at the University of Utah
Graduate students who pursue academic careers face challenges
far different than students who find jobs in industry. One key
difference is attaining the teaching and mentoring skills that
are a component of the university professor's job. While
serving as a teaching assistant helps develop classroom
lecturing skills, the mentoring and leadership skills needed to
head a research group and guide the next generation of graduate
students are rarely a part of the formal doctoral training.
At the same time, persuading undergraduates to join that next generation of graduate students is not always an easy task. Though some students know without a doubt that they will or will not be pursuing graduate school, others are not so certain. For these students, experience can be a critical factor in their final decision. But while vast numbers of internships allow students to "test the waters" of industry, the scarcity of research opportunities hinders most students from gaining this same experience in acedemia.
A unique program in the School of Computing offers graduate students an opportunity to enhance their mentoring skills, while at the same time providing undergraduates research experience. The Undergraduate Graphics Research Team (UGRT) links undergraduates and graduate students in research activites. Four faculty members, Richard Riesenfeld, Charles Hansen, Elaine Cohen, and Peter Shirley, are working as mentors for the team. Kristi Potter and Bruce Gooch currently serve as co-leaders of the team.
UGRT undergrads perform background research, write software, and develop computer algorithms. Students then take part in writing papers for submission to leading computer graphics conferences and journals. Students are also required to give oral presentations of their work to the computer graphics community at the Universith of Utah. Mentoring these research efforts provides training for gradutate students in the job of leading a research project.
The work of the undergraduate team members has resulted in five research publications. However, the best metric of the impact of these efforts is the students themselves. Of the students involved in the undergraduate graphics research team who have graduated four have gone on to "top ten" graduate schools in computer graphics and one has stayed on at the University of Utah as a staff researcher. In addition, team members have furthered their educational goals with internship at Los Alamos National Laboratories, nVidia corporation, and Disney Imagineering.
The undergraduate graphics research team was also selected by the Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research as a host site for their distributed mentor project. The CRA-W Distributed Mentor Project works to increase the number of women entering graduate school in computer science and computer engineering. Universities are usually matched with two students for summer internships, but because of our existing infrastructure and organization, the CRA-W has been allowing our program three or four students.
The work of the team is ongoing, current research projects include; solid modeling, virtual reality, non photorealistic rendering, and hardware accelerated shading.