Monday, September 16, 2019

Q&A with Jasmine DeHart, OU Computer Science Ph.D. Student


Born in Queens, New York, Jasmine’s family moved to St. Louis, and in high school, she discovered her interest in computer science.

While an undergraduate student at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, Jasmine was a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholar, where she participated in various undergraduate research opportunities. LSAMP is an NSF funded program intended to support historically underrepresented students in the STEM fields.

What undergraduate research experiences did you have?
I worked on projects dealing with CAPTCHA and quality assurance, from those experiences I learned, “…okay, this is what I like, this is what I don’t like.” The more I experienced research; I became more eager to learn about certain topics. I also worked at the Naval Research Lab for two summers during my undergrad. Each year I attended NRL hosted the HBCU/MI Internship which gave me an opportunity to intern with them twice, in 2015 and 2016. One of my internships was at the Computational Sciences Department and it focused on information assurance and computer security. That’s when I figured out, this is where I needed to be. It was a really nice experience. I really enjoyed it.

Jasmine’s journey to Oklahoma began while completing her undergraduate degree in computer science from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was contacted by Dr. Christan Grant, Assistant Professor in the OU School of Computer Science, who began inquiring with Jasmine about her pursuit of a doctorate degree.

How was your transition to OU?
It was kind of smooth, because the school I came from was really small. There were only 700 students in my undergrad, so coming here was a totally different thing. Coming from an HBCU* (Historically Black College or University) background, the culture of the school was different, so just trying to find out where I fit in, how I fit in, and how to get adjusted to the different culture and the different levels, because we didn’t have a graduate program in my school – it was just completely undergrads. Mainly trying to figure out where do I fit here, how do I transition.

Just talking with Dr. Grant helped. He gave me a lot of people to talk to and places to go. He gave me this group of Jasmines’. I think it’s really funny. But, every Jasmine that he knows, he suggested that I to go talk to them. So, I know a Jasmine in psychology, another one in computer engineering, and one that just became a teacher at a university. So, I was building a network. He continued referring me to different groups on campus, like NSBE* (National Society of Black Engineers), or just different people to surround me, like Dr. Susan Walden, who was over the Bridge to Doctorate program when I first started.

Since Jasmine participated in LSAMP at Philander Smith College, she was able to receive the Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship to help with her transition at OU. This Fellowship acts as a platform to continue supporting historically underrepresented students in STEM pursue PhDs.

*Historically Black College and Universities were founded on the principle to educate African- American students. Today, these College and Universities offer their service to everyone, regardless of race. Philander Smith College is one of 107 HBCUs in America.
*National Society of Black Engineers mission is “to increase the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community”.

How long did it take for you to feel a part of the OU culture?
It took my whole first year to figure out where I belonged in the culture and the atmosphere, where I belonged academically in the department, and how I could transition academically. My background was similar, but OU was just a little different in how they taught. So, trying to transition, learn and catch up.

What is your research focus?
So, my Ph.D. focus is on privacy and machine learning. Basically, I’m looking at how to decrease the pervasiveness of privacy leaks on social media and visual content through images and videos. Privacy leaks include baby faces, car keys and, of course, the basic social security numbers and birth certificates. We’re looking at how to reduce the number of items that are posted or the frequency of the posts, and build techniques to help resolve those issues, whether its blocking, blurring, censoring, and adversarial noise, to name a few.

Jasmine is a Research Assistant in the OU Data Analytics Lab under the supervision of Dr. Christan Grant. Ms. DeHart leads a team of undergraduate students (in Computer Science and respective fields) on her research projects and tasks. 

When do you plan to complete your Ph.D.?
I have a while to go. I should graduate in May 2022.

I was a Bridge to Doctorate Fellow for my first two years at OU, but that ends on my second year, which I just completed. The Bridge to Doctorate allowed me to be a graduate assistant for Dr. Grant.  It doesn’t, however, allow overlap or acceptance of any other fellowship as long as you’re in the program.

I have also been awarded a GEM Fellowship and the DOD SMART Scholarship to continue my matriculation. 

Currently, Jasmine has entered her third year as a Ph.D. student in Computer Science.

About the GEM Fellowship
I learned about the GEM program from Philander Smith College. The application process was simple and straight-forward: just complete the basic information, make a few statements, request recommendation letters and submit a GRE score, if required by the university where you are applying.

The GEM Fellowship can be extended for up to five years. I’m anticipating my doctorate degree completion within three years, so I probably won’t need the full support of the GEM Fellowship.

Jasmine’s employee sponsor for the GEM Fellowship is the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA. With the industry sponsorship, Jasmine is a Full GEM Fellow at the University of Oklahoma. The GEM Fellowship’s goal is to increase the diversity of graduate students in STEM fields. This fellowship also has three tiers of support: University Fellow, Associate Fellow, Full Fellow. The GEM application is open until November 12, 2019.

About the GEM Fellowship
I learned about the GEM program from Philander Smith College. The application process was simple and straight-forward: just complete the basic information, make a few statements, request recommendation letters and submit a GRE score, if required by the university where you are applying.

The GEM Fellowship can be extended for up to five years. I’m anticipating my doctorate degree completion within three years, so I probably won’t need the full support of the GEM Fellowship.

Ms. DeHart’s employee sponsor for the GEM Fellowship is the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA. With the industry sponsorship, Jasmine is a Full GEM Fellow at the University of Oklahoma. The GEM Fellowship’s goal is to increase the diversity of graduate students in STEM fields. This fellowship also has three tiers of support: University Fellow, Associate Fellow, Full Fellow. The GEM application is open until November 12, 2019.

Tell me more about the DOD Smart Scholarship for Service
The Smart Scholarship is sponsored by the Department of Defense. The Scholarship places the selected scholars for the duration of time that they support them. So, as an example, I’m supported for three years, so once I graduate, I will have to go and serve at the base or at the company that supported me for those three years. I’ll still get paid as a regular contractor for the government, but I’ll have to give that time back that they spent on me.

One of the government authoring facilities has to choose you to be sponsored by them, similar to how the GEM Fellowship chooses someone to be an employee sponsored fellow. I was chosen by Air Force Technical Application Center (AFTAC) on Patrick Air Force Base in Melbourne, Florida. I will begin interning there every summer, beginning in 2020, where I will work in a lab focused on the cyber security aspect of computer science.

With the SMART Scholarship, Jasmine will intern at AFTAC each summer until graduation. Upon obtaining her doctorate, she will become an employee at AFTAC for three years. The SMART Scholarship’s goal is to create a pipeline between STEM (or related fields) graduates and government careers. The SMART Scholarship is open until December 3, 2019.

Do you have words of encouragement to share with students considering graduate school?
Initially I didn’t plan on going to graduate school. I planned on going straight to work in the industry, or if I was going to grad school, it would have been more of a master’s program and not Ph.D. It takes a while for you to recognize your potential and who you can become as well as what opportunities are out there that will allow you to become the person that you’re destined to be. That’s what I feel like I’ve found here at OU in the opportunities that I’ve been given by Dr. Grant, the School of Computer Science, and from different fellowships.

The Bridge to Doctorate allowed me to start my matriculation into the Ph.D. program. It also allowed me to look for other fellowships, so I could still support myself throughout. It’s really important just to push your limits, get out of your comfort zone, and even when you do fail, because I’ve failed, it’s important to not get discouraged about it. Learn what you need to learn and push ahead.

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