Skip to main content

Applied computing student ponders doctoral program offers

Spencer Pearson
November 25, 2014

After an undergraduate career that has given him the opportunity to travel to conferences in Turkey, Spain and Mexico, recent Arizona State University graduate Spencer Pearson is now entertaining multiple offers to pursue a doctorate in computer science.

Pearson completed his bachelor's in applied computing in May through the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the core college on ASU’s West campus. He has been accepted into doctoral programs at Purdue University and the University of Arizona and is awaiting word on additional applications he submitted.

“New College gave me opportunities I never would have imagined, such as traveling to Europe to present our work and being published in conferences and professional journals,” said Pearson, a 2010 graduate of Ironwood High School in the Peoria Unified School District in metropolitan Phoenix.

Many of those opportunities came about through Pearson’s involvement with the NCUIRE (New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences) program. New College students who successfully complete the competitive application process to participate in NCUIRE earn a stipend while working with a faculty member on a research project, gaining valuable research skills and receiving financial support as they pursue their bachelor’s degrees.

Much of Pearson’s research was conducted under the guidance of Yasin Silva, assistant professor of applied computing in New College’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

“Spencer has a great set of computing and programming skills, and has demonstrated that he is able to conduct innovative research,” Silva said.

“The fact that Spencer has already co-authored and presented several papers in top-tier conferences as an undergraduate student is a clear reflection of his dedication and ingenuity,” Silva added. “He has demonstrated that he is capable of proposing innovative solutions for complex problems, implementing efficient systems, applying his techniques to real-world scenarios, and effectively working as part of a research team.”

Among the papers Silva and Pearson presented at conferences, one received a best paper award at the 6th International Conference on Similarity Search and Applications (SISAP) last year in Spain.

Pearson’s research with Silva has focused on the study, design and implementation of similarity-aware operators for large datasets. He has focused particularly on the study of the Similarity Join, a key data analysis operation to identify pairs of similar objects. Pearson is continuing to work with Silva as he makes plans to attend graduate school.

“Spencer has significantly contributed to the design and implementation of DBSimJoin, an efficient Similarity Join database operator,” Silva said. “He has also explored the application of DBSimJoin to identify similar complex objects, like images and scientific publications.”

“In addition to working with professor Silva, I have also worked with professor Suzanne Dietrich on creating a benchmark for hybrid Relational-XML database systems,” Pearson said.

Pearson credits the atmosphere in New College and on the West campus for playing a major role in his success as an undergraduate student.

“The smaller size of the campus and programs really allowed me to have a personal relationship with many of the faculty, and I don’t think I would have had as many research opportunities without that relationship,” he said. “NCUIRE was also a great program at ASU West, which allowed me to devote much more of my time to research, and also gave me valuable experience in presenting my work.”

Pearson also challenged himself by becoming a student in Barrett, the Honors College, on the West campus. “My time as a student at Barrett was a very rewarding one,” he said. “Barrett gives students a lot of classes they normally wouldn't have access to, such as The Human Event. Classes like these, as well as the focus on working closely with faculty on extra projects in classes, really helped to broaden my horizons and greatly enriched the quality of my education at ASU.”

Pearson is not alone among New College undergrads in being mentored by Silva, who earned his doctorate at Purdue University and engaged in internships at IBM Research and Microsoft Research.

“One of my core professional goals has been providing undergraduate students with a solid path to develop into recognized young scholars,” Silva said. “This goal is aligned with the mission of New College to prioritize intimate faculty-student collaboration and mentorship. I consider my work with undergraduates a great opportunity to perform transformative and high-quality research while forming the next generation of top computing researchers and professionals.”

It seems clear that Silva has achieved this goal in his work with Pearson. “I have had a lot of fun being involved in research during my undergraduate career, and I hope to be able to continue this later with a career in academia as a professor,” Pearson said.