Modeling His Research, Doctoral Student Uses Real-World Scenarios to Engage High School Students

Harold Owens |Ph.D. student, Computer Science

Update November 2012: Harold Owens is still pursuing his Ph.D. in Computer Science at IUPUI, with a projected graduation date of August 2013. He also works as a software development/testing manager at Interactive Intelligence, LLC. in Indianapolis. (Originally published July 2010.)
 

Harold Owens likes being the first to know about new developments in computer science that won’t be in the marketplace for years. It’s the kind of technology today’s computer users can’t even imagine, but it’s part of what Owens, a Ph.D. student, learns every day at the School of Science.

“The research I’m doing and the classes I’m taking deal with technology that’s not currently used in the software domain,” says Owens. “But I know what’s coming, and that’s what keeps me engaged.”

Owens’ current research focus is interactive distributive systems. He has particular interest in how this technology can be applied to make devices like stoplights and toll systems more “intelligent.” Specifically, Owens’ work involves generating software requirements and sets of specifications for these systems to see if they can be automated.

Before beginning his Ph.D. studies four years ago, Owens worked as a software engineer for a private firm. A veteran of the U.S Air Force, he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics from McMurry University and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of North Texas. In choosing IUPUI, Owens was impressed by the computer science program’s high national ranking.

“I’ve found the atmosphere here to be very supportive,” Owens says. “It’s a group of faculty that really wants to see you succeed.”

This past academic year, Owens was recommended by the School of Science faculty to apply for the IUPUI Urban Educators GK-12 Program (Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education Program), which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The program provides competitive fellowships for graduate students in the IUPUI School of Science and the IU School of Medicine. GK-12 fellows dedicate several hours a week teaching in local middle and high schools. The graduate students apply their university research projects to the classroom, offering teachers and students access to current, relevant scientific topics.

Owens was selected for the program and spent a year teaching math classes twice a week at Southport High School. Modeling his research, Owens used the real-world scenario of downloading files to illustrate the properties of distributive systems. For example, he showed students how to use calculus and trigonometry to determine how long it would take to download a song to an MP3 player if there were three or four computers at work sending the file.

“Lots of times kids don’t understand how math concepts can be used in practical applications,” says Owens, adding how much he enjoyed the GK-12 experience, especially the mentoring aspects of the program. “I’m hopeful I was able to show them that these concepts do exist in the real world, and there are many ways they’ll use the information as they go through life.”