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Computer science major Joseph Crobak ’06 (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) is one of fewer than 20 students in the nation to receive a scholarship this year from Upsilon Pi Epsilon, the international computer science honor society.

Lafayette is the only institution to have three students in four years earn a UPE scholarship within the past eight years or more — and perhaps the only college or university since the scholarship program began in 1985 — according to Orlando Madrigal, international secretary of UPE.

“It’s quite likely that Lafayette students are the first to receive the awards on a regular basis like this, which is pretty good,” he says, noting that each year, almost everyone applying in the “very competitive” process is in the top 90th percentile of grade point average at their institution.

“The professors really seem to care about the students in the computer science department,” says Crobak, a recipient of Lafayette’s Trustee Scholarship. “One thing that’s great about them is that they spend lots of time on campus. We have two or three professors who are here until midnight a couple times a week.”

Alex Balan ’03 (Bucharest, Romania), who earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science and bachelor of arts degree in mathematics-economics while graduating with the highest grade-point average in his class,won the UPE’s Microsoft Scholarship in 2002. Matthew Patton ’02(Los Alamos, N.M.) received the Microsoft Scholarship in 2001 and gained national recognition as one of only five computer science majors receiving a Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering.

“It is a testimony to the high quality of our students that in the past four years, the three students nominated by the College have won Upsilon Pi Epsilon scholarships,” says William Collins, associate professor and head of computer science.

This summer and during the spring semester, Crobak conducted EXCEL Scholars research on the single-source shortest path problem (SSSP), which involves finding the shortest path from one point in a network to all other points.

“I compared and contrasted different algorithms to determine which work faster and use less data storage,” he says.

In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

The majority of Crobak’s research this summer was based on the work of Andrew Goldberg and Mikkel Thorrup.

“The SSSP is an optimization problem involving a network or a graph,” he explains. “In the SSSP, a number of nodes are connected by paths. When solving the problem, you find the fastest way from point A to point B where there isn’t a direct connection from point A to B. For example, if you were trying to get from New York to Boston, you must take several roads rather than driving along a single road. While it might not sound all that exciting, algorithms solving the SSSP could be used for a web site like Mapquest.”

Crobak began the project by reading academic papers and then experimented with modifications to the ideas presented in them. He says that his Computer Organization class, which he took during the fall 2003 semester, gave him background on binary representation, which helped him read the academic papers. His Analysis of Algorithms class gave him solid preparation for the work, he adds.

“We did math proofs and all kinds of notation,” he says. “It was a thinking course rather than a coding course.”

“Joe is a very bright kid,” says Chun Wai Liew, assistant professor of computer science, who taught Crobak in his Software Engineering and Artificial Intelligence classes. “He’s very eager to learn and a hard-working student.”

Crobak is a member of Lafayette’s student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery and competed on the team that won the University of Virginia site competition last fall at the annual Mid-Atlantic Programming Contest.

Crobak, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, notes that his professors have helped him in a number of areas.

“They’ll advise you on any kind of decision,” he says. “They help with projects and homework. They write letters of recommendation. They give advice on what to do for the summer.”

Crobak plans to resume his research after spending this semester at the National University of Ireland in Galway, where he is taking courses in mathematics, history, and philosophy. Outside the classroom, his experiences have included attending concerts and taking trips to Limerick and County Donegal.

“I saw beautiful cliffs along the North Atlantic coast while hiking across bogs and sheep pastures,” he says. “A few weeks ago, I did a home stay with an Irish family. It was a great experience to see another culture from the inside.”

Crobak, who served as co-captain of the Ultimate Frisbee Club before studying abroad, also is participating in the university Orienteering Club’s weekend excursions.

“Orienteering is a mix between a treasure hunt and cross country,” he explains. “You’re given a map and a compass and told where the checkpoints are along the course. I also have a trip planned to Dublin to see where and how Guinness is made.”

Along with a dedicated faculty, Lafayette offers excellent facilities in the new Acopian Engineering Center, says Crobak.

“We’ve got a bunch of powerful servers and even the lighting is nice,” he says. “We have natural light as well as ceiling lights. The atmosphere is conducive to doing work.”

Lafayette has offered him a sense of camaraderie with like-minded computer science majors, adds Crobak.

“The computer science student body — my peers — are a great bunch of people to be with,” he says.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the annual conference this past April.

Selected from among Lafayette’s top applicants, Trustee Scholarship recipients like Crobak have distinguished themselves through exceptional academic achievement in high school. They receive from Lafayette an annual minimum scholarship of $7,500 (totaling $30,000 over four years) or a grant in the full amount of their demonstrated need if the need is more than $7,500.

Categorized in: Academic News