D-STOP’s Shakkottai Conducts STEM Outreach

Original article by Lauren Bringle

Photo of Dr. Shakkottai presenting as part of the Edison Lecture Series

WNCG’s Dr. Shakkottai presents as part of the Edison Lecture Series.

Just like Edison turned on the light bulb, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and the Wireless Networking and Communications Group (WNCG) at UT Austin are switching kids on to the field of engineering. Part of a STEM program geared towards middle school and high school students, the Edison Lecture Series celebrates fun over fundamentals and enables kids to have fun with science.

The event, sponsored by Phillips 66, attracted over thirty-four schools and over 1,800 students from the Central Texas area. During an interactive preshow, local area high school students and UT undergraduates showcased their award-winning robotic designs. Over the last nine years, the Edison series has introduced over 26,000 students in Central Texas to the applications and impact of electrical engineering on the world.

The highlight of the event was a lecture by ECE Prof. Christine Julien and WNCG Director/D-STOP Researcher Prof. Sanjay Shakkottai, on this year’s theme of Big Data. Prof. Julien has spearheaded and organized the Edison series for the past decade.

“Today, the average person processes more data in one day than a person in the 1500s processed in their entire lifetime,” Prof. Julien stated. “One day of a baby’s life generates more online data than the amount of content in the entire Library of Congress. Everyone creates data.”

Data does not just come from people either, Profs. Shakkottai and Julien told the students. Data comes from computers, laptops, smart phones, location data, Apply Pay, vehicles with GPS, parking meters, wireless road sensors, Fit Bit, Google Glass, even smart forks and spoons.

“These items record the way humans perceive the world and the data goes to the cloud. This is what Big Data is about,” Prof. Shakkottai stated.

Using popular movies, cartoons, and references from the book The Human Face of Big Data, Profs. Shakkottai and Julien guided the students through important challenges facing the field of Big Data today.

Popular examples of Big Data usage include Netflix programming, Pandora radio, statistics application in baseball, and predictive law enforcement and policing. By explaining mathematical models through storytelling and colorful visuals, the UT team challenged the thought leaders of the future to explore and investigate these issues.

The future of Big Data consists of three major challenges, Prof. Shakkottai informed the students. First, there are technical challenges, such as how to build systems that can process this information. Another important challenge involves how to analyze, collect and visualize this data. Lastly, many social challenges surround the collection of this data.

“These will be your challenges and your problems to solve,” Prof. Shakkottai told the students as he encouraged them to search for future solutions to these issues.

Profs. Julien and Shakkottai encouraged the students to think critically about the social implications and challenges surrounding big data, like issues of privacy, the role of creativity and ensuring integrity.

As the crowd cheered, Prof. Julien ended the lecture by saying “I hope we’ve inspired you to think about Big Data and how it’s used. I hope we’ve also cautioned you to think about Big Data and how it’s used.”


To find out how you can get involved with next year’s Edison Lecture Series, or to become a corporate sponsor, contact Nancy Hatchett at (link sends e-mail). Find out more at is external).


Posted by Maureen Kelly  |  Category : D-STOP