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Senior Justin Lavin has grown up in a technology-driven world, and now he’s preparing for a career in the field to help spread global awareness. This academic year as one of the 2019-20 Cutler Fellows, Justin got a jump start on his goal.

“I’ve always had an interest in computers and how they work,” Justin said. “My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to become a computer science major. Later, I decided to add a mathematics major as well. I’ll still graduate in just three-and-a-half years.

“The world is shaped by technology. Everything is faster and connecting with people is easier. Having a career in the field brings that into focus. Technology helps us easily share information, solve problems, learn about other cultures and ultimately helps intelligence as a society grow. This results in more global awareness and acceptance.”

Cutler Fellowship Opens New Doors

It was this deep passion for technology and its role in the world that inspired Justin to do more. Seeking opportunities to grow his own skills and prepare for his career, Justin eagerly applied for the 2019-20 Cutler Fellowship.

Justin Lavin and David Cutler ’65

Created to honor alumnus David Cutler ’65, the fellowship is awarded to a junior or senior who excels in math, science or computer science. Students selected to receive this competitive merit award are required to submit a research proposal and are expected to make a substantial contribution in their field of study during their year as a Cutler Fellow.

“Janine Peters, associate professor and department chair of mathematics and computer science, was very encouraging when I applied for the Cutler Fellowship,” Justin said. “My project focuses around artificial intelligence (AI) used in self-driving cars. The big question is: how ready are they to be implemented now?

I’m exploring ideas I have to improve self-driving cars, including offloading the AI to a server so it can handle multiple cars at the same time. If each car is an independent entity, there are more risks involved. If the data is shared, these cars may be able to operate easier and faster. I think the tradeoffs may be detrimental, but it’s all part of my research.

“I’m also exploring how to have the car draw a map itself, which is the most expensive part of self-driving cars in existence today. Getting maps uploaded is complicated because they require so much data. I have a theory that if you could get the car to do this itself, it could drive down the cost of these cars.”

Justin has built his own research model, which operates on a Raspberry Pi 4, a small single board computer. The model is equipped with three ultrasonic sensors that are used for object detection and help the car make maneuvers. He noted most software engineering projects start in a similar way by testing on a small-scale model before growing into a full-sized product.

“I typically set aside one or two nights a week and work full force, nonstop on the project,” Justin said. “I review examples online of similar projects and adapt it with my own style. It’s rare to find people sharing the data they’ve collected without extra costs, which is something I want to change with my project.”

Networking with an Industry Expert

Justin recently had the chance to share his ideas and progress with Dave Cutler himself during the College’s Homecoming weekend. Dave is revered throughout the computer industry for his development of several commercial operating systems, including Microsoft Windows NT. The experience validated Justin’s career path and inspired him to make a difference with his work.

“Meeting Mr. Cutler was really nice,” Justin said. “We had the chance to talk about my project together over breakfast at the Hance House. He seemed very interested in my project and even asked me about the computer science program. I was able to share how the program is growing and the deeper-level projects we’re working on in classes. When I first visited Olivet, the computer science program was small and still developing, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that, so it was great to share that as well.”

Senior Abigail Slater was also awarded the 2019-20 Cutler Fellowship. She is focusing her project around bird monitoring — birds are well recognized as an indicator species, acting as sentinels for environmental problems that threaten other species, including humans. Abigail’s research will help identify human impact on species and habitats, contribute to online databases and provide a baseline for future student research. Read more about Abigail’s project in the Annual President’s Report magazine in the coming weeks.

Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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