News featuring John Wenskovitch

DAC Student Spotlight: John Wenskovitch

John Wenskovitch, DAC Ph.D. student in computer science

John Wenskovitch’s research interest is centered around the idea of creating interactive visualization systems that learn from user interactions. This often takes the form of conducting exploratory data analysis on high-dimensional, numerical datasets and using a common visualization technique, 2D scatterplot, to project the data.

When asked if he could explain his work to someone not in the computer science field, Wenskovitch, a Ph.D. student at the Discovery Analytics Center, turned to the stars.

“Stars have a variety of properties including color, temperature, luminosity, mass, radius. If you project that high-dimensional data into the 2D scatterplot, the stars will naturally start to form groups because stars in the high-dimensional space also have groups like red giants, blue giants, white dwarfs, main sequence, etc.,” Wenskovitch said. “By manipulating the scatterplot, perhaps the system can learn that the user is interested in understanding the relationship between color and luminosity. After recognizing that interest, the system can learn that these high-dimensional attributes are important to the user and adapt the projection, with the result of something approximating a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram.”

How did he gravitate to this particular research area?

“I was the kid who was interested in everything. As a result, I had a really hard time choosing a major when I started undergrad. Eventually, I settled on computation because it is a very interdisciplinary field and gave me the ability to pursue a variety of interests,” said Wenskovitch. “Visualization is probably the most interdisciplinary subfield of computer science since its goal is to help everyone better understand their data. I have worked on visualization research projects with astronomers, cell biologists, nurses, statisticians, and artists.’

Wenskovitch earned a bachelor’s degree in software engineering with a minor in mathematics and a multimedia focus area from Gannon University and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh. He said that his current research gives him the ability to exercise both his programming and mathematics skills, while also interacting with domain experts in a wide variety of fields.

“I like the fact that — as a student at the Discovery Analytics Center — I can walk down the hall whenever I want and have an interesting conversation with another grad student or faculty member who is working on something fascinating but completely different,” said Wenskovitch, who is advised by Chris North. “DAC has also provided a lot of interesting, inter-related problems to work on.”

Later this month, Wenskovich will present a poster, “Simultaneous Interaction with Dimension Reduction and Clustering Projections,” at the 24th International ACM Intelligent User Interfaces Conference in Los Angeles.

To date, Wenskovitch has given talks in nine countries on five continents, including papers at the IEEE VIS conference: “Towards a Systematic Combination of Dimension Reduction and Clustering in Visual Analytics” in 2017 and “The Effect of Semantic Interaction Foraging in Text Analysis” in 2018.

He is currently working with his supervisor and colleagues from a Summer 2018 internship at  Fuji-Xerox Palo Alto Laboratory (FXPAL) to turn the work they did on building a software visualization assistant to help with navigation and visual debugging in computational notebooks into a paper for VIS 2019.

He has also taught college classes since 2012, including at Virginia Tech, and was a visiting assistant professor at Allegheny College before joining DAC in Fall 2016. He is projected to graduate in Summer 2019 and would like to remain in academia.

Wenskovitch said he likes living in Blacksburg, with its easy access to mountain hiking. “It is a small town where I can see the Milky Way from my driveway, but it is still quite cosmopolitan,” he said.







DAC faculty and students share research, organize workshop at 2018 IEEE VIS Conference in Berlin

Chris North, associate director of the Discovery Analytics Center, and Ph.D. students Michelle Dowling and John Wenskovitch will be in Berlin, Germany, from Oct. 21 to 26, attending the 2018 IEEE VIS Conference.

In addition to presenting their research, the three are organizers of a conference workshop: Machine Learning from User Interaction for Visualization and Analytics.

IEEE VIS is the worldwide largest and most important conference on Scientific Visualization, Information Visualization and Visual Analytics. It is the premier forum for advances in visualization in academia, science, government, industry, and beyond.

Dowling, who is also a National Science Foundation research trainee in the Urban Computing Certificate program, will present SIRIUS: Dual, Symmetric, Interactive Dimension Reductions, which she coauthored with Wenskovitch, DAC Ph.D. student J.T. Fry, and DAC faculty Leanna House, Scotland Leman, and North.

Wenskovitch will present the second accepted DAC paper, The Effect of Semantic Interaction on Foraging in Text Analysis, which he coauthored with DAC Ph.D. student Lauren Bradel, Dowling, House, and North.

The workshop taking place on Oct. 22 has been designed to bring together researchers from across all VIS fields to share their expertise and generate an open discussion about what is currently learned from user interaction and where future research in this area can go.

DAC students use summer months to broaden knowledge at tech-related jobs across the U.S.

Michelle Dowling, DAC Ph.D. student in computer science, teaching at her alma mater, Grand Valley State University.

Students at the Discovery Analytics Center have headed off to summer jobs and internships from coast to coast. Following is a good example of the kind of real world experience they are getting.

Payel Bandyopadhyay, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is working on data visualization at UPS Advanced Technology Group, Atlanta, Georgia, where she is helping redesign the UPS parcel tracker website. Her advisor is Chris North.

Jinwoo Choi, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, is a computer vision researcher at NEC Labs America, Cupertino, California, working in the area of video understanding/action recognition. Choi’s advisor is Jia-Bin Huang.

Michelle Dowling, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is an instructor at her alma mater, Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.  She is co-teaching an introductory computer science course with Professor Roger Ferguson. Dowling’s advisor is Chris North.

Shuangfei Fan, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is a software engineer at Instagram in New York City. Her advisor is Bert Huang.

Abhinav Kumar, a master’s student in computer science, is an intern at PayPal in San Jose, California, where he is working on credit risk centric problems. His advisor is Edward Fox.

Tianyi Li, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is a software engineer at Cloudera, in Palo Alto, California, working on visual analytics for interpreting and better training machine learning models. Her advisor is Chris North.

Yufeng Ma, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is a research scientist at Yahoo! Research, in Sunnyvale, California, where he will apply deep learning techniques to data with both images and text. Ma’s advisor is Weiguo (Patrick) Fan and his co-advisor is Edward Fox.

Elaheh Raisi, a Ph.D. student in computer science is a data scientist on the Global Risk and Data Sciences team at PayPal in San Jose, California. This team is responsible for developing and enhancing machine learning and data mining capabilities, which are key to PayPal’s top-of-the-line data-driven decisions. Raisi’s advisor is Bert Huang.

John Wenskovitch, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is visualizing sequential content in multimodal documents/reports in team collaboration settings at FXPAL in Palo Alto, California. His advisor is Chris North.

Sirui Yao, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is a research scientist at Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas.  She is working on a project that uses machine learning to build a hiring tool, an intelligent system that assists Human Resources in selecting candidate resumes. She will also study related issues such as fairness and security. Yao’s advisor is Bert Huang.

Xuchao Zhang, a Ph.D. student in computer science, will be researching argumentative zoning and note-taking behavior during document authoring at Microsoft Research AI, in Redmond, Washington.  Zhang’s advisor is Chang-Tien Lu.

Yuliang Zou, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, will be a researcher at Adobe Research, San Jose, California. His advisor is Jia-Bin Huang.

Sneha Mehta, a Ph.D. student in computer science, is at the Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California, working on the open-ended problem of using Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to tangibly improve the quality of machine translated subtitles. Her advisor is Naren Ramakrishnan.

“Our DAC students greatly benefit from being out in the workforce during the summer months,” said Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science and director of the Discovery Analytics Center. “In addition to contributing their skills to problems faced by companies, what they learn from these opportunities is invaluable and an important part of their graduate education.”