It’s Very Nice to Meet You, Vira :-)

“Have you ever been to Mexico?”

Why not ask Chatterbot “Vira” (pictured at left) who recently placed 4th an international competition (www.chatterboxchallenge.com) featuring 34 “bots” from around the world.

Vira is an internet-downloadable “chatterbot”, designed to simulate human intelligence and converse casually with humans when asked simple questions like, “What is 18+21+3” or “Can you give me an example of a living animal?”.

Created by Empire State College student Tom Joyce as final project for his CDL course Discrete Mathematics, Vira out-chatted 34 other English-speaking bots vying for a $1,000 cash prize.

Joyce’s work incorporates principles of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), which he refers to as “reinforced learning”, a combination of science and engineering which results in “intelligent” computer programs that can perform simple tasks like open an elevator door, interact within a video game, or have an actual speech-recognized conversation, like Vira.

“Finding ways to enjoy A.I. is important because designing it usually involves pushing the limits. Luckily building a machine that talks right back to you is an experience most find very entertaining and rewarding,” said Joyce, a New Jersey resident. “This is significant since it demonstrates that my research is going forward, and will provide a solid foundation for new and exciting innovations in the future,” he added.

SUNY Event, “Discovery: An Undergraduate Showcase” Features Students’ Research and Talents

Students and faculty pictured with SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H.Carl McCall and Chancellor Zimpher.

In opening remarks, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher noted, “Research is a critical part of the undergraduate education experience. Today’s event gives us all an opportunity to work together to showcase the quality of our work to the world.”

That’s why SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning (CDL) student Veronica Baiamonte traveled from Denver, CO to attend the SUNY Faculty Senate-sponsored event, “Discovery: An Undergraduate Showcase,” which took place yesterday at the Legislative Office Building at Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY.

Veronica Baiamonte with mentor Dr. Nicola Martinez

“I was so happy to be a part of this event and share my research in a real-world setting,” said Baiamonte, a CDL student whose Bachelors degree is focused on media and learning. “There were many more people than I expected. Everyone was walking around, asking questions, and talking about their work. I was able to share my ideas with senators, faculty members and other students, too. It motivates me to think bigger and continue my research in other ways.”

Baiamonte’s research, “Developing an Assessment Rubric to Evaluate Digital and Media Literacy Activities,” was part of a capstone study, instructed by her faculty mentor, Dr. Nicola Martinez, who also attended the event.

“Having a full day to focus on Veronica’s research and interests gave us some lovely ‘mentoring moments’. It allowed us to connect informally, as peers, with similar interests, sharing thoughts, ideas, and interests,” said Martinez, an academic Area Coordinator, Mentor and Instructor for humanities and digital media at the CDL. ”In addition, it was wonderful to see the energy and enthusiasm for undergraduate research shared by the SUNY administration, New York legislators, SUNY faculty mentors, and staff, as well as the extraordinary students who participated,” added Martinez.

The Discovery Event goal was to “share enthusiasm in showcasing a range of undergraduate research projects…and to enhance the image and reputation of SUNY public higher education.” A call for entries was announced in December 2011 and Baiamonte was one of two students selected to represent Empire State College. Over 125 poster presentations were showcased from students at SUNY campus locations across the state including Binghamton University, Morrisville State College, Fashion Institute of Technology, Purchase College, and more.

Janine Carchidi discusses her work with David Lavallee, SUNY Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost

“I was shocked and excited when I received the letter that I was selected to attend this event,” said Janine Carchidi, Empire State College’s second student representative. Carchidi’s entry, “Advocacy by Design,” showcased her goal to help not-for-profit organizations to benefit from higher-quality communication and graphic design campaigns, offered at reduced rates. “My passion is graphic design. My experience is in not-for-profit management. When I combine the two, I am able to bring together my ideas and mission into one goal that benefits organizations and the entire community,” said Carchidi, who will earn an Associate of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Advocacy of Design.

Phil Ortiz, CDL Faculty member and a past Faculty Senate representative also attended today’s event. He commented, “Janine and Veronica were actively engaged in their own learning. They were able to describe their projects in a way that was understandable to everyone, and their answers to questions demonstrated their mastery of the subject matter. In observing them interacting with the Chancellor, Provost, Vice Chancellor, Senator and everyone else with who they discussed their projects, it was clear that they were very impressive examples of our unique and talented Empire State College students.”

Kristen Yard Helps Empire State College Celebrate “National Mentoring Month”

President Barak Obama declared January as “National Mentoring Month”, inspiring Center for Distance Learning student Kristen Yard (at left) to write this piece, “The Importance of Mentor/Student Relationships: a CDL Student Perspective” for The Student Connection online newsletter.

Yard spoke highly of her exeprience with mentor Elaine Franz when she began at ESC in 2008, “I was terrified. I had been out of school for quite some time, had a new baby and was out of sorts…throughout health issues, life problems and situations with classes, Franz has stood by me — an anchor in the chaos of being an adult student,” she said. Yard, who originally intended to pursue a degree in businee or medicine will be graduating in June with a degree in creative writing, a subject Yard says she “truly loves.”

Visit the CDL Facebook page and ell us about your work with your Empire State College mentor or advisor. How did that relationship impact your ESC experience?

Read the Kristen’s article here:
Kristen Yard Essay – Mentoring

Online Learning Quality Meets New York Times Credibility

 Empire State College’s academic quality met New York Times credibility in a special article supplement, published this weekend, which featured the Center for Distance Learning.

Journalist Jayne Feld wrote in her open, “As the world grows ever more wireless, online education is increasingly the best option for time-stressed adult learners.”

The article (NY Times) showcased CDL’s breadth of course offerings, prior learning opportunities, low SUNY tuition, and Dean Tom Mackey’s philosophy that our “incredible flexibility empowers our students to take control of their futures.”

In addition, CDL student Anita Brown, who will graduate in June with a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Visual Communication, shared her thoughts on course design, diverse student discussions, quality instruction, and flexible learning options.

To stay up-to-date on other exciting news and academic successes at Empire State College, be sure to “like” the Center for Distance Learning on Facebook!

Anita Brown: Continuing Education Beyond the On-Line Classroom

Anita Brown

 Anita De Cianni Brown’s e-mail signature includes the following quote from Gandhi:
“Be the Change You Want to See In the World.”

It’s inspirational. It’s compassionate. It’s motivational. Just like Anita.

In addition to her role as a Center for Distance Learning student, Brown works full time in the Career Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is Vice President of the Green Island Board of Education; a volunteer at the American Cancer Society, Green Island Food Pantry, and Ronald McDonald House; she recently started a photography business as a result of her college courses; and she’s the “official scorekeeper” at her daughter’s high school basketball and soccer games.

Her life philosophy is, “Do what you love,” and it’s clear through her interests and activities that she takes her own advice.

In 2009 Brown made a commitment to continue her courses in marketing and the associates degree program she completed at Hudson Valley Community College in the early 1980s. Now, 22 classes and 82 credits later, she will graduate from SUNY Empire State College in June 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Visual Communications.

Anita and her family in Rome, Italy.

“I’m sure my ‘story’ is pretty much like many others. I started taking classes at night when time would be available. I decided to have a family and continuing my education went on the back burner. After my daughter graduated high school, I decided it was time to finish what I started,” said Brown, who also plans to pursue her master’s degree.

“Taking classes online is a tremendous amount of work. But I never felt that I wasn’t getting the support I needed. The learning curve of going from traditional classroom to the online setting was pretty quick. Empire State College offered me the ability to customize a degree that suited me. Most importantly, ESC has the SUNY brand. And SUNY is an educational system I have faith in,” she said.

Read more about Anita’s experience at Empire State College as featured in the January 8th New York Times Magazine supplement on online learning.

Faculty Excellence Starts Here and Continues Every Day at the Center for Distance Learning

Pictured left to right: Burks Oakley (moderator), Linda Lawrence, and David Caso

Linda Lawrence, Coordinator of Instructional Development and David Caso, Director of Student and Academic Services at SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning (CDL) received a SLOAN-C Award for Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching. Lawrence and Caso co-developed and implemented CDL’s on-line faculty orientation and training program in the spring of 2011.

Sloan-C is a professional organization made up of “individuals, institutions and organizations committed to quality online education”. 

The award was presented during this week’s International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando, FL, which focused on Learning, Teaching, and Research in the New Media Ecology”.

From Fire Marshal to Alumnus: Another New Beginning for Peter Meade

Peter Meade (left) and his son Brian.

At age 68, Peter Meade understands there’s no time like the present.

He survived Marine Corps boot camp, 45 years of active fire fighting service, parenthood, prostate and bladder cancer, and most recently, final coursework to complete his bachelor’s degree through Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning.

“Throughout the years, life always seemed to get in the way…But I always knew someday I’d have my degree,” said Meade, who will graduate in 2012 with a degree in Community and Human Service with a concentration in Emergency Management. “I am not doing this for my family, or for my boss, or for my professors. I am doing it for myself,” he said.

In 1961, still a senior at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, NY, Meade enlisted in the Marine Corps. After graduating from boot camp at Parris Island, SC he was assigned to the 6th Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC. He received training as a cryptographer and was called to assist the U.S. Government during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, trusted with access to secret strategy, planning, and implementation documents. When he was released from active duty holding the rank of Corporal, his brother Michael motivated him to become a firefighter in his home town of Great Neck, NY. This led to a civil-service position as Fire Marshal, where he served his community for over 37 years. Most notably, Meade co-founded the Fire and Rescue Communications Center for Nassau County, a county-wide emergency command, control and communications organization, staffed by more than forty people, and modeled by other stations across the country.

“If I was wealthy, I’d have done this job for free,” said Meade who still works part-time for Nassau County as a Public Fire Safety Education Specialist teaching kids and elderly residents how prepare for an emergency. “Proper planning saves lives,” he said.

Meade (at center) enjoys his retirement party.

Meade retired from his position as Assistant Chief Fire Marshal in 2009. “I am the only person in my family without my degree. My life changed, and I finally had the time to do this,” said Meade. Although he was not able to attend campus-based courses, Meade found that distance learning worked well for his lifestyle and academic needs.

“Through Empire’s program, my campus is in my den. And unlike traditional college classes, all students attend. No one is invisible. Through the class discussions, students have to ‘show up’ with something interesting to say and contribute. The experience is both enlightening and rewarding,” he said.

In his final term at Empire, Meade credits knowledgeable instructors, a dynamic course environment, support from his mentor Sally Cahan, and his military training as key factors for his success.

“In the Marine Corps you are self-reliant. Yet you rely on fellow Marines to carry out a mission. This same philosophy transcends to the educational environment. You build your foundation and decide how it will go by reacting and reflecting what and how you learn. Then you rely on your instructors to help carry it out,” he said.

Above all, Meade credits his own personal commitment and motivation as the reason for his continued academic success. “I will be almost 70 when I finally have my degree. But I’d be 70 with or without it!” he added.

Brian, Colleen, Peggy and Peter Meade

When he isn’t handing out shiny red hats and plastic badges to elementary school children, or reviewing Module 2’s supplemental reading, Meade rides his son Brian’s Harley and enjoys cooking for his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Colleen. He also spends time writing poetry.

Meade authored the poem, “Luminaria”, read during a memorial service at The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, to honor people whose lives have been touched by cancer. Meade is currently in chemotherapy treatment, and lost his mom and older brother to the disease. “This poem has been shared at events throughout the country. I read it once, now the message is carried on through other voices,” he said.

In conclusion, when asked “What will you do after graduation?” Meade replied: “Life gives the test before the lesson. And I’ve learned a lot of lessons…So I am always ready and prepared for whatever might happen next,” he said.

And for someone with his enthusiasm and accomplishments, the possibilities are endless.

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