Cyber Threats and Social Media

Social media has been widely used for political campaigns, marketing and advertising, sharing breaking news, and during catastrophic events. Unfortunately, social media has also become a conduit for cyber threats. University of Missouri-Kansas City faculty member, Praveen Rao, is working to address that.

Rao, an Associate Professor in School of Computing and Engineering, received a prestigious NRC (National Research Council) Research Associateship Senior Fellowship Award to conduct research at the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) in Rome, N.Y for one year as he investigated ways to detect cyber threats on Twitter.

What is your primary research focus?

I conduct research in the areas of big data management and health informatics. My goal is to design scalable systems and techniques for gaining insights from massive, heterogeneous datasets.

Today, companies are using knowledge graphs to improve search results and provide better recommendations to users. Consider a knowledge graph built on Wikipedia and other sources on the Web. It will capture the entities and relationships between them to represent factual information. My research aims to develop scalable algorithms and data structures to enable fast retrieval of information and apply probabilistic inference techniques to draw meaningful conclusions.

How does that connect to your time at the Airforce Research Lab?

Prior to the NRC Fellowship, I spent two summers at the AFRL under the U.S. Air Force Summer Faculty Fellowship. During my NRC tenure, I worked on detecting cyber threats on Twitter using statistical relational learning.

Protecting any organization from cyberattacks has become an extremely important research topic. My work combined machine learning and big data techniques to solve urgent problems faced by society. For example, adversaries post malicious content on Twitter. Innocent users are tricked into clicking links that could lead to the spread of malware and other cyberattacks. Imagine if we could design an algorithm that could detect malicious content and suspicious users on Twitter. My research investigated how statistical relational learning can be used to solve this problem using Twitter data.

What were you hoping to accomplish while you were there?

I worked closely with AFRL researchers, which led to peer-reviewed publications, patent applications and several technical talks. It was a productive sabbatical year. It was also very useful for my PhD student, Anas Katib, who is a co-author on two of the publications.

How will this experience play into your future work?

I continue to work with AFRL researchers on interesting problems in big data analytics and social media. Therefore, I have new projects for my graduate students to work on. It’s important to me that post-graduate students at the SCE are working with real-world projects and are highly engaged with cutting edge research. By continuing partnerships with groups like the AFRL, I am able to bring together problems and bright young minds prepared to solve them.

Any additional details you would like to share?

In addition to detecting cyber threats on Twitter, I am also investigating how statistical relational learning and natural language processing can lead to a promising solution for detecting fake news on Twitter.

SCE Fluids Lab: Spillway Model

In the SCE Fluids Lab, Dr. Jerry Richardson and graduate student Jonathan Daldalian have contracted with Water Resources Solutions to assist in the building of the Woodson County Fishing Lake spillway model. In 2016 severe rainfall failed the spillway of this reservoir. This is similar (but smaller) to what happened with the Oroville Dam in California last spring. Dr. Richardson and Jonathan were able to model the spillway failure and propose and test a redesigned spillway using a physical model combined with advanced 3-dimensional CFD modeling. Their redesigned model is scheduled to be implemented by April before the next flood season.


Alumni Q+A: KK Kailasam

Full Name: KK Kailasam
Job Title: VP, Engineering Fellow
Employer: Cerner
Graduation Year: 1992
Degree: MS Computer Science
Current City: Kansas City, KS (Work); Olathe (Home)
Hometown: Originally from Chennai, India; living in Olathe, KS

Tell me about an average day at your job.
I lead a team of talented software engineers in Cerner’s decision support organization designing and implementing solutions that provide cross-venue care. Our solution suite includes data transformation services, clinical ontologies, and software agents to implement Cerner Math developed models that predict outcomes. The transformation services handle large volumes of data in a big data environment, and process unstructured clinical documentation using natural language processing techniques. The ontology services enable specification of a clinical program in a consistent and standards-based approach. The software agents use the data transformation services and clinical ontologies to execute mathematical models and predict outcomes such as hospital readmissions, risk of suicide etc.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?
One aspect that I remember very well to this day, is the faculty’s interest in staying connected with the industry. The assignments and projects often simulated real-world situations. And several decades later, as a member of the advisory committee, I see the same enthusiasm and excitement among the faculty. The committee is represented by leaders from many different industries and there is always a good dialog in terms of the types of courses and projects that will help prepare students to connect theory with practice.

How did you decide what area you wanted to work in?
In all honesty, I was lucky. In the early 1990s, the hype was mostly around networking and telecommunications. The only certainty was my interest in developing application software. It was after joining Cerner that I learned the potential for software in the field of health care. It started with solutions related to digitizing records and assisting care providers with timely interventions. And the journey continues. If you are trying to decide, the intersection of Heath Care and Information Technology is a great place. The complexity and hence the challenges are significant. There is a sense of personal satisfaction in this area. Whether it is about making it safer or more efficient or using data to derive new knowledge, the opportunities are plenty.

How do you keep up with the rapidly changing field of technology?
Early in my career I learned from my leadership about the importance of continuously expanding one’s boundaries. I follow many great minds on Twitter to learn what they are reading and talking about. Colleges like Stanford offer many courses online; I take them, especially the ones without a timeline.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?
1) Learn to write code and continue to improve upon it.
2) Learn to write code in more than one language.
3) The real world is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary in nature. Take classes from other areas like Math, Linguistics, Biology etc.

The Top Kansas City Holiday Activities

Crown Center Ice Terrace

KC’s outdoor skating rink opens back up again in November! Admission is only $6 and skate rentals are $3.


See a show at the KC Rep Theatre

You can see A Christmas Carol at the KC Rep starting November 17th. It’s a Kansas City holiday tradition! Students can get discounted tickets with an ID.


Union Station Holiday Kick Off

The Union Station Holiday Kick Off is a free event in Grand Plaza with tons of different activities. Make sure to check out the Annual Holiday Lighting on November 19th!


Plaza Holiday Lights

The Plaza lights are truly a sight to see! Head to the Plaza at 6:00pm on Thanksgiving Day for the lighting ceremony followed by fireworks!


Union Station Classic Holiday Movie Series

Catch one of your favorite holiday movies at Union Station’s GIANT 5-story Extreme Screen! This year you can see Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and The Polar Express for only $3!


Power & Light Christmas Decorations

Take a walk through the Power & Light district to see beautifully lit trees and decorations.


Downtown Dazzle Trolley Tour (Power & Light, Crown Center, River Market District)

This year, the Downtown Dazzle runs from November 24th-December 31st with a lot of fun holiday activities for everyone including a free trolley ride!


Christmas in the Park

Your holidays aren’t complete until you take a journey through Jackson County’s Christmas in the Park! There are more than 300,000 lights to see and it’s completely free!—Dec-31-Christmas-In-The-Park

Closer to a Cure: Rajaram Anantharaman

Rajaram Anantharaman is a Ph.D. student who was recruited through the Provost’s Strategic Funding Initiative to conduct research in the area of Big Data and Analytics. The selection process is very rigorous, and only the best applicants are considered. Raj started working with convolution neural networks and their application to oral diseases this spring. He envisions a future where detecting oral cancer may, “be as routine as drawing blood to detect other diseases.”

What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
The incidence of oral cancer worldwide is around 500,000 new cases every year, accounting for approximately 3% of all malignancies, thus creating a significant worldwide health problem (Johnson, 2011). Oral cancer has a tendency to be detected at a late stage which is detrimental to the patients because of its high mortality and morbidity rates. Early detection of oral cancer is therefore important to reduce the burden of this devastating disease (Messadi, 2013). My research deals with using computer vision and big data to detect oral precancerous conditions in its earliest stages. The hope is that my research will culminate in a solution that health workers can use to detect oral disease, get verified answers from the accompanying oral health knowledge base, and get patients referred to a dentist or oral surgeon for further diagnosis.
What got you interested in this topic?
I took a preliminary class in computer vision from Dr. Lee and it piqued my interest. We studied how we can train a convolution neural network to identify and classify images. Having worked at Cerner and other places in healthcare IT for over a decade, my natural inclination was to find relevant applications of this emerging technology to combat a health problem. Cancer is a terrible disease and there are millions of doctors, researchers, and other health workers already trying diligently to find a cure. My grandmother died of this terrible disease. While a great deal of biomedical research is happening in oral cancer, there is an opportunity to use computer vision, big data, and other computer technologies to help advance the cause.


Why did you choose UMKC?
My research requires help from different disciplines including computer science, medical informatics, and oral sciences. UMKC has all of the necessary resources for researchers like me who are trying to bring together different disciplines. UMKC’s programs are intrinsically designed to make this kind of collaboration happen.


What faculty are you working with?
I am primarily working with Dr. Yugyung Lee in the department of Computer Science. Apart from Dr. Lee, I am being advised by several other faculty members including Dr. Melanie Simmer-Beck from the department of Dental Public Health, Dr. Arif Ahmed from the department of Public Affairs and Dr. Mary Gerkovich from the department of Biomedical Informatics.


What do you hope to discover? 
I hope to discover if it is really possible for an A.I. trained computer vision program to detect and classify oral diseases with any degree of confidence. We share a vision with IBM research (IBM Blog Research, 2016) who is doing similar research work in the area of melanoma. Our vision is that taking pictures to diagnose oral cancer and/or other soft tissue oral diseases might one day be as routine as drawing blood to detect other diseases.


1)       Johnson NW, Warnakulasuriya S, Gupta PC, et al. Global oral health inequalities in incidence and outcomes for oral cancer: causes and solutions. Adv Dent Res. 2011;23 2:237–246.
2)      Messadi, D. V. (2013). Diagnostic aids for detection of oral precancerous conditions. International Journal of Oral Science5(2), 59–65.
3)       “Identifying skin cancer with computer vision.” IBM Blog Research, IBM Corporation, 14 Nov. 2016, Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

UMKC Big Beam Team Wins Big at Nationals!

Over the summer, The UMKC Big Beam Team secured 10th place nationally with 52 points at the 2017 PCI Big Beam Competition. It was a very close competition. Only 9 points separated UMKC and the first place team.
Team member Scott Jackson, enjoyed his experience at the competition. “The award means a lot to the team. It feels good that we were recognized for the work that was put in. Student organizations can provide completely different experiences than the classroom can. This competition was a good way for me to learn more about an area that I am interested in.” Team member Akash Iwalekar said the competition helped him with problem solving skills. “Being able to experience the whole process of designing a big beam followed by constructing it, and testing it, gave me the chance to witness problems and learn what kind of approach was best to solve them and get the desired results.”
The team is very happy with their results and would like to thank the alumni who gave a generous donation that made their testing and participation possible. The students would also like to thank UMKC SCE and their faculty advisor Dr. Ganesh Thiagarajan.

Alumni Q+A: Vickie Johnson

Full Name: Vickie Johnson
Job Title: Program Supplier Quality Engineer
Employer: Raytheon Missile Systems
Graduation Year: 1987
Degree: BS Electrical Engineering
Current City: Tucson, AZ
Hometown: Carthage, MS
What initially attracted you to UMKC? 
After getting married during my junior year in college, we moved from Mississippi to Kansas City to find work.  I found work at Bendix as a lab technologist and immediately started the process of getting back into school. UMKC’s engineering school was very accessible and the engineering program was exactly what I needed. UMKC personnel made it very easy for me to get back into school. Everyone was so helpful, including my employer.

What is something that you wish was available to you as a student that current students at UMKC have access to? 
As a student who worked full time, I would often wish that I could join study groups. A semi-formal program for establishing study groups would be very helpful to all students but especially for non-traditional students. Today’s technology and social media makes it easier but safety for students is a concern, so it would be great if UMKC could lead and develop this type of program.
What drew you to Engineering?
Coming from a small town in Mississippi, I had no idea what an engineer was, but I loved math.  A math professor at Jackson State University told me about the Pre-engineering program which I joined.  This program was to study for two years at Jackson State and transfer to an engineering school to complete the remaining three years. Once I began taking electrical engineering courses, I was hooked.   
How has the field of engineering changed since you started working?
It’s changed tremendously. With the advent of powerful processors and the exponential computer technology, it has changed immeasurably.  I started with programming on cards using FORTRAN and a huge computer that filled a room. Imagine that!  Speaking of imagination – not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the world of engineering as it is today! Knowledge is all around us.  The challenge will be to harness and use this knowledge appropriately and at the right time.  Ethics and morality have become much more important than when I started working as an engineer. As well as a lot more things, i.e. environmental protection, information classifications, how you write and say things, just to name a few. Most of the things impacting the field of engineering have nothing to do with the actual ‘art’ of engineering. Therefore, today’s students must do a balancing act to take it all in.  Programs to help today’s engineering students cope with stress are much needed in today’s engineering environments.
What advice do you have for students entering the field?
I would advise them to stay in school about two to three years longer after achieving their Bachelor’s degree.  Study for and achieve an engineering Master’s degree as well as a minor is an area that impacts engineering (psychology, ethics, human resources, environmental health, math, etc.) or even a juris doctorate degree.  Because once you hit the working world, the career trajectory may not bend easily around additional schooling plans.  Do this while you are young and have the time and the energy.  And remember these things: 1) treat everyone fairly – no matter who they are, 2) always be honest, 3) be firm – but kind, 4) ‘change’ is a constant, so get used to it & learn to love it and, 5) never mistreat or take advantage of anyone because karma is real.  And always remember to enjoy the journey!

Top 10 “Make In Your Dorm Room” Recipes

One of our SCE Student Ambassadors put together a list of some of their favorite foods that you can make right in your dorm room!

1) Mug Cakes:

We’ll start with something sweet since I love dessert! Did you know you can bake yourself a delicious cake in your microwave and have it ready in minutes? No oven required? This chocolate peanut butter cake is definitely one of my favorite things to make! Recipe

2) Nachos:

Pile some tortilla chips on a plate, top with shredded cheese, add any other favorite toppings (like pico de gallo or refried beans), microwave for a minute, and BAM! You have nachos. You’re welcome. Recipe

3) Avocado Toast:

This is one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast. Toast your bread, put a few slices of avocado on top, and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

4) Chocolate Peanut Butter Apple Slices:

Chocolate and Peanut Butter make everything taste good. Spread some peanut butter on apple slices and top with some chocolate chips or chocolate drizzle and you’ve got a yummy snack.

5) Scrambled Eggs:

For less than $1 you can make yummy scrambled eggs with a mug and a microwave! Magic! Recipe

6) Breakfast Cookie:

Because there is nothing better than sweets for breakfast. Recipe

7) Mug Mac & Cheese:

You can do so much better than the powdered cheese from Kraft. Recipe

8) Baked Potato:

This couldn’t be easier. Microwave your potato, add your favorite fillings, and you’re done. (And it will probably taste better than the food you could be getting at the dining hall.)

9) Ramen:

If you haven’t mastered the art of making Ramen in the microwave instead of on the stove-top, you better learn. Recipe

10) Mexican Quinoa:

This one requires a little more effort and a stove, but the UMKC dorms have kitchens and supplies that you can borrow. This is easily one of my favorite recipes of all time! Recipe

Dr. Baek-Young Choi Explores the Internet of Things at NASA

Dr. Baek-Young Choi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at UMKC. She is a faculty fellow at the NASA Marshall Space and Flight Center and spent the previous summer researching wireless communication methods.


What is your area of interest?

My interests lie in the broad area of algorithms and systems development for diverse types of communication networks and cloud computing. My recent research has been focused on wireless communication methods for Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications and Software-Defined Networking. My work is around figuring out how to make all these physical devices talk to each other in a computing space. I imagine 10 years ago very few of you would have guessed we could one day talk to our watches and send a message to our mom, but that is happening now, called the internet of things – taking ordinary objects and making them extraordinary through connectivity.
How does that connect to your time at NASA?

As a faculty fellow at the NASA Marshall Space and Flight Center in Huntsville AL, I am working on reliable wireless communication schemes for wireless sensors around spacecrafts or space habitats in the Electronic Systems Branch of the Space Systems Department. Basically, I help figure out how a sensor on one side of the space craft collects and relays information to another side of the space craft. Unlike earth, where wireless technology work seamlessly, space creates a unique environment with unique needs.

Have you worked with them previously?

There are numerous needs of sensing in space applications, such as temperature, humidity, pressure and radiation, air and water quality, and crew’s vital signs. The benefits of wireless sensors include flexible placement, changes in location and number of sensors, enabled data gathering from a challenging area, faster deployment, and reduced weight of the spacecraft. However, besides the inevitable long-range communication with the Earth, wireless technology has not been deployed much in space systems. It is because the space environment poses unique and extreme challenges such as radiation from solar events and cosmic rays, extreme temperatures – both hot and cold – depending on its location relative to the Sun and the lack of the insulating atmosphere of the Earth. In the midst of the harsh operational environment, reliability is a primary concern of NASA’s missions, like the well-known quote, “Failure is not an option!” My reliable communication scheme was shaped while trying to understand the space environment and the physics of wireless communication as well as from the previous research experiences in IoT and software-defined approach.

 What were you hoping to accomplish over this summer?

This summer has been a truly enriching experience for me. After the Apollo program that accomplished sending humans to the Moon in the 60’s and early 70’s, NASA put their primary focus on space stations (Skylab, Spacelab and International Space Station) and shuttle (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis) programs for three decades. The space shuttle program has now ended, and scientific discoveries through the International Space Station are being continued with the assistance of the commercial sector. NASA now embarks on another bold exploration mission to send humans to Mars. I believe this is a particularly exciting time for technologists, as the mission requires overcoming unprecedented challenges. I look forward to continuing working with them and involving my students in investigating the technical issues that NASA faces.

Throughout this summer, in addition to meeting and working with people with similar research tracks, I have been privileged to meet many NASA scientists and engineers from very different and unique fields, including rocket scientists who develop propulsion systems; chemical engineers who turn urine into drinkable water; mechanical engineers who build gigantic space vehicle modules; physicists who design solar sailing satellites; and various scientists who analyze and study the data collected from space. I find NASA to be an incredible interdisciplinary organization where people from all walks of science and engineering imaginable come together for massive and complex missions. Most of all, I am impressed by their openness and passion for their work.

How might this experience play into your future work?

Prior to coming to NASA, I have been focusing on pretty earthly matters. Now, I feel I am very deep in space mode. For instance, I named my family vehicles as SLS and Orion after NASA’s space launch vehicle and spacecraft, respectively, that are under development for its journey Mars. 🙂

SCE’s Three Time NASA Intern Extraordinaire

UMKC undergraduate student Kati Williams has been interning at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. She shared more about her work, her plans for the future, and advice she would give to other undergraduate SCE students!

What kind of work do you do as an intern at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center?

I assist in the software development and verification of the human rated space flight software for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The team I have been working with consists of 20 software developers during a critical release phase of the flight software. I use a tool called ARTEMIS-MAESTRO, which is a rocket simulator used for integration testing for the SLS.

During the first part of my internship, I was able to create a lab manual, which documents how to use the system for different software tests. I have also created a tool which analyzes the results of the flight software unit tests and outputs a simple one page summary. This helps the software developers by giving them a snapshot of the results rather than them having to dig through several pages of reports. Hilariously enough, I have also learned how to use a slide-rule as a side project.

What got you interested in this type of work?

Aerospace has always been interesting to me. I think it’s very important to continue to send people into space because of the technological advances that come from the space program. When I started my engineering career, I knew I wanted to work in an industry that I was passionate about, so NASA is a perfect fit for me.

How did you get connected to this internship?

This is my third summer at the Marshall Space Flight Center. This summer, I am here as an intern for Jacobs (a NASA contractor), but the first two internships I worked as an intern directly for NASA. For my first and second NASA internships, I applied through the “One Stop Shopping Initiative” (OSSI) website and had a nice recommendation letter written by a UMKC faculty member. My mentor during my second NASA internship worked for Jacobs and I was impressed by the company, so I asked him to put in a good word for me.

What have you learned from this experience?

This internship has given me insight into how complex software systems are developed. It’s interesting to see how small changes to one part of the system will affect another part because not everything goes according to plan 100% of the time. Being flexible and adaptable helped me as I progressed in my projects this summer. Learning how to take criticism gracefully was equally important.

Why do you think internships are important for undergraduate students?

School and the professional world are very different things. I think school is important for understanding the theory behind the processes used in the real world. I think internships are important because they help bridge the gap between theory and application and better prepare students to enter the job market.

What made you choose UMKC?

I was looking for an engineering school which was ABET accredited, had the degree I wanted, and was located near Kansas City. UMKC met all of my requirements.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m planning to graduate in the spring of 2018 and I will be looking for jobs working with satellites or embedded systems within the aerospace industry.

What advice do you have for other undergraduate SCE students?

The best advice ever given to me is from a UMKC faculty member. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Sometimes tasks seem monumental, but if they are broken down into smaller pieces they become much more manageable.