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CCU: Computers transform average student into valedictorian

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Ryan Rossi said he was “just an ‘A’ and ‘B’ student at Waccamaw High School.”

His family never expected him to go off to Coastal Carolina University after graduating in 2005.

And they certainly didn’t expect him to become one of the school’s five valedictorians upon graduation or get U.S. Department of Defense fellowships for his graduate and doctoral research at Purdue University.

“I don’t think they thought I’d make a 4.0,” Rossi said.

But, as a computer science major, he said he treated his course work, research and teaching duties like a job, albeit a fun one.

“It was my creative outlet,” he said.

Under the guidance of the department’s chairman, Jean-Louis Lassez, a retired researcher from the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Rossi studied bioinformatics and worked as a teaching assistant for classes with upperclassmen.

By his sophomore year he was a teaching assistant for an upper level course, algorithms in bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics are mathematical formulas that can, for example, help doctors figure out if a patient has cancer.

The last course, search engine theory, an upper-level course with 10 students, he taught by himself when the professor became ill.

“At that level, and since I’d been a teaching assistant, most of the students knew me,” he said.

In addition to his teaching, Rossi spent time researching with Lassez, and at other schools, like the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and New Mexico Tech Institute for Complex Additive Systems.

He’s co-authored five publications and has four working research projects: penalizing spam links on the Web, latent semantic analysis of the languages of life, minimal killer words in the languages of life, and an introduction to search theory.

A book he wrote with Lassez and another Coastal Carolina professor, Stephen Sheel, “Introduction to Bioinformatics Using Action Labs,” is in the publication process, and he’s finishing software for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labratory in Pasadena, Calif., this summer.

“I’ve been developing algorithms to process images that are 4.5 giga-pixels,” he said.

The pictures of outer space will have a workable size when Rossi is finished.

Lassez told Rossi about the opportunity and though Rossi had focused on academic work in the past, the idea of working on NASA projects appealed to him.

“I knew they’d have really cool problems to work on,” Rossi said. “I originally applied and put my interests down, and they figured I was a good fit.”

Since he’s enjoyed working on the industry side of computer science, Rossi said he’s torn between pursuing an academic or industry-based career.

However, he said he’ll be happy as long as he can do what he wants to do, whether its research in academia or in industry.

Srinivas Mukkamala, Rossi’s research assistantship advisor at New Mexico Tech, described Rossi as “really bright.”

“You have to think out of the box and Ryan was doing that,” Mukkamala said. “Any employer will be fortunate to have him.”

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