Emergency Response 2.0

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A team of computer science researchers at CU-Boulder has been studying social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter not for the networking opportunities they offer, but for a much more serious reason: They want to know how people affected by an emergency employ the tools to collect and share information, and use that knowledge to build better tools for use by citizens and emergency responders.

Led by Associate Professor Leysia Palen, the CU group has studied the use of blogs, wikis, and Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter in the aftermath of wildfires, hurricanes, school shootings, and other tragic events. These peer-to-peer communication tools, although they have shortcomings, have helped people to collect and share information with others affected by a crisis without having to depend solely on the reporting of news media.

Palen, along with her students and colleagues, are now developing a suite of specialized mobile and Web applications that will integrate information from multiple social media sources to help users assess the context, validity, source, credibility, and timeliness of the information generated by citizens during emergencies. 

Ultimately, the researchers hope to develop tools that will make the information posted by citizens more accessible, comprehensible, and trustworthy, so that people can make safe decisions and coordinate with family, neighbors, and officials during times of crisis.

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Why study at CU-Boulder?

At CU-Boulder, undergraduate computer science students develop a wide array of skills that prepare them for a large variety of high-paying jobs. The Department of Computer Science is interdisciplinary and collaborative, giving students the opportunity to explore applications in fields ranging from science to architecture to medicine and to work with faculty in a variety of disciplines. Students tackle problems hands-on, including completing year-long software design projects for industry clients. Students also can gain professional exposure through the student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery on campus.

The department’s specialized tracks allow students to tailor their degree to their own interests. In addition to a general computing track, curricular options allow students to specialize in such areas as computational biology, computational science and engineering, human-centered computing, networked devices and systems, software engineering, and low-level operating systems.

CU-Boulder is surrounded by a thriving, high-tech industry. From well-known companies such as Oracle, Microsoft and Google, to the national laboratories (NIST, NOAA, NCAR, and NREL) and robust technology start-up culture, the opportunities for internships and jobs for computer science students in Boulder is virtually unlimited.

Research Opportunities

In addition to the excellent internship and employment opportunities, computer science undergraduates can gain valuable experience through research with expert faculty both in and outside of the department. Project EPIC studies how social media technology is used during times of mass emergencies and supports this with research in software engineering, human-centered computing, natural language processing and low-level systems. The Center for Computational Language and Education Research (CLEAR)) performs research related to human language technology and its application to personal learning. The programming languages group conducts research on a wide variety of topics related to the reliability and efficiency of software systems (learn more). The systems group is active in the new research area of cyber-physical systems. And this is just a small sampling of the research conducted in our department which also includes work on health informatics, cognitive modeling, data mining, computer vision, and computer science education. Motivated undergraduates are bound to find a research group working on cutting-edge topics that they are interested in.

Where do CU graduates work?

Computer science graduates have excellent job prospects and are in demand from companies based in many industries including traditional software/hardware companies (IBM, National Instruments, HP, Sun Microsystems, Apple, and Google), as well as technology start-up companies, data processing firms, government agencies, financial institutions, insurance companies, research labs, and universities.

About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Job Outlook

Computer scientists are expected to have a much faster than average growth rate with employment projected to increase 24 percent through 2018. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


Starting Salary

The average salary nationally for a computer science graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 was $57,630; CU-Boulder graduates reported an average starting offer of $63,791.

Important Announcements

CUEngineering:  A publication for alumni and friends. Read the 2016 edition of CUEngineering magazine here.

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