Bees buzz on a screen as computer science professor Rahman Tashakkori watches the live feed of a hive. He has been studying the bees since summer 2011. Since then, seven undergraduates have worked on the project with him, learning the computer science fundamentals of signal and data analysis.
“In general, I think when students are involved in research while they are in school, they do better in their academic course work,” Tashakkori said. “It creates a medium in which students can learn computer science applications for the real world.”
The professor and his students observe the bees through video and audio signals. Then, two different teams analyze the signals, looking for behaviors that can help determine the growth and health of the hive.
Worldwide, bees are dying in large numbers mostly due to Colony Collapse Disorder where a hive suddenly dies because of an unknown disturbance. “Our lives depend on bees because they pollinate our crops,” Tashakkori said. “We need bees and therefore we need to understand why they are dying.”
Research projects provide opportunities for mentoring relationships between professors and students, which is a hallmark at Appalachian. “Mentoring is very important in general to all STEM disciplines, and computer science is not an exception,” Tashakkori said.
“Undergraduate research produces better results when faculty are involved and mentor students both at the training stage and at the time when students have the results and need to analyze their data.”
However, the most important component to mentoring in Appalachian’s Department of Computer Science is that students are able to approach faculty with questions not because they think faculty have all the right answers, Tashakkori said, but because “they work together with students to find a solution. They know faculty are there to jump in and solve the problems with them.”
Related: Appalachian’s Dr. James Wilkes is part of the Bee Informed Partnership, a $5 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He talks with 88.5 WFDD’s SciWorks Radio about this collaborative that works with beekeepers to better understand how to keep honey bees healthy.