Computer programming is the new literacy, Assistant Professor Dr. (Xin) Jasmine Chen tells her Division of Science Math and Technology students at Governors State University (GSU). A software engineer and the daughter and sister of mechanical and electrical engineers—respectively—Chen has clear opinions on the place of technology and programming in the present and the future.
“Everything you use is being run by a program," Chen said. "Like now, everybody needs to know how to read words or text. These are basic skills we need, but I’m hoping in 10 or 20 years everyone will know a little bit about programming."
In China, Chen earned a master’s degree in computer science and a bachelor’s degree in scientific English before moving to the U.S. to pursue her doctorate in computer and information sciences at the University of Alabama. Her dissertation in multimedia informational retrieval “is basically search,” said Chen. Adding “relevance feedback” to web searches through voluminous data is Chen’s contribution to the fields of transportation, computer science, and biology.
In layman's terms, her programs result in more accurate web searches for images and videos.
For more than a decade, Chen has sought to improve productivity in the workplace and industry by developing technical and diagnostic processes such as data analytics and programming. Most recently, Chen led an IT team at the Chicago Options Board of Exchange. Last year, she served on the Technical Program Committee of an international conference hosted by industry icon Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
In 2017, Chen joined the College of Arts and Sciences at GSU and immediately synched with the technical program committee to review academic papers and design curriculum. A deep knowledge of computer science coupled with real-world experience made her the perfect match with the university.
For Chen, academia has always felt like home. It's a place where she can inspire students to pursue STEM careers—especially women who she says are underrepresented in the field. Chen, who has seen females shy away from computer science or switch careers, has this message: “You can do it.”
GSU Newsroom: How does your work improve web searches?
Chen: If I type in "apple" in a Google image search, it will give me a lot of images—some of them are the fruit apple and some of them are the Macintosh, which is the Apple computer, based on the photo caption. Look at Facebook images. You can tag people but how can the program tell if this is the head of a person to tag? That’s image processing—that’s what I did. I created processes to not only tell if this is an object but to identify the person based on the image.
My research helps to search directly based on the content. I develop programs so your search is not based on a word but on a sample image—it’s more semantic. Your search should give you images of apples, not computers.
GSU Newsroom: You have so much experience with data mining and big data. Can you compare and differentiate the concepts?
Chen: Data mining is a field in computer science that deals with finding relationships among data. Big data is a platform that allows us to process lots and lots of data.
For example, we collect customer data from websites like Amazon. I can collect all the information from my customers—what they bought; where they bought it; what else they looked at—all this information seems to be chaotic. I need to find the meaning to see what I should recommend to the customer for future purchases.
Big data is a platform that helps me find meaning by processing data in parallel. In my Amazon example, you have several million customers. That’s a large amount of data that will require an algorithm to analyze the semantic meaning. If I run just an algorithm for large amount of data on a small set of computers it could take a year. Data mining uses big data to process all that information. That’s why we teach them together.
GSU Newsroom: You’ve worked in industry and now returned to academia. Which do you prefer?
Chen: I wanted to stay in academia when I graduated in 2008. But I realized computer science is really about application, so I wanted to see how all these theories—all this knowledge—were being used in the world. I wanted to see people using my software and get their feedback.
GSU Newsroom: You recommend people learn to program. Which programs would you recommend?
Chen: I want people to have the mindset of a programmer. If people can learn, for instance, Python, they can learn another language like Java much easier.
GSU Newsroom: What does the GSU student stand to gain from your unique experience?
Chen: After eight years, I came back to academia. I wanted to be at a university where I can offer both my academic and industry experience. GSU is a teaching university that wanted someone with industry experience. They want to make sure you have real-world experience you can bring to the classroom, and I’ve worked in different areas like the stock exchange and in a financial company. Therefore, I have a lot of real-world examples to talk about in my class.