On Saturday the 20th of June the department of computer science played host to an Alumni open afternoon, attracting graduates from over the last 40 years. The event was part of a new initiative by the Warwick Alumni office designed to encourage former students to re-engage with the University.
The general thinking behind the campaign is that there is nothing more powerful for motivating existing students, than to receive valuable insight into the world that awaits them after graduation. As well as updating students with the latest industry and technology trends, it is hoped that alumni might volunteer their time to participate in open days, host workshops and provide one on one mentoring. Previously, the department of computer science has welcomed many former students back into the fold, each volunteering their valuable time to help direct students as they mature towards graduation. The opportunity to expand this programme further was therefore warmly welcomed by many of the staff.
Visiting the DCS building for the first timeWith the Alumni office taking responsibility for marketing and registration, departments were given the opportunity of coming up with their own agenda to keep the alumni entertained. Computer Science began the afternoon with an exquisite buffet lunch laid out on tables ordered by decade. Organizers reasoned that even if guests were not from the same year, they would at least share a common history of lecturers and technologies. Interestingly it was the 1980’s and Professor Graham Nudd’s Very Large Scale Integration Research group that proved most popular, with several alumni meeting up again for the first time in over 20 years. For the class of 1987, it was their first visit to the new building since the department relocated in 1999, having spent the first 30 years since their inception annexed to physical sciences.
From left to right, former members of Professor Nudd’s Very Large Scale Integration Group: Paul Chown (1987), Rolf Howarth (red shirt - 1987), Mark Murray, Nick Francis (Green Jacket - 1987) and David Walton (1987)Memory Update: A Department ShowcaseAfter lunch, the afternoon’s activities were orchestrated by Dr Steve Russ who has himself been a member of the department for over 20 years and has schooled many an undergraduate in the theory of Empirical Modeling. On seeing so many individuals from the past, Dr Russ commented on how it was body language rather than names or faces that helped him to remember. Without a single word and from a crowd, he immediately recognized a former undergraduate just by the way he was standing. Although working at short notice, Dr Russ was able to coordinate an impressive agenda that began immediately after lunch with the ‘Memory Update’. This opening event consisted of a series of short presentations by leaders of the department’s research group’s followed by a presentation from the director of undergraduate studies Dr Graham Martin.
The purpose of the memory update was firstly to show off all of the excellent research that goes on in the department and secondly to allow Dr Martin to update the alumni on how the degree structures and methods of teaching have evolved over the years. One of the challenges that all computer science departments’ face is maintaining a balance between teaching the core theories and ensuring each student has the necessary vocational skills to find employment after graduation. Dr Martin’s update and the response of the audience many of whom are highly placed in the industry, was therefore particularly salient. After the presentations, the research leaders invited comments from the audience who were extremely talkative and could easily have continued far longer than the allotted time slot. What was clear from this interaction was that the alumni very much felt at home, they warmed to the speakers and were keen to discover how life had changed in the department since they were last here. Dr Russ commented on how receptive the alumni had been and how this interaction differed from standard open day which tend to be a one way download.
Open House: PhD students take the floorAfter the presentations the alumni were offered the chance to interact with the department’s research groups, talking directly with the PhD students to discover more about their work and what they hoped to achieve in the near future. Dr Russ was unsure of how interested the alumni would actually be in the post graduates research and was initially reluctant to schedule the interaction. In the event however, this open house idea proved extremely popular and gave the PhD students a chance to test their ideas with individuals completely unfamiliar with their work. As one might expect it was alumni that had stayed on in the industry either in corporations or launched their own technology companies that engaged most widely. These now senior engineers and entrepreneurs were keen to assess the relevancy of what was going in the research groups with the prospective of future collaboration.
Simon Hammond from the High Performance Systems group proved particularly popular, answering questions and discussing his work for over two hours up on the 2nd floor.
Simon Hammond answers alumni’s questions about his work in the High Performance Systems research group
To discover more information on Simon's work in the high performance research group, take a look at their website
3D EntertainmentWith many of the graduates now married, it was not surprising to see a number of children present on the day, and to keep them entertained, Professor Wilson opened up the department’s Hi-Tec 3D camera room. Using a set of basic web cams, the children were instantly converted into 3D models allowing them to rotate 360 degrees around themselves on screen. The camera room and related 2D to 3D software was developed by two PhD students within the image processing team who at the time were trying to determine how many cameras were required to reconstruct a complete 3D image from 2D stills. The technology has proved particularly popular with theatre groups who are keen to make their performances more interactive. More information on this exciting project can be found on the group’s website
Keeping with the 3D theme, the next main attraction of the afternoon saw alumni donning electronic spectacles to watch a 3D Stereoscopic showing of the Haunted Castle. Much more advanced than the classic red and green paper glasses of 1980’s cinema, participants were able to become truly immersed in the demonstration. The limitations of the computer screen make it impossible for this technology to be shown on the internet and so it was a chance for the guests to experience something completely exclusive to the department. Again this event proved particularly popular with the children who seemed surprisingly excited at having ghosts flying around all about them.
Recognising faces after 25 yearsSlowing the afternoon down a little, and keen to see just how good the memories of the alumni were, Dr Russ in collaboration with Professor Mike Patterson devised a simple face recognition game. The objective was to see just how many faces from the past the alumni could remember. It was, as Profesor Russ put it, “a rogue’s photo gallery of 30 former members of the department from 1983 with their names blacked out”. After running around cajoling the alumni into taking part, it was Steve Rumsby a graduate of 1985 who came out on top, recognizing 14 out of the 30 faces. This came as no surprise perhaps as Steve remained at the University after graduating, fulfilling the role of systems programmer in the mathematics department before taking up the same role in the finance office. Losing out to Steve by just one point was Dr Mary Croarken who is notable for having completed the first PhD in the history of computing, studying under another long standing member of the department, Professor Martin Campbell Kelly.
Alumni and Staff pose outside the DCS Building, opened in 2001 to host a diverse array of research groups from image processing to high performance systems
Future engagement with undergraduates
Towards the end of the afternoon, alumni were invited to fill in engagement forms to indicate their willingness to expand their relationship with the department in respect of student mentoring, work placements and open day speaking. The take up was refreshingly positive and as expected it came predominantly from alumni who had remained in the industry. A number of individuals from leading companies such as Cap Gemini and Thomas Reuters were particularly keen to offer up case studies and several indicated they would be happy to provide individual mentoring to undergraduates. In conclusion Dr Russ said the keyword of the day was engagement, the question of whether the department is still relevant both at the degree level and the research level is always at the forefront of every senior lecturers mind. The overwhelming interest from alumni into the research groups and their willingness to engage further, suggests that the department is indeed very relevant to industry and that by continuing on its current path it can expect to stay relevant in the coming years.
DCS News would like to thank Dr Russ for providing an enlightening account of the day’s events as well as the alumni for attending and making the day as successful as it was