On June 9, 2022, UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) hosted its fifth annual Master of Computer Science (MCS) Capstone Project Showcase event. At the Spring 2022 Showcase, 125 MCS students — set to graduate from the 15-month program in December — presented 35 projects and networked with local tech professionals at the Beckman Center in UCI’s Research Park.
“This was the first in-person event since the joint MCS/MSWE Capstone Showcase in December 2019, so we were excited students got to present and demo their projects to event participants in real life versus virtually the past couple of years,” says Jaclyn Kung, career development manager for the ICS professional masters programs. Attendees included leaders and engineers from organizations such as Amazon, Children’s Health of Orange County (CHOC), Google, Masimo, and the Trade Desk. “The event lets students showcase the technical skills they are learning from the MCS program, as they incorporate those skills, combined with their prior experience and existing knowledge, into the design and development of their projects.”
The projects ranged from apps for hiking, traveling and image restoration; to security programs aimed at reducing phishing attacks or ensuring product authenticity; to a stock-trading adviser and a theme park planner. You can view videos of each project presentation online.
Training Future Tech Leaders
The MCS program is designed to prepare students for “immediate entry into the technology workforce” and to support “enhanced job opportunities and mobility.” It emphasizes the practical application of computer science in a variety of industries, and the capstone course and showcase event are key program elements.
“The goal is to train students in professional communication and increase their business acumen to prepare them to become future tech leaders,” says Kung. “The training includes learning how to do a product pitch, create executive summaries, and prepare marketing assets to promote their projects before and during the showcase.” She further reports that 88% of students secured summer internships, which is the highest in MCS history for internship outcomes. Two of those students are interning at The Trade Desk, an independent media buying platform.
“Events such as the MCS Capstone Showcase are a great opportunity for corporate partners to see how intelligent and innovative Anteaters’ minds are,” says Albert Tran, himself a UCI alumnus. Tran earned his bachelor of business administration from UCI in 2019, and he is now the university relations and early talent recruiter at The Trade Desk. “I thoroughly enjoyed the hospitability from the program organizers, seeing the beautiful venue and, most of all, seeing the future of our industries’ projects and work! We hope to connect and recruit more Anteaters in the near future!”
Gaining Practical Knowledge and Hands-On Experience
“Attending the capstone showcase event was indeed a fantastic experience for me as well as for my teammates,” says MCS student Gurkanwal Singh Kang, who worked on the ZotVerse project with Anish Pandita, Mayank Chandak and Neelendu Wadhwa. “We not only got the chance to present our project to many employers from different companies but also to the esteemed UCI faculty members and our fellow classmates.” The ZotVerse platform helps UCI members buy and sell items to verified UCI members, reducing the potential for scams. “We were extremely thankful to the faculty members for awarding ZotVerse with the laurel of ‘Best Pitch.’”
ICS faculty members Hadar Ziv, Ian Harris and Wayne Hayes, who taught the Capstone Design Course, along with Nils Randrup, who taught the Professional Communication Course, selected five “Best Pitch” and four “Best Tech” teams.
One of the Best Tech awards went to Plat De Joûr, a one-stop food application created by Akshay Jain, Anish Naresh Punamiya, Sahil Jain and Viraj Paresh Shah. “As international students in the USA, we were exposed to thousands of new dishes and food items but had limited knowledge of them,” says Akshay Jain, explaining the inspiration behind their image-recognition tool powered by artificial intelligence. “Plat De Joûr takes an image [of food] as input and provides a recipe along with the ingredients and a list of restaurants that serve the food item. Our image-to-recipe generation system is built upon state-of-the-art deep learning techniques and aims to promote AI in the food and healthcare industry.”
The Smart Hike app, by Asrar Zaman, Saurabh Khandelwal, Siddhant Jain and Wajeeha Fathima, was recognized both for its technology and product pitch. The app helps people find nearby hikes and provides detailed information about each trail. It also offers personalized recommendations, leveraging a user’s past hikes and preferences. The team was pleased to receive the dual accolades at the showcase, and, more generally, appreciated the knowledge gained from the capstone course. “It was a great experience, where we got to learn from new technologies and software practices like Agile,” says Saurabh Khandelwal, “as well as gain life skills like time management and communication.”
More information about the MCS program, including its capstone element, is available online. Applications for Fall 2023 will open early September 2022, and the application deadline is Dec. 15, 2022.
— Shani Murray