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Computer Science Students Research Programming Language

Posted by Pengxeu Thao '15, Roseville on Wednesday, Jun. 4, 2014

Elena Machkasova, associate professor of computer science, is one of 11 University of Minnesota, Morris professors partnering with students on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program. Machkasova selected Emma Sax (HHMI) ’17, Edina, Henry Fellows (HHMI) ’16, Arden Hills, and Aaron Lemmon (Morris Academic Partnership) ’16, Alexandria, for this opportunity. Together, they are looking for ways to make introductory computer science courses more user-friendly.

Their research involves integrating Clojure, a programming language, into introductory-level computer science courses. Clojure prepares beginning students for higher-level classes as well as future careers, making it an essential tool. However, it presents difficulties like complicated error messages, inconvenient menus, and lack of an integrated development environment.

The team’s goal is to create a beginner-friendly programming environment with Clojure. To do so, Machkasova and her student researchers are working on incorporating this programming language with Light Table, an integrated development environment that will improve the interface. From there, they can refine error messages and program feedback. The results of their work can benefit not only aspiring computer science students, but also all of Clojure’s users.

Through undergraduate research opportunities like those provided by HHMI and the Morris Academic Partnership program, students like Fellows, Sax, and Lemmon can work closely with faculty to cultivate hands-on experience and prepare themselves for future careers.

“This summer research is a great way to discover new things about our area of studies through communication and time with faculty,” they say. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for undergraduate students to experience professional research in a comfortable, familiar environment.”

Machkasova came up with improving Clojure’s programming environment while on sabbatical during the 2012–13 academic year. She hopes to integrate Clojure into introductory computer science courses in fall 2015.

“I had originally thought of this during sabbatical and thought that it could be done by fall of 2013, but then I realized that this project would be much larger,” says Machkasova. “I’m thankful for the opportunity HHMI has provided for this.”

The Undergraduate Summer Research Program is supported in part by a grant to the University of Minnesota, Morris from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program.

Pictured above (left to right): Aaron Lemmon '16, Emma Sax '17, Henry Fellows '16.