Computer Science Goes Global

CS doesn’t only take place at the desktop.

May 16, 2023

Anika Jane Beamer ’22

This year, three Grinnell computer science students traveled internationally to present research, engage with experts in their fields, and learn globally.

In December, Lilith Hafner ’23 and Chase Holdener ’23 traveled to Osaka, Japan with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Nicole Eikmeier. There, they presented research at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Big Data Conference.

Through a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) conducted over the summer and fall of 2022, Hafner and Holdener had developed an efficient technique for generating complex graphs known as “hypergraphs.” Hypergraphs, Holdener explains, are graphs that allow data scientists to present information about complex relationships involving more than one object.

A student with long brown hair stands behind a podium with a microphone. They gesture to the screen, where the words "Functional Ball Dropping: A superfast hypergraph generation scheme" are projected.
Lilith Hafner ’23 presenting at the IEEE Big Data Conference in Osaka, Japan.

When not attending conference workshops and presentations, the three made plenty of time to see the sights of the Osaka area, including the Osaka Castle. On their fourth day in Japan, Eikmeier, Hafner, and Holdener traveled to Kyoto and climbed the Fushimi Inaari Shrine famous for its thousands of red torii gates.

For Holdener, who is attending Brown University in the fall to study computational plant science, the trip was his second time outside the United States and a one-of-a-kind experience. “I didn’t get to go abroad while at Grinnell, so it was a great opportunity to experience a new place and culture while also sharing my academic research.”


Over spring break, Elliot Swaim ’25 and Professor of Computer Science Fernanda Eliott traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to attend the Ninth International Conference on Human and Social Analysis.

An ornate and large cathedral towers above the heads of tourists. Several cranes surround the building in the act of construction.
While in Barcelona, Swaim checked off an item from his bucket list and visited La Sagrada Familia — the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world.

The conference showcased work in applied computer science, from artificial intelligence in the industrial sphere to CS applications in power grids. Swaim presented research he’d conducted as a summer and fall MAP with Eliott: “Complex Behavior vs. Design — Interpreting AI: Reminders from Synthetic Psychology.” Blending computer science with psychology, Swaim studied how robots can be programmed with simple behaviors but be perceived as exhibiting complex behaviors because of the ways we interpret and anthropomorphize AI.

Not only was the conference Swaim’s first time presenting academic research, but while in Barcelona, he crossed another item off his bucket list: visiting La Sagrada Familia Catholic church. “I remember first seeing photographs of the Sagrada Familia and thinking, ‘One day I’m going to go there,’” Swaim says. Another highlight for Swaim? “Figuring out the city’s public transport.”

Hafner, Holdener, and Swaim received funding for their research travel from the Dean’s Office, the Science Division, and faculty research grants. “Student travel for research is funded by the Dean’s Office but is supplemented by alumni gifts,” says Cynthia Hansen, associate dean for student academic life and associate professor of linguistics. “When donors contribute to student research, it helps us do more with the overall budget for MAPs, which includes an allocation for travel.”

Congratulations to these computer scientists on research well done and on their successful global adventures!

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