First UND doctorate in computer science


Juan Pedraza

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First UND doctorate in computer science

Bismarck native Kirk Ogaard is using his know-how to mine flight data for the Army's Aberdeen Test Center.

You hear them flying overhead every day—they're the aircraft that University of North Dakota aviation majors use to learn their craft. UND's aviation program makes the Grand Forks Airport one of the busiest in the country in terms of takeoffs and landings.

But for Kirk Ogaard, there's a very different kind of business associated with those aircraft: he mines flight data gathered directly from devices aboard.

Ogaard, originally from Bismarck, recently earned UND's first Ph.D. in computer science, opening the path for several others behind him who're also enrolled in the program. Ogaard also got his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from UND, known for its prowess as a center of learning in computational science.

"For my Ph.D. dissertation, I wrote a program—a software package—to mine the data that we collected from airplanes used to train UND aviation students," said Ogaard. His successful Ph.D. completion won Ogaard a spot in a coveted one-to five-year post-doctoral program with the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland. That's one of nine such centers that support the Developmental Test Command, the Army's premier organization for developmental testing of weapons and equipment.

"At Aberdeen, I'll be doing stuff similar to what I did for my Ph.D.—data mining and probably some visualization," said Ogaard, who plans to go into full-time research once he's done with his post-doc.

"I got help from Jim Higgins, a former captain with American Eagle Airline, who now teaches in UND's aviation program," Ogaard said. "He organized the system that collected all the data direct from the aircraft—such as global positioning system information—and offloaded it into a computer at the completion of each flight."

The challenge, he says, is that once you collect and mine data, there's more than straight analysis.

"To make the data analysis useful you need to be able to draw useful conclusions from it," Ogaard said. "The real problem, then, is interpreting those results. Visualization can help you do that, whether you convert the answers into some sort of chart or other graphic—in other words, it helps you understand what you've found in the data."

You can use off-the-shelf software to create the graphics or you can write your own visualization software. Ogaard wrote his own.

What's UND doing with Ogaard's aviation data mining results?

"Applicability is the key—the University can use it to look at the kinds of maneuvers that students perform, see which maneuvers are most frequent," Ogaard said. "I think the most useful thing for the University is methodology I developed for analyzing and extracting value from the data."

Advice for the next generation of Ph.D.'s?

"I would say most important thing, be persistent, keep working at, don't get frustrated," Ogaard said. He completed his PhD in three and a half years after completing the two year's master's program.

About UND PhD program in computer science

The Department of Computer Science offers graduate study leading to the Doctor of Philosophy in Scientific Computing (emphasizing the development of software, the science, and the technology required to support computational science and simulation based science and engineering). The department is a part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, which provides unique opportunities for research by faculty and graduate students. There is especially strong interest within the department in the areas of artificial intelligence, compiler design, database, networks, operating systems, graphics, simulation, software engineering, and theoretical computer science.

Juan Pedraza

Writer and Editor, University Relations

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