College of Science

The 2019 McPhee Scholars and Valedictorians

the 2019 valedictorians

Meet our 2019 College of Science McPhee Scholars and Valedictorians Taylor Edwards and David Hughes. Hughes is a computer science major and Edwards is an environmental biology major. Both will be honored at the 2019 College of Science Commencement for graduating with 4.0 GPA’s.


Why Major in Science?

Taylor Edwards said that, “Having good science teachers since middle school really helped me develop my interest in the natural sciences.” She’s always been an outdoors type and that early interest in nature led her to get involved in conservation. Edwards has been participating in Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup since high school. She believes that “Even though ecological problems may seem insurmountable, the fact that people can come together in a grass roots way to do something positive means there’s hope.”

She attributes her academic achievement to a natural love of learning and always trying to do her best. “I also took advantage of the wonderful accessibility of professors here. They’re always available to answer questions after class or during office hours and I wasn’t shy about visiting them during office hours.” she said.

David Hughes said “I’ve always enjoyed math and been good at it since the 2nd grade but the first time I remember thinking about computer science was when my dad showed me the server room at the City of Highland. I just said wow.” Hughes likes computer science because he enjoys thinking through problems. He finds the process similar to working through a math problem.

He’s a community college transfer student and took the CPP two year graduation pledge which helped him remain focused. “I’ve always been a good student and self-motivated.” Hughes said. “One of things I think is important to academic success is not procrastinating.”


Research Prepares Students to Succeed

One thing that makes Cal Poly Pomona unique is the abundance of undergraduate research opportunities. For Edwards that meant having the chance to pursue research in restoration ecology alongside graduate students and receiving mentoring from Associate Professor Erin Questad. “I got to see how professional research was done. I got hired to work on a vegetation survey project in the Angeles National Forest and through Professor Questad I found out about an internship that I’m looking forward to starting after graduation.”  Edwards said.

She helped present her team’s research work in the Angeles National Forest at The California Society for Ecological Restoration, Los Angeles Geospatial Summit, and the Southern California Botanists Symposium.

Edwards is also conducting her own research project on the functional traits of 13 native plants and six invasive species. That work she presented at the CPP Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities (RSCA) Conference.

Hughes undergraduate research involved big data analytics.  His faculty mentor Assistant Professor Hao Ji provided an opportunity to participate in the XSEDE EMPOWER project. EMPOWER stands for Expert Mentoring Producing Opportunities for Education and Research. The program which is funded by the National Science Foundation provides stipends and resources for undergrads conducting computational and data analytics research.

Hughes said, “The projects involve randomized linear algebra for applying matrix techniques to an Apache Spark GraphX graph data structure. The practical application is for things like online movie recommendations based on user reviews. Current systems don’t work so well in situations where there’s less data, resulting in a sparse matrix. Our research addresses that by representing values with a graph which means more efficiency because zero values aren’t stored.”

Hughes has presented his work at the RSCA Conference and as a guest lecturer in the Big Data Analytics and Cloud Computing class. He’s also authoring a paper with mentor Hao Ji.


What’s Next for our McPhee Scholars and Valedictorians?

Taylor Edwards plans to continue working in restoration ecology. After graduation she will take a six month position as a US Geological Survey Ecosystem Science Intern in New Mexico. She’ll be doing post-fire vegetation monitoring and tree-ring reconstructions to develop a fire history of the area.

After that she plans to return to Cal Poly Pomona to get her master’s degree and would like to continue working in Associate Professor Questad’s lab. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a Ph.D. She said that “An academic career is a definite possibility.”

David Hughes said, “I’ll start working on my master’s degree at CPP. I’ve already taken some graduate courses. I knew I wanted to get my MS here. It’s the only place I applied.”

Hughes’ graduate research will be on deep learning, specifically automatic custom object detection. That’s software that will take a 2D image, create a 3D image from it so that it can be analyzed at different sizes and angles. That additional data will greatly improve object recognition.

Hughes plans to work in industry after he’s completed his master’s degree.