would not be an exact copy of America’s democratic system, but would instead reflect the interests and values of the Chinese people.

“The people want the Chinese government to change. But if the people’s power is too powerful, the government has a problem,” said Tang.

Tang acknowledged that some Chinese students would disagree with his critique of China and its governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but he gave justification for his stance by stating, “If anyone in this world is not free, I am not free.  So I will fight for freedom.”

Kim believes that the seminar was particularly meaningful for the Chinese students in attendance, especially those who “come from the mainland and don’t learn about this stuff in school.”

“I think this seminar was revolutionary because it opened doors for different opinions. Many students told me it was a success because it helped them to clarify some of the problems they knew existed and that it enabled them to think more deeply,” said Kim, who hopes his career path may lead him to teach international affairs, specifically East Asian studies.

Kim also noted that he welcomed the negative feedback he received as well. “It’s great because it gives me the opportunity to hold a better seminar next time,” he said. “It’s been a huge learning opportunity and I hope to host more events like this in the future.”

In the Photos: Top Right: Baiqioa Tang discusses China at the University of Rochester. Bottom right: Mixed Martial Artist Bruce Kivo, Activist Baiqioa Tang, and Rochester student Se Hoon Kim ’16. Photos courtesy of Caitlin Mack.

The Elusive Geomechanics Major

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

Out of the more than 4,500 full-time undergrads at the University of Rochester, exactly three are pursuing a major in geomechanics. Just who are these brave few?

The trio is made up of very different students: a freshman from Kingston, Jamaica who emphasizes her environmentalism; a junior who went to high school in Rochester and would like to work on an oil platform or for an oilfield services company; and a Take 5 scholar from outside of New York City who would like to do fieldwork to study seismology and geothermal energy.

But first, what kind of degree are they pursuing? The bachelor of science degree in geomechanics is a program run jointly between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. An interdisciplinary major, completing geomechanics also means taking classes in math, physics, and chemistry.  Lisa Norwood ’86, ’95, assistant dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and a former geomechenics major, describes the program this way, “The curriculum emphasizes the application of the principles of mechanics to problems associated with the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid earth.”

Kayon Ellis ’16 has not yet declared her geomechanics (geomech) major, but she’s quite set on pursuing it. Ellis comes by way of Jamaica, and this is her first year living in the United States. A commitment to environmentalism and an analysis of basin sediments in streams prior to coming to Rochester propelled her to study geomechanics. “I find the study of the earth fascinating,” says Ellis. “You just can’t study anything in isolation; you have to analyze the whole system.”

Two years ahead, Michael Grotke ’14 has different goals in mind. Grotke grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended high school in Rochester. On campus, he works part-time for the Earth and Environmental Science Lab, and is a member of the SA Appropriations Committee. What does he see himself doing? “I hope to use this degree towards a career in the oil and natural gas industry, most likely shale-gas and crude oil exploration.” The companies he’d like to apply his geomech training to include Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and Halliburton.

Skipping two more years ahead, the final geomech major is Brian Castro ’12 (T5). Though he had a hard time deciding between studying physics and mechanical engineering, he has embraced the geomech major with vigor. Castro also has extensive experience in fieldwork. Research on geothermal energy took him to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and, as part of an NSF-sponsored program, to work at a geosciences research company in New Zealand. He also conducted seismic research at the University, in Professor Cynthia Ebinger’s lab. Castro’s interests are more academic, and he’d like to further study seismology, geothermal energy, and planetary science.

The major is robust enough to accommodate all of these interests. Dean Norwood sees no shortage of ways to use the geomech major. “Career opportunities include work with the U.S. Geological Survey and with departments of natural resources or environmental protection at the federal, state, and county levels; with the oil and mineral resources industries; and in multidisciplinary private consulting firms engaged in geological engineering.”