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University of Southern Maine Computer Science Student Receives Honorable Mention for International Research Award

David Gagne, USM computer science senior from Shapleigh, was recently awarded Honorable Mention in the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award.

The Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award is open to any undergraduate attending a North American college or university. Gagne is one of 47 undergraduate students in all of North America to be granted Honorable Mention.  Institutions represented among the students honored include Princeton University, Harvard University, UC Berkeley and many other ivy-league and well-known research universities and elite colleges.

After graduating in the spring, Gagne plans on enrolling in USM’s master’s of computer science program.  “I have an ambitious aim of completing the program in a single year, after which I will pursue a doctorate in computer science,” says Gagne.  He says he is most interested in artificial intelligence research. 

Gagne graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 2001 with a bachelor’s in engineering.  Before moving to Maine, he worked for nine years in Maryland as a civil engineer. Gagne says he had been wanting to return to school for a while, “but I always assumed it was too late to change careers.”  When he found out that USM had a faculty expert in artificial intelligence—Associate Professor of Computer Science Clare Bates Congdon—he knew it would be a good fit.  Since then, Gagne has been working closely with Congdon to study elements in noncoding DNA that have been conserved through evolution.  As a result of this extensive, ongoing research, Gagne was able to present his work at USM’s Thinking Matters symposium last spring.

"Conducting research at USM has been a rewarding experience," says Gagne. "It's been exciting to apply what I've learned here to a real world problem, and it's also been an opportunity to meet and work with some brilliant people, both faculty and students. We've got a great community of researchers here at USM, and I'm glad to be a part of it."

To be considered for one of CRA’s awards, a student must be nominated by two faculty members and recommended by the chair of their home department.  One of Gagne’s faculty nominators was his research mentor, Clare Bates Congdon.  "Dave is an exceptional undergraduate researcher," says Congdon, "and both of these projects help significantly improve our ability to identify functional elements in noncoding DNA.”

Gagne is also the recipient of a USM Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) grant, which is funding his bioinformatics research this year.  UROP funds student participation in research and creative activities at the undergraduate level. Gagne has also been funded through Congdon's National Science Foundation CAREER grant and National Institutes of Health COBRE collaboration, and via USM’s Maine Economic Incentive Funds.

The CRA is an association of more than 200 North American academic departments of computer science, computer engineering and related fields; laboratories and centers in industry, government and academia engaging in basic computing research; and affiliated professional societies.