Computer Science Students Win at IBM's 2016 TechConnect

Marist Students Excel with CyberSecurity Solution

Once a year, Marist College and International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) trade in their usual partnership for some friendly competition. They go head to head in IBM's TechConnect competition, along with other select colleges and universities that have academic partnerships with IBM. At TechConnest 2016, a group from Marist's School of Computer Science and Mathematics showcased an award-winning project in the "Early Tenure, Best Solutions" category.

Marist College 2016 IBM TechConnect winners.TechConnect is a chance for professionals from different stages of their careers to present their latest breakthrough ideas in technology. Marist's biggest competition comes from within IBM itself and the professional world of computer science.

"We were competing against full-time IBMers who had been working in the industry for a couple of years," said Mariah Molenaer, one of the group members. "So the fact that our work and research came out on top is significant."

The opportunity to work alongside and learn from industry professionals was a major takeaway for students involved. "[The IBM employees] were all very kind and intelligent and easy to talk to and they made the competition a pleasant experience," said another group member, Michelle Crawley, who cited these interactions as her most significant memory from the event.

Up against full-time IBM employees, Molenaer and Crawley, along with fellow team mates Marcos Barbieri, Vallie Joseph and Piradon (Tien) Liengtiraphan brought home the win with their project "CyberSecurity and Threat Intelligence for zSystems and Cloud Networks." In simple terms, the project was designed to prevent hackers from breaking into an individual's data center. Specifically, they presented new technology that would prevent hackers from viewing anything on a network, and guarantee that only authorized users could get into a data center network.

Before seeing such success at the competition, the winning group put in considerable time and effort into perfecting their final product. They began working on "CyberSecurity and Threat Intelligence for zSystems and Cloud Networks" at the end of the spring semester in May and continued to work full time in the following months. Through the summer, they worked in the lab full time for 40 hours a week. When the semester started up in the fall, the group cut back their hours to 20 hours a week--a similar time commitment to a part-time job.

They did most of their work in Marist's Cloud Computing Lab, alongside their faculty advisor, Professor Casimer DeCusatis. Professor Decusatis is an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department and worked at IBM for 24 years before coming to Marist.

Winning student Valley Joseph said that in that time she learned a significant lesson--that hard work and dedication pays off. "Once you find a career path that lines up with your personal goals, and you work every day to achieve your dreams, your dedication will reward you in the future," said Joseph.

In addition to a memorable experience and winning title, the Marist students received tangible prizes from their win at TechConnect. The winning group was invited to present their work to the IBM executive team at their headquarters. While they were there, they were also able to tour and meet with employees from IBM's research staff.

"It gives them some really good exposure and helps them get internships and job opportunities," said Professor Decusatis. "It helps them to get some insight into how things work at IBM so they can see how things work in the real world."

These computer science students, while impressive in their own nature, are notably made up of mostly females. Three out of the five members of the group are female students, which is not a very common ratio in the field of computer science or even within the computer science major at Marist. In both groups, females are significantly underrepresented.

"Even before freshman year started there was a class of 2018 [Computer Science/Information Technology] Facebook Group which was mostly men," explained Michelle Crawley of the demographics within her major at Marist.

However, like with the TechConnect competition, Marist's computer science department encourages its female students and does not perpetuate any real world gender divide. "I have found that many of my peers tend to be highly cooperative, attentive and always give everyone a chance to share their ideas or possible solutions," Valley Joseph said.

Other Marist students have found success at this competition for the past several years. This year, another group of five students presented a project on Cyber Security as well, and in 2014, another group took home a similar award for "Best of Solutions." This is one of the many scenarios in which Marist students continue to benefit from the Joint-Study partnership with IBM.

Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18

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