(Left to right) Computer science seniors Matt Ebeweber, Bri Connelly and Niko Lazaris display their $100,000 award from the IBM Watson University competition. They were among seven students who worked to develop the prototype app called CallScout.

Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

After winning a $100,000 award in the IBM Watson University Competition, a group of seven computer science students plan to develop an mobile app that connects users to local social services, such as clothing banks and health insurance programs. 

As their winning entry, the students developed a prototype app named “CallScout,” aimed at meeting the needs of users in Central Texas.

Bri Connelly, computer science senior and project member, said CallScout will provide useful information directly to callers in need, so callers won’t have to find or wait for human representatives. 

“Right now, when people have questions about social services, like where to find a homeless shelter, or if they need help paying their rent, they call the 211 hotline,” Connelly said. “Through the app, people can ask those questions and Watson will answer them, and they’ll also be able to do things that they can’t normally do over the phone, like have favorites and rate and review services.”

The Callscout app uses IBM’s automated question-answering software, known as “Watson.”

According to Bruce Porter, computer science department chair and class instructor, IBM’s Watson software was popularized by its appearance on “Jeopardy,” when it played against human opponents and won. 

“It’s a program that enables computers to interact with people in English — for a person to ask Watson a question, and Watson to deliver a specific answer,” Porter said.

The students began work on the app in September as part of a capstone projects class, which was designed to combine education and career-oriented research.

Connelly said with the help of the Longhorn Startup Lab, an on-campus group that helps students form start-up companies, the team will use the award money to produce the application.

Porter said he believes the students won the competition because their project focused on helping people in the real world.

“My guess is that one differentiating factor was that the students here built a system for a real client, in this case, the United Way of Central Texas,” Porter said. “It wasn’t just a class project.”

Niko Lazaris, computer science and finance senior and project member, said the group learned more than what they expected from a computer science class.

“I think what we expected to learn was a lot more technical insight into how Watson works, and we did learn that, but I think what kind of surprised us was the whole product development that goes behind it and figuring out a viable pitch to the competition,” Lazaris said.

Texas running backs coach Larry Porter has been linked to an Oklahoma State scandal in which he allegedly paid players, according to a Sports Illustrated (SI) investigative report.

Oklahoma State is under fire for recent allegations from SI about the school paying players based on performance and compensating them for fake jobs. As many as 20 players were awarded money between 2001 and 2011, according to the article.

Porter is one of many assistant coaches accused of making “straight payments to players” during his stint as a running back coach with Oklahoma State from 2002 to 2004.

The running backs coach is cited twice in the article — once by running back Seymour Shaw and once by safety Fath’ Carter, who both claim Porter gave them money periodically.

Shaw said that Porter gave him $100 “four or five times” and was told to “use the money to get something to eat.” Carter said the coach handed him “a couple of hundred bucks” before fall camp in 2003 to host a pair of incoming freshman at his apartment. NCAA rules prohibit compensation for
both accusations.

“I’ve been made aware of the accusations,” Porter said in an SI statement. “I’m disappointed because they are all absolutely not true. None of that ever happened.” 

Porter is in his first season at Texas. Prior to arriving on the 40 Acres he coached at Arizona State.

Texas men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds was informed of the allegations last Wednesday and approached Porter to discuss the claims.

“After questioning him on Thursday concerning those allegations, we do not have any issues with him at this time,” Dodds said in a statement.

The SI report came out Tuesday morning and is the first piece in a five-part investigative series in which the sports magazine outlines the 10-month investigation it conducted at Oklahoma State. This part of the series charted the money scandal in Stillwater. The rest of the report includes an in-depth look at academic misconduct, drug use, inappropriate recruiting tactics and the fallout from these misbehaviors.

Texas running backs coach Larry Porter has been linked to an Oklahoma State scandal where he allegedly paid players, according to a Sports Illustrated investigative report.

Oklahoma State is under fire for recent allegations from SI about the school paying players based on performance and compensating players for fake jobs, as many as 15-20 players were awarded money over the span of 2001 to 2011, according to the article.

 Porter is one of many assistant coaches accused of giving “straight money to players” during his stint as a running back coach with Oklahoma State between 2002 and 2004.

The running backs coach is cited twice in the article, both running back Seymour Shaw and safety Fath’ Carter claim Porter gave money to them periodically.

 Shaw stated that Porter gave him $100 “four or five times” while Carter said the coach handed him “a couple of hundred bucks” before fall camp in 2003.

"I've been made aware of the accusations, and I'm disappointed because they are all absolutely not true. None of that ever happened,” said Porter in a statement to Sports Illustrated.

Porter is in his first season at Texas, he previously coached at Arizona State.

Texas men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds was informed of these allegations last Wednesday and approached Porter about the allegations.

“After questioning him on Thursday concerning those allegations, we do not have any issues with him at this time,” Dodds said in a statement.

Texas hires ASU's Larry Porter to be running backs coach

Arizona State running backs coach Larry Porter has been hired to the same position at Texas, the school announced Wednesday.

Porter helped the Sun Devils run for 205.3 yards per game in his only season at Arizona State, the 24th-most in the country. He also spent two years as the head coach at Memphis, going 3-21 between the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Before that, Porter coached running backs for 12 years, including three at Oklahoma State and five at LSU.

"We are very excited to have Larry Porter joining our staff," head coach Mack Brown said. "He brings a wealth of experience and has a reputation as one of the best coaches and recruiters in our game. Larry has spent a great deal of time in the Big 12 and SEC and has a strong familiarity with our state and staff. During his time at Oklahoma State and LSU, he did a tremendous job recruiting Dallas and Houston."

Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, previously in charge of coaching Longhorns running backs, took over as play-caller and quarterbacks coach for Bryan Harsin, who was named Arkansas State's head coach earlier this month, leaving a vacancy in Texas' coaching staff. Porter filled that vacancy this week.

"I'm just really excited to be joining what I think is the best program in the country," Porter said. "The future of Texas football is very bright and being able to work with Coach Brown and so many guys I've known and worked with before is an opportunity I couldn't pass up. My family and I are really excited and looking forward to getting started."

A productive running game proved to be very important to Texas this season. In the Longhorns' nine wins this year, they averaged 208.4 rushing yards per game and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. In their four losses, they ran for 98.5 yards per game and averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.

"Having the opportunity to work under a man like Coach Brown, who I look at as a legend in college football, is an honor and a privilege," Porter said. "He has done so much for college football and is so well respected. I'm thrilled to be joining his staff and to be a part of a program that I've had such great admiration for."

While at LSU, Porter coached the likes of Joseph Addai and Jacob Hester and helped the Tigers win a national championship in 2007. He was a part of an LSU staff in 2005 that included current Texas defensive tackles coach Bo Davis and offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who also coached with Porter at LSU in 2006.

Addai ran for a team-high 911 yards in 2005, Porter's first as the Tigers' running backs coach, before being selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Addai was named NFL Rookie of the Year that season while helping the Colts win a Super Bowl.

Oklahoma State had someone run for at least 1,000 yards in each of Porter's three seasons as its running backs coach. Tatum Bell ran for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns under Porter's guidance in 2002 and rushed for 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2003  while Vernand Morency ran for 1,474 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2005.

Porter's first college coaching job was as Tennessee-Martin's running backs coach in 1998. He spent one year there before serving as Arkansas State's running backs coach from 1999 to 2001. Jonathan Adams ran for 1,004 yards in each of Porter's last two seasons with the Red Wolves, leaving as the program's second-leading rusher.

With General Motors, Apple and Samsung all announcing plans to bring new operations to Austin, students looking to work in the technology industry will soon have more options close to the 40 Acres.

General Motors announced last week it will build an IT Innovation Center in Austin and hire as many as 500 to work at the facility, which is expected to be in the Tech Ridge area of Northeast Austin, according to the Austin American-Statesman. GM, which makes the fifth highest revenues in the nation, will employ software developers, project managers, database experts, business analysts and other information technology professionals at the new center, it said in a statement.

Some technology professionals say the GM plan is part of a trend in Austin. In March, Apple announced it would hire 3,600 employees and build a new facility in Austin. Samsung also announced an additional multi-billion-dollar investment in its existing chip manufacturing center in Austin. Randall Mott, GM vice president and chief information officer, said a skilled workforce is already in place in Austin.

“The next generation of IT workers, the talented visionaries we want contributing at the Innovation Center, are being trained at top computer science schools in Texas and surrounding states,” Mott said in the company’s statement.

UT’s computer science graduate program ranked eighth in the 2010 U.S. News and World Report college rankings among computer science departments including Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technoloy, Carnegie Mellon and Princeton. UT’s Computer Science department chair Bruce Porter said the local industry growth has picked up in the past two years.

“During the economic downturn, frequently students would need to go to Silicon Valley or New York City or somewhere else for an internship or a job,” Porter said. “So the growth in Austin is going to make a big difference to our students.”

UT’s computer science program is not only competitive but large, with more than 1,300 undergraduates. The department routinely sends students to intern and work for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, Porter said.

Porter said the technology industry operates as an ecosystem made up of universities, companies and venture capitalists.

“You need all those things together to make a community as vibrant as what we have in Austin right now,” Porter said.

Tech companies tend to gravitate to one area, Roger Kay, founder of tech analysis company Endpoint Technologies Associates, said. He said Dell was one of the first major tech companies in Central Texas. Dell currently has its headquarters in Round Rock.

“Dell is very much a trickle-down company, in that secondary and tertiary levels of the company got rich,” Kay said.

This company’s success spawned growth in Austin, he said. The growth attracted big companies like General Motors and Apple, and it also attracted entrepreneurs looking to invest in tech startups, Kay said.

Tommy Nguyen, a UT corporate communications and computer science alumnus, works as a software consultant for BP3, a technology consulting company. Nguyen said he was happy to find a tech industry job that allowed him to stay in Austin and use his computer science skills. Nguyen interned at BP3, which employs up to 30 people, during his last year at UT and got the job after graduation.

“We’re actively trying to look for college recruits,” Nguyen said. “We’re one of the fastest-growing companies in Central Austin.”

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: Austin tech expanding

The Department of Computer Science will decrease the number of required classes needed to obtain a degree from the department, a move some faculty hope will allow students to specialize in their interests and experience more while attending school.

Designed to be more flexible, the new curriculum has been a five-year endeavor by the department to allow students to take more electives. Bruce Porter, department chair of the computer science department, said the average student has time for 15 computer science classes. However, the old curriculum required students to take 11 specific courses to obtain a degree, leaving little time to take upper-division electives. The new curriculum has reduced the number of required courses to six. Porter said some students have jumped to conclusions of the department cutting back the number of required courses for budgetary reasons.

“I cannot think of any way that this has a budgetary side to it at all,” Porter said. “Sure, the department has had budget cuts, we’ve all had budget cuts. But that has nothing to do with the curriculum. This is based on what is best for teaching the field.”

He said the idea of scaling back on required classes to open up more upper-division elective options is taking place at computer science schools across the nation and UT was neither ahead nor behind the trend.

Faculty in the department started talking about revisiting the computer science curriculum in 2007, Porter said. He also said the department took a lot of inspiration from a 2001 report by the Association for Computing Machinery, a national organization dedicated to delivering education resources for computing.

The report, titled “Computing Curricula,” states that the required body of knowledge should be made as small as possible.

“Over the last decade, computer science has expanded to such an extent that it is no longer possible simply to add new topics without taking away,” the report said. “We believe that the best strategic approach is to reduce the number of topics in the required core so that it consists only of those topics for which there is a broad consensus that the topic is essential to undergraduate degrees.”

Porter said the department wanted to change the curriculum because the field has gotten too big to try to teach in four years. Now, Porter said students can study the areas that most interest them in depth.

“For some students, it’s going to be the mathematical stuff, for others it’s going to be game development,” Porter said. “Everybody has their own inclination.”

Although much of the new curriculum has already been implemented over the last couple of years, the most recent and final changes to the curriculum include reducing the number of theory classes. The department previously required four theory classes, but now students only have to take two.

“When you go to four to two, it is not like you can take the content in four courses and squeeze it down to two, because the students aren’t any smarter than they had been before,” Porter said. “Instead you have to choose a little bit of one course and add a little bit of another.”

Before the most recent changes, the department reduced the number of required computer system courses from 12 hours of coursework to eight.

“A problem we had in the past is students would take these four system classes and never really come away with the big picture view of how a computer works,” he said.

Associate computer science professor William Cook said while he did not foresee the department needing to make any additional curriculum changes, adjustments might be needed.

“I do think there will probably be some adjustments to fine tune the current system,” Cook said. “There is a lot of room with flexibility, so if there are any problems we can tweak the curriculum.”

Cook said students in the new theory, systems and programming classes will experience classes taught at a faster pace.

“There could be some struggle there as students adjust,” Cook said. “Essentially we are raising the bar and expecting more of the students.”

Calvin Lin, a computer science professor who chaired a committee that defined a new theory course under the new requirements, said students will find more excitement under the new requirements.

“There is also an observation that our old curriculum, because there was this long chain of required courses, students often didn’t see the pay off, they didn’t see the excitement till a few courses down,” Lin said. “The hope is by shrinking the core they will get to see some of the more exciting things quicker, and this is also an opportunity to bring some of the excitement into the core as well.”

Porter said he was pleased with the curriculum and he did not foresee any more upcoming changes. Nevertheless, he said teaching computer science is a constant struggle.

“There will be a continual battle to keep each of these classes current,” Porter said. “But the overall scaffolding of them, that is going to last us at least 10 years.”

Environmental safety concerns, a string of burglaries and building disrepair prompted a group of summer resident assistants based in Brackenridge, Roberts and Prather residence halls to submit a report of their concerns to the Division of Housing and Food Service.

In the report, RAs detailed specific incidents that occurred over the summer, including a broken water pipe, mold, pest problems and general miscommunication.

Yahya Kahn, pre-med and international relations sophomore, worked as an RA in Prather during the summer. Kahn said in one pest control situation, two residents woke up covered in ants. Maintenance responded with the pest control methods that are generally used, but Kahn said Brackenridge needs more attention than regular maintenance.

“They had ants crawling in their mouths,” Kahn said. “You can’t put a Band-Aid on a gun shot wound.”

The RA report mentioned problems with ants and Brackenridge had three pest control calls on Aug. 5 and 8, said Randy Porter, director of residential facilities at the Division of Housing and Food Services. “Ants are a typical problem in any building, especially in a drought,” Porter said.

Porter said campus dorms undergo renovations of about $12 to $13 million each summer in order of need. He said the infrastructure of Brackenridge, Roberts and Prather is about the same as when they were built in the 1930s. Porter said the community bathrooms in the three dorms will be gutted out and redone, but Littlefield, Andrews and Moore-Hill halls, which were also constructed in the 1930s, will be renovated before the dorms that the report focused on because the University did not identify them as the most needy.

He said the air-conditioning units in Brackenridge, Prather and Roberts are individual units in each of the rooms and if one room is cool and a neighboring room is warm, mold can breed.

“If students turn them off, condensation can form,” Porter said. “Mostly our custodian staff will clean it up with bleach solutions.”

Chemical engineering freshman Thomas Warnack, a current Brackenridge resident, said keeping the air conditioning on causes his room to be uncomfortably cold. He also said other maintenance issues include a shower without a nozzle and a clogged urinal, which he said leaves one restroom stall between 10 residents.

A major issue in the RA report is one that Porter said occurred in Brackenridge when a water line that fed the drinking fountains blew out. Porter and the RA report said that RAs used wet-dry vacuums to clean up the flooding as best as possible. Kahn said it was difficult to locate the wet-dry vacuums to try to clean the water, but the RAs eventually located some in San Jacinto Residence Hall.

He said he put in three maintenance requests for a toilet that wouldn’t stop flowing and was keeping the surrounding toilets from working.

When the water line blew out in the attic, Kahn said a resident called him at the front desk and the fire department responded.

The division has its own maintenance staff during the day and pays an emergency maintenance staff for situations after business hours.

“If it happens at night, it will be at least an hour before we can respond,” Porter said. “So RAs are definitely our first responders.”

Architecture senior Madison Dahl said an air conditioner spewed water into a neighbor’s dorm and left about two inches of dirty water on the floor of her Prather room in December 2009.

“All down the hallway it was wet,” Dahl said. “The water just ran down the stairs into those rooms. Right before we left for winter break, for a few weeks, it had a musty smell.”

She said the Division of Housing and Food Service covered the costs for the books that were ruined.

Hemlata Jhaveri, director of residence life at the Division of Housing and Food Service, said about 16 summer RAs help students with dorm concerns during the summer, and about 161 RAs serve in the fall and spring terms. Jhaveri said the RAs report any concerns to the hall coordinators who also live in the dorms.
According to the RA report, a lack of accessibility to hall coordinators led to problems. Kahn said there was little oversight from the coordinators.

“We’re supposed to have weekly one-on-one meetings, but that didn’t happen,” Kahn said. “A lot of what happened over the summer was miscommunication.”
Kahn said the chain of command was not clear and in some cases he did not know if he should go to the hall coordinator or go directly to the police.

Six burglaries took place in Prather from June 15 to 29, according to UT Police Department. Kahn said students should not have to worry about locking their doors when going to the bathroom.

He said RA training didn’t prepare him for the array of issues he encountered.

“You learn as you go,” Kahn said. “It shouldn’t be like that.”

W. Arthur “Skip” Porter, new Associate Dean of College of Natural Sciences will be hosting a lecture in October and plans to create courses as part of his program to promote entrepreneurship starting next spring.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

A new program will train College of Natural Sciences students to market their ideas and start their own companies in the future, said W. Arthur Porter, a new dean of the college who will develop the initiative.

Porter will be instated as the natural sciences associate dean for innovation and science enterprise on Sept. 1. He was hired by interim dean David Laude in efforts to begin integrating entrepreneurship into the college, Porter said.

“Over the next few years I will try to lead the creation of a sequence of courses, organization and collaborations that help students be competitive in the knowledge-based world,” Porter said.

Porter said he is working with students and staff from the Freshman Research Initiative, a program that allows freshman students to directly engage in mentored research. The new program will copy a similar model to train students who will be free to experiment with their talents and ideas under the guidance of professors.

“I want to develop a program that has the same kind of infrastructure,” Porter said. “We’re going to try to get our students connected to the breakthroughs and developments of our faculty as well as to get faculty involved in helping students develop their own inventions and ideas.”

Porter will hold a lecture for the Freshman Research Initiative students on Oct. 2 and 9 as his first step towards building the new program. The lecture will help students be prepared to start companies and build their own careers the non-traditional way, in a world where knowledge-based business is beginning to trump all, Porter said.

Courses in entrepreneurship for natural sciences students will be available in the spring, he said.

Sarah Simmons, an administrator for the Freshman Research Initiative, said the efforts of Porter and Laude to bring entrepreneurship to the college are essential to helping students understand they have a multitude of options available to them after graduation.

“Our students, by being in a research institution, are naturally sort of oriented and trained to think about pursuing grad school and research in an academic setting after college,” Simmons said. “What we do and what they are trying to do is to get students learning to be innovators and problem solvers in a field where everyone needs to be thinking outside the box.”

John Butler, director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship Management at the McCombs School of Business, said the center is frequently visited by students from all majors in the University.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship is in all disciplines despite what people may think,” Butler said. “For example as a government major you might want to be a great governor one day and you’ll want to learn how to commercialize yourself to get people to vote for you.”

Butler said the business school also teaches innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship courses supported through the Bridging Disciplines Program that began last fall and that are sponsored by central administration at the University. He said the courses have been extremely successful.

Public health junior Shradha Thakur said entrepreneurship courses could have been extremely helpful early in her college career. She said with job and internship interviews around the corner, she feels she lacks the skills to market herself for potential employers.

Printed on August 30, 2011 as: Dean to weave innovation into sciences

Election 2010

The election of the next chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, the office charged with regulating the state oil and gas industry, will test whether more endorsements and experience can help one candidate overcome an even bigger handicap — the ‘D’ next to his name.

The race between Democrat Jeff Weems, a lawyer from Houston, and Republican David Porter, an accountant from Giddings, takes on added significance as the commission approaches review in the next legislative session by the Sunset Advisory Commission, which can make recommendations to overhaul or abolish ineffective state agency bodies. Hearings on the railroad commission end in November.

Since 1994, Republicans have been charge of regulating the Texas oil and gas industry, but after incumbent Victor Carrillo was upset in the Republican primary by the little-known Porter, Democrats began to view the seat as a statewide office that could potentially change hands. A UT/Texas Tribune poll released Monday shows Porter leading Weems 50 percent to 34 percent. In the poll, undecided voters were pressed to choose a candidate.

Low natural gas prices in the current economy could mean a slow down in drilling activity, said Justin Furnace, president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.
“Leadership is needed during the slowdown to fix issues at the railroad commission and find ways to encourage operators to invest in Texas,” Furnace said.

The UT System owns 2 million acres of oil and gas-rich land, about half of which are leased to companies for oil and gas exploration. Oil and gas prices affect the value of those lands to UT. Jim Benson, director of University Lands, said the UT System is in tune with the daily operations of the commission, which oversees drilling, pipeline leaks and other environmental issues.

“We work in concert with the railroad commission. We also have people looking after UT System institutions’ interest in the Permanent University Fund lands,” Benson said. “The railroad commission is a tremendous tool that we utilize.”

Small-percentage payouts from the Permanent University Fund pay for certain academic programs and other critical items at UT Austin and 16 other institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems. According to the UT System’s quarterly prediction, recovering oil prices will greatly increase UT’s payout.

Weems, who received six major newspaper endorsements, said commissioners should fight for continued support of the agency so that it has the manpower to enforce environmental regulations. He said Republican commissioners brag about cutting their budget to the point that the body can’t do its job, which led to lax regulation and increasingly ignored safety issues in locations such as the Barnett Shale in North Texas.

“The field people could fix [environmental issues in the Barnett Shale] quickly, but instead the EPA and the TCEQ will come in, stumble around and do things that don’t fix the problem and screw up the job-creating aspect of the industry,” Weems said.

Weems has received $38,000 from lawyers and lobbyists. Porter has received $12,500 from the energy and natural resources sector. Carillo had received $168,000 from the energy and natural resources sector.

Porter said in the state’s present budget crisis, the commission will have to do more with less to maintain the regulatory functions of the commission and keep families near drilling activities safe. Porter said he looks at regulations from the point of view of people who have to comply with them.

“If they can’t comply with them, it doesn’t matter what it’s supposed to achieve,” he said. “Compliance is what’s going to achieve the safety goals that [the regulation] has got in mind.”

But Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, said the railroad commission is a textbook example of a “captured agency,” a state agency beholden to the interests of the industry it is supposed to regulate. Current railroad commissioners have received 40 to 45 percent of their campaign donations from the oil industry, which he said is a “huge conflict” of interest. Donations from lawyers and lobbyists with interests in matters that the commission regulates is also a potential conflict of interest, Wheat said.