Meet the 2019 College of Science McPhee Scholars and valedictorians Taylor Edwards and David Hughes. Hughes is a computer science student and Edwards is a biological sciences student. Both will be honored at commencement for graduating with 4.0 GPAs.
Taylor Edwards has always enjoyed the outdoors and her early interest in nature led her to work in conservation, participating in Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup in high school.
“Even though ecological problems may seem insurmountable, the fact that people can come together in a grass roots way to do something positive means there’s hope,” she said. “Having good science teachers since middle school really helped me develop my interest in the natural sciences.”
David Hughes said he enjoys math and computer science because they’re about solving problems.
“The first time I remember thinking about computer science was when my dad showed me the server room at the City of Highland. I just said ‘wow.’ ”
Hughes, a community college transfer student, took the two-year graduation pledge, which helped him remain focused.
“I’ve always been a good student and self-motivated,” Hughes said. “One of things I think is important to academic success is not procrastinating.”
Research Prepares Students to Succeed
As an inclusive polytechnic university, Cal Poly Pomona offers an abundance of undergraduate research opportunities.
Edwards pursued research in restoration ecology alongside graduate students and received mentoring from Associate Professor Erin Questad.
“I got to see how professional research was done. I got hired to work on a vegetation survey project in the Angeles National Forest and through Professor Questad I found out about an internship that I’m looking forward to starting after graduation,” Edwards said.
She helped present her team’s research in the Angeles National Forest at The California Society for Ecological Restoration, Los Angeles Geospatial Summit and the Southern California Botanists Symposium.
Edwards’ individual research project focuses on the functional traits of 13 native plants and six invasive species. She presented her work at the CPP Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities (RSCA) Conference.
Big data analytics was the topic of Hughes’ undergraduate research. Assistant Professor Hao Ji, his faculty mentor, provided an opportunity to participate in the XSEDE EMPOWER (Expert Mentoring Producing Opportunities for Education and Research) project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.
“The projects involve randomized linear algebra for applying matrix techniques to an Apache Spark GraphX graph data structure. The practical application is for things like online movie recommendations based on user reviews. Current systems don’t work so well in situations where there’s less data, resulting in a sparse matrix. Our research addresses that by representing values with a graph which means more efficiency because zero values aren’t stored,” he said.
Hughes has presented his work at the RSCA Conference and as a guest lecturer in the Big Data Analytics and Cloud Computing class. He’s also authoring a paper with Ji.
After graduation, Edwards will take a six-month position as a U.S. Geological Survey Ecosystem Science Intern in New Mexico. She will monitor post-fire vegetation and tree-ring reconstructions to develop a fire history of the area.
Later, she plans to return to Cal Poly Pomona to get her master’s degree and would like to continue working in Questad’s lab. Her long-term goal is to pursue a doctorate degree.
Hughes has already begun working toward his master’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona. His graduate research will focus on deep learning, specifically automatic custom object detection. That’s software that creates a 3D image based on a 2D image so that it can be analyzed at different sizes and angles to assist in object recognition.