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The Boulder

Steve Bogaerts, an associate professor of computer science, has taught at DePauw since 2013. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. from Indiana University. 

What led you to become interested in computer science?
Before I ever took a computer science course, I thought a computer scientist was someone who had memorized a lot of commands and formulas. That didn’t sound appealing. I started to learn the truth in my first programming course. I found that programming is about taking a small set of tools and practicing using them in increasingly complex ways. I love the puzzles that arise in this work. 

After more study I found that computer science isn’t merely about programming; rather, programming is a tool with which computer science is done. Computer science is about solving real-life problems by defining and refining formal processes. Even decades later, I love the flexibility and power that come from computer science techniques and tools. There’s always another problem to solve, another puzzle to ponder.

I always knew I wanted to be somewhere where teaching is the highest priority.

When did you know you wanted to be a computer science professor?

I always found the academic atmosphere appealing. I love computer science, and I wanted to help others experience it in the same way I do. I think I hadn’t really settled on being a professor until I was getting near the end of my undergraduate years. “Should I pursue an industry position or work toward a professor position via graduate school?” The answer became clear. As an undergrad, I loved my experiences as a tutor and in-class assistant. I thought it would make for a very interesting career. I was right.

I always knew I wanted to be somewhere where teaching is the highest priority. I love working closely with students. No matter where they are in their academic work, I want to help each go further and accomplish their goals. DePauw is a place where that work is valued. I also felt very welcomed by the computer science department when I interviewed. And while I don’t have extended family particularly close by, the location is drivable to both my and my wife’s extended family.

What do you like about teaching at DePauw?
I really appreciate the close interactions I can have with the students. I strive to have a good rapport with everyone – it’s not just the right thing to do in general, but it also enables us to accomplish much more together in and out of the classroom. I also have wonderful colleagues, who often serve as sources of inspiration and collaboration.

What’s your favorite class or topic to teach? Why?
It’s difficult to choose a favorite, but I guess I would say I most like to teach the Artificial Intelligence and Data Mining courses. These courses are both within my area of specialty in computer science. By teaching them, I have extra incentive to continue to develop in the field, bringing new ideas back into the classroom. I designed the Data Mining course from scratch a couple years ago, and am currently working on new material for the Artificial Intelligence course.

What is your current research?
My area of specialty is in artificial intelligence, more specifically machine learning. In this work, we aim to build systems that in some sense “learn.” That is, their performance on some task improves given more data, more training time or both.

I am investigating a technique called deep learning in preparation for future student research projects and course revisions. Deep learning involves the creation of an artificial neural network with multiple layers. In one kind of deep learning application, each layer of a network might be thought of as learning to detect some particular characteristic of the input data. Each layer feeds into another, such that subsequent layers can learn higher-level data characteristics. Ultimately the network outputs a conclusion about the input data. Deep learning is a key part of many stunning advances in AI recently, including language translation, autonomous vehicles and image recognition.

What role do students play in your research?
I aim to make all of my research student-focused. Most summers, I supervise a team of students in research in machine learning. In the summer of 2018, DePauw CS colleague Dr. Chad Byers and I worked with students Shuto Araki, Juan Pablo Arenas Uribe and Zach Wilkerson on a machine learning project about a card game called Birds of a Feather. The students were deeply involved in every aspect of the work, including question formulation, implementation, experimentation, authoring a paper and presenting our work. 

I am pleased to report that our work was published and earned a runner-up award in an undergraduate research competition at the Educational Advances in Artificial Intelligence workshop at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence international conference.

Are you involved in committee work?
I have been involved in many committees at DePauw, including faculty development committee, curriculum committee, governance committee and the science and math liaisons committee. I’m also involved in CS department meetings and various program committees for academic conferences.

What’s your favorite book? Movie?
My favorite book for fun is “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift. I particularly enjoyed the discussion between Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms.

My favorite movie is “Memento,” directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s good the first time, but even better the second. I won’t spoil it. Don’t read anything about it; just watch it!

What are your interests outside of work?
I love hanging out with my wife and kids, going on walks, playing “Settlers of Catan” with them, that kind of thing. I went camping for the first time a few weeks ago, with our church. It was OK… but my wife really enjoys it so I’m sure we’ll do it again. Maybe I’ll learn to love it in time!

I love singing, especially barbershop. I’ve sung in several quartets and choruses over the years. I have three district (Indiana and Kentucky) quartet championships and several appearances at the international barbershop contest.

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