What started out as a chance meeting at a neighborhood block party has turned into a potential career path for a local Morgantown high school student.
Caroline Anderson, a senior at University High School, knew she wanted to study computer science in college. “My first exposure to computer science was my AP Computer Science A class,” said Anderson. “My teacher was awesome, and I enjoyed all the little projects we did at our school. That was enhanced by my summer internship with NASA IV&V in Fairmont.”
“I met Dr. Savage at a neighborhood block party,” Anderson said. “I was excited to know a computer science professor lived so close to me, so I emailed and asked her if I could help her with her research, and she generously allowed me to.”
“She was interested in using her new programming skills to help transform and improve West Virginia,” said Savage. “She also wanted an opportunity to learn how to develop new technologies such as bots.”
A bot is an algorithm that essentially controls a Twitter account. It can autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, unfollowing or direct messaging other accounts. Savage has done extensive research in the area of bots and is widely recognized as an expert in the field. She runs the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory at WVU, which focuses on creating novel human-centered platforms and systems to better coordinate crowds of volunteers.
“I was interested in learning more about bots, and I saw this as a way to help my community and strengthen my programming skills,” Anderson said. “I was very interested in using my knowledge to help West Virginia. I want to create technology that in some way can empower other teens and workers. I found a great outlet in Dr. Savage’s lab to use my skills to create tools that were useful for rural communities, specifically West Virginia.”
Enter Mary Dillon , marketing and communications director for the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources .
“I was attending a conference last spring where the keynote speaker discussed the idea of working with young entrepreneurs on employing new technologies in an organization’s marketing efforts,” said Dillon. “The more he talked, the more I thought about how Saiph and her work with bots might be able to help us in our social media efforts with prospective students.”
Dillon reached out to Savage, who was eager to work on the creation of a bot for the College’s Twitter account, which has close to 2,500 followers.
“Together, Caroline, Mary and I designed a bot that prospective students could easily use,” explained Savage. “Instead of account administrators answering the same questions manually over and over again, we created a tool – the bot – that could respond to these frequently asked questions. We also wanted to create a tool that would expose these students to new technology being developed at WVU.
“It was important for us,” Savage continued, “that the bot be engaging enough for people to want to use. That was were Caroline’s role came in. She understands better than others the needs of people her age and was empowered to create technology that people would actually use. We also used an iterative design process to test the bot with current freshmen in an effort to build its knowledge base and improve it before launch.”
The bot, @WVUStatlerBot, has the ability to retweet messages sent from the College’s main Twitter account, @WVUStatler. Users can also ask it questions directly.
“It has a fairly extensive knowledge base but during the testing with current freshmen, we realized there were a lot of things we hadn’t thought about,” said Dillon. “As a result, we expanded that base even further in hopes of creating a successful user experience that we can continue to build upon in the months ahead.
The trio decided to officially launch the bot during Engineers Week, which runs from February 18-25.
“I have taken all of the programming classes my school offers, and this was a great way to practice coding throughout the year,” Anderson said. “The bot is not a stagnant project; it is growing and improving as we learn more about students’ needs.
“Computer science is my dream career! I am still unsure of where I will be studying; however, I don’t want to be too far from home so WVU is definitely on my list,” Anderson continued. “I especially liked that WVU professors allow high school students to conduct research. I felt empowered with Dr. Savage to create technology that actual people would use. It was neat to suddenly see teens using what I had built and I hope to continue collaborating with Dr. Savage to create technology for the social good.”
For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources:
College Relations office: 304-293-4086
Office of the Dean: 304-293-4157
Other College administrative and department offices: Administration