SURF-IT Kicks Off Lunchtime Seminars

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Computer game platforms are less expensive
than human intervention, Brouillette said.

Irvine, Calif., July 9, 2009 -- A SURF-IT faculty mentor joined the program’s co-director in leading off the research program’s summer lunchtime seminar series this week.
The seminars, presented weekly or biweekly during the 10-weeks of the multidisciplinary research fellowship program, give participants a deeper understanding of ongoing research projects, as well as a closer look at the fields of telecommunications and information technology.

Eight students are participating this year in SURF-IT; each student’s mentor will present his or her research at one of the seminars.

The SURF-IT students were joined in this week's seminar by a group of students from Cypress Community College and Mt. San Antonio Community College who are participating in a summer “bridge” program called STEM before beginning their studies at UCI in the fall.

Liane Brouillette, associate professor of education, was the first presenter. Brouillette is mentoring informatics student Sunhee Baik; their project seeks to develop video games that can enhance the social skills of children from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

These areas often have high crime rates and a lot of gang activity, leading to parents’ wariness about letting children play outside. In families where both parents work, there may be less time for interactions between adults and children, resulting in kids' limited social competence. Because human intervention is too expensive, Brouillette told the attendees, researchers are focusing on the use of computers to teach these skills.

Two concepts game developers hope to incorporate.

The project is based on developing an engaging computer game around social scenarios that kids typically encounter at school and on the playground. The game offers kids choices about how to react to certain situations; those choices influence how the scenes unfold. A bullying scenario was developed during last summer’s SURF-IT program, Brouillette said, and this year’s project will build upon that foundation by adding additional scenarios to the platform.

SURF-IT co-director Said Shokair, who also directs UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, stressed to the students the importance of developing good work ethics and healthy relationships with their mentors. “Go over and beyond expectations; take the initiative,” he urged.

He promised that those who developed these healthy relationships would enjoy work more, get better mentoring and receive first-class letters of recommendation for graduate school or employment. “Is there anyone here who thinks [he or she] doesn’t need a good letter of recommendation?” he challenged.

"Let us know how we can help you succeed,"
said Shokair.

Shokair also advised the students to avoid tunnel vision and to be alert to related research that might help them. “And ask yourselves constantly: what am I learning? Am I making progress?” he said.

Other recommendations included keeping track of research results in a notebook or on a computer, getting approval from mentors before publishing, and submitting a proposal to UROP this fall.

In summary, Shokair told the undergrads to “work hard, invest heavily in the relationship with your mentor and let us know how we can help you.”

The next SURF-IT seminar session is scheduled for Tuesday, July 14; featured speakers are Karen Allen from the Office of Research Administration and Marc Madou, mechanical engineering professor.