• 59°

Getting ‘froggy’ with it: Livingstone CIS student, White House scholar participates in STEM project at Indiana University

SALISBURY – Livingstone College student Tenecious Underwood is charting a path to success that is uniquely his own.

The senior computer information systems major began his academic year with the honor of being selected as one of 44 White House HBCU Competitive Scholars in the nation, based on academic achievement, campus and civic involvement and entrepreneurial ethos.
This is the highest student recognition by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Further proving his scholarly edge, Underwood, a Fayetteville native, was also recently recognized for his participation in a research project that is leapfrogging the science of frog language.

Everyone knows that a frog says “ribbit,” but their calls have a deeper, more impactful meaning.

Frogs are considered canaries of the coal mine, for their ability to indicate ecological or environmental crises before humans notice a broader impact. Frogs have permeable skin, making them vulnerable to even small changes in their aquatic environment.

As a result, 32% of frogs are in decline due to a combination of habitat loss, disease and climate change. This statistic worries scientists, so ecologists across the nation are eager to study declining frog populations.

Underwood participated in the Jetstream Research Experience for Undergraduates and present his findings at the world’s largest supercomputing conference, SC19, in November in Denver, Colorado.

The Jetstream REU invites students to work with Indiana University researchers and staff on mentored research projects that involve the Jetstream platform. Led by the Indiana University Pervasive Technology Institute, Jetstream is a national science and engineering cloud that provides on-demand high-performance computing and data analysis resources for research and education.

Underwood and his cohort in the Jetstream REU are bringing machine learning and HPC to the problem of identifying frog migration patterns.

“It is imperative that national frog surveyors are able to accurately identify where frogs are and where they are moving,” Underwood said. “The entire scope of the project is to make artificial intelligence useful in fields that make up the long-tail of science.”

However, before Underwood and his colleagues could start gathering these calls, they had to know what they were listening for.

From students to frog surveyors

The Jetstream REU team wanted to identify amphibians specifically from the Indiana region: spring peepers, chorus frogs, green frogs and american toads. They gathered sample calls from Cornell’s Macaulay Library archive of wildlife sounds. Of the calls, 85% were used as training data and the remaining 15% served as testing data.

Underwood and the team then created three neural networks to process their data: one audio-based recurrent neural network and two convolutional neural networks- one audio-based and one image-based. The latter analyzed spectrograms created from the audio files.

The result? Computer frog surveyors are much more accurate than their carbon-based counterparts. The CNN image-based model came out on top as being the most accurate and most efficient. It also took up less space and took less time to process.

“Human national surveyors accurately predict 80 percent of the frog calls species. The image-based CNN produced over 97 percent accuracy, with the four frog species,” Underwood said. “The CNN audio and the RNN audio both produced nearly 90 percent accuracy. All three are what you could call superhuman.”

Processing the more than 5,000 audio files they had recorded would have taken up to 20 hours on a laptop computer. With Jetstream it only took minutes.

“We couldn’t have accomplished anything without Jetstream,” Underwood said. “It made the process more efficient and effective, and allowed us to be able to do a lot more.”

He hopes to improve the accuracy of the team’s findings so ecologists can even more accurately identify frog calls. The solution? Add more data.

“I believe we had 1,500 samples per dataset, and the last one we had just 1,000.” Underwood said. “Those extra 500 segments would actually benefit the CNN and RNN audio because they’re only taking this small proportion of data. If you give them more data, they would predict a more accurate rate.”

Most college students don’t get the opportunity to work with high-performance computing tools until they reach graduate school. So how did Underwood land a chance to work with Jetstream while still an undergraduate?

Growing up in North Carolina, Underwood always had an affinity for math and computers. But it wasn’t until a lucky meeting with a fraternity brother from Indiana University at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM that he applied for the Jetstream REU program. Underwood also acknowledges the strong influence of his alma mater, Livingstone College.

“[Livingstone] helped me grow and come out of my comfort zone to be able to go to an institution like Indiana University and be successful with the frog call project,” Underwood said. “You don’t see many African-Americans in my field at all. So it’s everything to do with being at an HBCU, and the fact that you are seeing people every day who empower you to be the best you that you can be.”

Next year, Underwood will study at Kentucky State University for a graduate degree in computer science with a specialization in cybersecurity. He hopes to open his own IT consulting firm and wants to do his part to make the tech industry more inclusive.

“I see myself bringing more cultures and more people into this field,” Underwood said. “I believe there needs to be more women, more cultures, and there definitely needs to be an increase in African-Americans in this field. Don’t let them tell you that you can’t do it … despite what statistics may tell you. Don’t let them ever tell you that you can’t be the successful person that you’ve envision your entire life.”

Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., said Underwood is a paradigm for the positive impact an HBCU can have on a student.

“His accomplishments reveal the depth and diversity of our student population and their interests,” Jenkins said. “Our holistic model approach to learning has provided him with the tools and confidence he needs to command his rightful place in the global society, and we are extremely proud of his professional development and innovative research in this field.

Comments

Education

RSS talks first steps for new federal relief totaling $66 million

China Grove

Locals look back on 50 years at Gary’s Barbecue in China Grove

News

Salisbury Lions Club names Person of the Year, Lion of the Year at 78th annual banquet

Education

Student COVID-19 numbers show first decline since plan A

High School

High school golf: Fowler competes in state tournament

News

Amazon announces new distribution center for North Carolina

News

House passes bill to bar Cooper from mandating COVID shot

Coronavirus

Rowan County sees death 302 from COVID-19; Health Department to host final mass vaccine clinic

Ask Us

Ask Us: What happened to work on South Fulton Street home?

Crime

Blotter: Woman says she was shot in hand on Lincolnton Road

Crime

Rowan Sheriff’s Office charges Salisbury man with operating illegal gambling business

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on felony drug, breaking and entering charges

Local

Rep. Amber Baker discusses legislative session during Rowan Democrats breakfast meeting

Local

Thousands of locals, out-of-towners gather for a groovy time at annual Hippie Fest

News

N.C. Zoo ready for expansion if lawmakers OK funding

Education

RSS budgeting for tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding

East Spencer

‘Back in full swing’ for the spring: East Spencer community gathers for food, fun and fellowship at Spring Fest

Local

Rowan native Lingle among those honored with NC Military Veterans Hall of Fame induction

Business

Former pro baseball player, Tar Heel standout Russ Adams finds new career with Trident Insured

Education

Profoundly gifted: Salisbury boy finishing high school, associates degree at 12

Local

Cheerwine Festival will stick to Main Street, stay away from new park in September

Lifestyle

Celebrating Rowan County’s early cabinetmakers

Education

Service Above Self announces youth challenge winners

Business

Economic Development Commission creates search tool for people seeking Rowan County jobs