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Howard presents at Choose Ohio First Showcase

Published: March 14, 2022 Author: Staff reports

Xiangsi Howard, a third-year student studying computer science in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, was selected to present in the Choose Ohio First Showcase on February 16, 2022. Her project, titled “Natural Language Processing: Sentiment Analysis and COVID-19 Vaccines,” focuses on using speech and language patterns via Twitter to better understand the public perception of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Since high school, Howard has always been inspired to work on the latest, innovative technology. In fact, it was SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch that initiated her own launch into computer science. By the time she came to Ohio University, she had experience coding in Java and Python, and she was ready to embrace every opportunity she would encounter. 

“It is all about the different opportunities you decide to take and then you make the most of them,” said Howard.

One of those opportunities was the Choose Ohio First (COF) Scholarship, which is an award given by the Ohio Department of Higher Education to students who are from Ohio and choose to attend a college or university in Ohio to pursue a degree in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Upon declaring as a computer science major in her sophomore year, Howard became a Choose Ohio First Scholar, which gave her immediate access to supportive faculty, helpful academic resources and funding for undergraduate research.

Chad Mourning, who is a COF project director and an electrical engineering and computer science assistant professor at Ohio University, connected with Howard to share more information with her about the program and its benefits, including the COF Showcase. Howard immediately started to brainstorm how this project could be an opportunity to explore her computer science interests outside of her regular coursework. 

“The Choose Ohio First Showcase is very possibly the first experience outside of class that students can explain their work to others. Employers are constantly looking for engineering students with strong soft skills, so an ability to communicate their work well is important,” said Mourning.

Howard embraced this opportunity to explore natural language processing and present her research to a broad audience.

“I would say definitely apply to this research fellowship because…you can research whatever you want. It’s a great opportunity to learn anything you want,” said Howard. 

After securing her project funding, she launched her project, which sought to identify language patterns in public tweets via Twitter. She found that while Twitter users held both negative and positive opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine, most users remained neutral in their opinion. Her findings aligned with similar studies using natural language processing.

“Xiangsi's work is not only topical since it explores the threats of misinformation in social media, but it's important to understand how people respond during a pandemic or any situation where lives are being lost. I think this ability to identify and rapidly respond to the needs of society will lead to a successful career,” said Mourning.

She submitted her proposal to the COF Showcase, which is an opportunity for scholars to highlight their research at the state level. The program was virtual this year, which allowed for a variety of people in academia, government and industry to learn more about Howard’s research. 

"Xiangsi has done an excellent job of implementing a real-time system to monitor and analyze public sentiment towards COVID-19 vaccines. The current system is based on twitter data, and it can be extended to various platforms to study many other social issues," said project advisor and associate professor of biomedical engineering Jundong Liu. 

Howard’s experience with the COF Showcase broadened her vision for her future career. She is interested in continuing to explore the use of machine learning techniques for natural language processing and exploring software development. Between her varied experiences through her internships, her job with Ohio Information Technology (OIT) and her undergraduate research, Howard has embraced opportunities to learn through experience and overcome challenges in computer science. 

“When you say, ‘artificial intelligence,’ it is kind of scary. Now that I have an introduction to how it's done, it is a lot less scary,” said Howard. 

To learn more about the Choose Ohio First Scholarship, visit this webpage