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On a warm Wednesday evening in May, 280 students from UC Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) gathered to present their work at the fourth annual ICS Project Expo. The event, held at the end of spring quarter, marks the culmination of more than 20 weeks’ worth of work on more than 75 projects across six capstone programs.

Three photos of students sharing their work and talking with faculty or industry reps.
Students present their capstone projects and network at the 2024 ICS Project Expo.

With 550 attendees — including local industry leaders, UCI faculty and alumni, and ICS students and their family and friends — this was by far the largest ICS Project Expo to date. The event’s continued growth exemplifies the high level of interest in leveraging corporate partnerships and alumni relations to provide students with practical, hands-on experience as part of their ICS education.

“We had a great turnout of project partners, alumni and students involved in courses beyond capstone,” says Mimi Anderson, Associate Director of the ICS Capstone Projects program. The impressive turnout illustrates people’s genuine interest in the program and its emphasis on fostering productive partnerships. “Witnessing student passion and ingenuity transform into innovative projects is truly inspiring,” says Anderson. “ICS capstone projects thrive thanks to our industry partners, whose crucial mentorship and real-world challenges prepare our students to become future tech leaders and ensure long-term success beyond graduation.”

Real-World Collaboration

For more than 15 years, ICS has used capstone projects to ensure students have the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge in a practical setting. ICS now offers undergraduate capstone courses in computer science, data science, game design and informatics, as well as for the ICS Honors Program. This year’s ICS Project Expo also featured capstone projects from the Master of Computer Science professional program.

Three female students stand next to a PrepWiser poster
Master of Computer Science students Kriti Bhavini Piyush Mamtora, Nisargi Vipulbhai Shah and Taparia share information about their PrepWiser learning platform, the top MCS project.

“This year’s Expo was a leap in both quantity and quality of student projects,” says Informatics Professor Hadar Ziv, who has been teaching the Informatics capstone course since 2009. Both undergraduate and masters-level students took on demanding projects related to a variety of hot topics, including AI and machine learning, cloud computing, mobile apps, data science, and web development. “One student team used APIs and face-recognition techniques to allow renters to interact with ‘holograms’ of their property managers,” says Ziv, “while another team developed a fun interactive VR game for NASA that teachers young players about Psyche, a metal-rich asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.”

Ziv also noted “an increase in projects from mid- to large-size companies, who are major players — and employers — in the Southern California ecosystem.” For example, one group of computer science students worked with Partner Engineering & Science to deploy an AI-powered PDF parser that can sift through old pdf reports, meticulously extract crucial data components, and seamlessly import them into contemporary report writer.

“This was our first time working with students, and personally I had a great experience,” says Kun Liu, a data scientist at Partner Engineering & Sciences, who led two of the company’s four projects. The PDF Parser project Kun oversaw won third place for the computer science capstone program. “I really enjoyed the Expo,” says Liu. “I also browsed other projects at the event and saw some truly inspiring ideas.”

Kun Liu stands with four students next to a poster
Kun Liu (far right) with data science students (from left) Ellie Lee, Karis Park, Adam Ho and Ashley Yung. Their project involved creating a classifier model to predict wood frame construction in buildings.

Another group of students worked on a cybersecurity chatbot for Raytheon. “Working with the capstone program’s staff, faculty and especially students was a great experience for my organization and team,” says Jose Romero-Mariona, an ICS alumnus and technical fellow at Raytheon. “The students’ ability to implement cutting-edge technologies and pivot with the latest advancements was both impressive and useful for our organization.” The project took second place for the Informatics program.

Five students stand next to their poster
Students present their cybersecurity chatbot project for Raytheon: (from left) Christian Chiong, Sona Keishshyan, Cara Failer, Moazzim Abdurehman Hussain and Ali-Reza Fakhari Manizani.

Innovative Projects

The 79 capstone projects on display ranged from fraud detection apps and educational tools, to novel models for healthcare analytics, to action-packed video games. A group of 26 judges — comprised of industry leaders, ICS alumni and faculty — scored the projects using the RocketJudge app. Once judging closed, ICS Dean Marios Papaefthymiou announced the winners for each of the following capstone programs:

  • Computer Science: AWS (Neeraja Beesetti, Jessica Bhalerao, David Horta, Ulises Maldonado and Xiling Tian)
  • Data Science: Response Prediction Model for Bridge Structures (Emily Truong, Louis Chu, Brandon Keung and Vicki Bui)
  • Game Design: The Ninth Circle (Ryan Wong, Henry Olmstead, Cameron Romeis, Christopher Pena, David Rizko, Hasan “Soni” Rakipi, Jacob Ho, Whittaker Worland, Leyna Ho and Pedro Longo)
  • Honors Capstone: The Impact of Virtual Social Interactions on Real-Life Trust and Perceived Character (Alaina Klaes)
  • Informatics: MNDYRR — Mentoring Nurturement for Dynamic Youth Resilience & Restoration (Matt Cho, Neal Lowry, Jaylen Luc, Shiyi Mu and Jibreel Rasheed)
  • Master of Computer Science: PrepWiser (Kriti Taparia, Nisargi Vipulbhai Shah and Bhavini Piyush Mamtora)

These first-place teams each received $2,000, while the second- and third-place teams received $1,200 and $650, respectively. The top honors student received $375, while the second- and third-place honors students received $250 and $125, respectively.

A large group of students, some holding oversized checks, stand together outside a building at UCI
The top teams for the 2024 ICS Project Expo.

“The capstone program gave me an invaluable opportunity to work in an environment that closely mirrors industry conditions, but without the typical stresses,” says software engineering major Jibreel Rasheed. “Collaborating with a supportive project partner to create something beneficial to the world helped me realize my passion for design and leadership, and the creative freedoms I had throughout the project allowed me to expand my skills in a personally meaningful way.” His team’s project for MNDYRR resulted in Mendy, an empathetic conversational AI chatbot designed to address the youth mental health crisis.

Three students stand, and two kneel, next to their poster on Mendy
Members of team MNDYRR (from left): Neal Lowry, Jaylen Luc, Jibreel Rasheed, Shiyi Mu and Matt Cho. They created Mendy, an empathetic conversational AI chatbot designed to address the youth mental health crisis.

Increased Engagement

While the judging element was first added to the Expo in 2023, new for this year was a partner appreciation dinner. “We wanted to host a dinner after the main event to celebrate our project partners and to provide an additional opportunity for networking among the partners,” says Anderson. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to increase engagement and build stronger relationships with industry leaders and local alumni.”

One such alumna is Pooja Lohia Pai, an independent business consultant and ICS Alumni Chapter board member who served as a returning judge this year. “It is an honor and privilege to judge the capstone projects. There were so many innovative projects and not enough time to see them all,” she says, adding that she’s pleased to see growing interest. “It is so exciting to see how much the program has grown, evolved and expanded in the past few years with the leadership and support of local companies. The program is bursting at the seams.”

In fact, talks of a larger venue are already in the works for 2025. When it comes to connecting current and next-generation computer scientists, software designers, game developers and tech entrepreneurs, it’s a win-win for students and their partners.

“I highly recommend more companies and alumni get involved and partner with ICS students on a capstone project,” says Pai, “as it is rewarding and fulfilling for all parties involved.”

If you are a company interested in partnering on a capstone project, contact Mimi Anderson at yangmm@uci.edu.

Shani Murray

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