Colin Hansen

Computer Science Program

Explores the theory, design, and implementation of software and computational systems. Using mathematical concepts and programming languages, BVU Computer Science students model and solve problems with logic and creativity.

June 20, 2017

Staten Island may be known for its rich history, beautiful parks, red sauce, and a quick drive over Verrazano bridge to the heart of New York City, but BVU senior Colin Hansen from Winside, Nebraska knows it for research on image processing. He spent his 2016 summer there at the City University of New York's (CUNY) College of Staten Island after being awarded a fellowship with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU).

As a computer science major, Colin participated in this 10-week summer program and received a $5,000 stipend in addition to fully paid lodging, meals, and travel expenses. Colin's research conducted at CUNY's High Performance Computing Center was in the areas of image processing in the field of saliency detection and object segmentation. According to Colin, “Saliency is more of a psychological idea. You look at an image or direction and there's something that pulls your attention that way, such as the color red.” In his research at CUNY, Colin worked with algorithms that detected saliency and the idea of how some objects are more interesting than others. In short, he used parallel programming to speed up image processing algorithms that are used in still streams of images found in movies and video games.

“Computer programming is something that not a lot of students experience in high school, and this was certainly the case with Colin,” said Dr. Jason Shepherd, Class of 1999, BVU associate professor of computer science. At BVU, many students take computer science 1 at the urging of their advisor or other classmates, then find that they enjoy the creative problem solving that comes with programming. “In Colin's case, I remember him taking the assignments in that class and trying to go one step beyond simply meeting the assignment requirements. He seemed genuinely curious about what he could do with computers,” says Shepherd.

“I'm not sure if people at other colleges can say they do things like that with their professors. The relationships we're able to build with professors here are so cool.”

Collin Hansen

During spring 2016, Colin had already been conducting his own research on image processing with Dr. Nathan Backman, assistant professor of computer science. As Backman's academic assistant, he began looking at summer internships and research opportunities. Shepherd proposed that he apply for the NSF fellowship, knowing how much he was enjoying his current research project. “I knew that the NSF fellowship in New York was a perfect fit for his experience and interests, so we worked through the process of crafting his application materials, which can be daunting to students who have never applied to an REU before,” said Shepherd.

Colin said that he couldn't have done it without the help of two of his favorite professors, Backman and Shepherd. Between writing recommendation letters and critiquing Colin's resume, the two computer science experts were with Colin every step of the way. “I like to think that they believe in all of their computer science students the way they do me, and I know they would help anyone else out like this. As long as you're willing to put in the work, they'll help you,” says Colin.

While Colin may know the ins and outs of the digital world, computer science wasn't always his path. When he arrived at BVU in 2013, he took on a business major. “The only interest I had at that time was video games, and I was a really big gamer.” Colin spent his time outside of class in the business club, running track, landing roles in campus theatre productions, and as a tenor in the choir. All the while, playing games like Call of Duty. Colin hadn't thought about looking into the programming side of his hobby until his sophomore year. “It wasn't a skill or interest that I had beforehand, but BVU opened the door and showed me that I really was interested in computer science.”

Shepherd says that stories like Colin's are not uncommon at BVU. Through the general education program and academic course planning with faculty advisors, students are exposed to a lot of ideas, concepts, and classes to help them find their passion and develop a plan for their future success.

Now, Colin is the president of BVU's Association for Computing Machinery chapter and a resident assistant in Grand Hall. “It helps pay for my room and board, but it's a really challenging job. It forces me to do community building and talk to people who I haven't met before.” All of Colin's activities and jobs depend on him keeping a strict calendar. “I can do a lot at BVU because of the size, and I'm able to take advantage of some free time, too.” Colin said that Backman, Shepherd, and Dr. Shawn Stone, professor of physics and computer science, went to Pizza Ranch with Colin and a few of his friends one evening. “I'm not sure if people at other colleges can say they do things like that with their professors. The relationships we're able to build with professors here are so cool,” Colin says.

His BVU computer science mentors are now working with him on a project for his capstone class. “It's going to be another image processing project in object movement detection/ segmentation that I'll also present at Scholars Day in April.” Colin says that the work he's done at BVU, thanks to guidance from his professors, will help get him into a graduate school. As for a dream job? Colin said he would love to work at Space Exploration Technologies Corporation someday and work with some sort of software engineering.

No matter where image processing and computer programming may take him, Shepherd says that Colin's future is bright. “He has a number of intellectual gifts and great experiences to draw from during his four years at BVU. Most importantly, he has shown a willingness to step outside his comfort zone, which is so important to being successful in the field of computing. He will be one to watch!”