Q & A with Crystal Redman

Oct 142007
Authors: Laurel Berch

Graduate student Crystal Redman is one the few women in Colorado State University’s computer science department. This week she dons the big, yellow hat and shares a “byte” of personal data with the collegian. She is currently a teaching assistant and plans on teaching artificial intelligence in the future as a vehicle to get people interested in computers.

Q. What is it like being one of the few women in the computer science department?

A. Sometimes I tell this story about when I was an undergrad: There were men in my courses that would say, “Do you need help with your assignment? Can I do anything for you?” And I would be like, “No, I’m finished. Thanks, though. Do you need help?” So it always sort of feels like (men) assume that you are struggling. I think with some things (women) do struggle a little more.but as you go on in computer science, I think, the understanding of how things work together is sometimes easier for women. So it’s kind of a shame there aren’t more (women in the department). Most of my friends are guys, but I met my husband at a LAN party.

Q. What’s a LAN party?

A. Local area network is what it stands for. It’s where you physically bring your computer to someone’s house with an Ethernet cable and you hook them all together and you play games.

Q. What’s your favorite video game?

A. Right now World of Warcraft. We play that a lot. It’s hard because my husband and I are both students right now, so (playing video games) is cheap entertainment.

Q. How long have you been married?

A. December 2005. So, almost two years.

Q. Congratulations! Do you find it difficult to be married while being a student?

A. Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely a balance of personal life and school life. I actually have a little schedule in my cubicle that has Drew, my husband, time scheduled in. But, we make it work.

Q. What do you think is the biggest stereotype of being a computer science major?

A. I think the biggest stereotype of CS majors is that we are anti-social, Mountain Dew drinking, non-hygienic smart kids that hang out in basements secretly contemplating how to take over the world.

Q. Do you think you fit that stereotype?

A. I think to some extent, I fit this stereotype in that I’ve definitely spent my share of late nights secluded with a computer in a cubicle either coding or “pwning newbs.” But the reality is that even computer nerds have their own social system.

Q. What are some of your hobbies?

A. Gardening. I play the piano. I play the flute. I play computer games. I was very into volleyball and basketball when I was in high school. When I was younger I used to collect bugs.My sister and I were Colorado State 4-H champs in entomology (study of insects). It was a big deal when we were little. We always used to set up bug traps and had a whole system for displaying them.

Q. What kind of research you do?

A. Right now I am researching traffic light controllers. So, I am writing a simulator that simulates traffic and traffic control, and I am evaluating different agent designs to evaluate which agent does the best given a series of criteria-like which agent has the best flow of cars or which agent has the minimum time stop. But in general I’m (researching) agents and evaluating intelligence systems.

Q. What is an intelligence system?

A. I don’t think anyone really knows how to define what “intelligence” is. I think right now we think of it as something that has the capability to adapt its behavior given some feedback.

Q. Why is this research important?

A. This is my culmination of master’s research. And the goal isn’t really to find the best traffic controller. It’s that everyone has a new idea for what a traffic controller should look like that, and there are papers that come out saying “my traffic controller is so fantastic and here’s why,” but they never really compare them to other designs. So the point is that when we are designing intelligence systems we need to compare them to other systems that are similar in an even playing field. So that’s my goal.

Q. How did you become interested in computers?

A. My dad was a computer center director at Fort Lewis for a long time, and so he was always kind of on the cutting edge. We didn’t have a ton of money, but he always had a school computer that he brought home. He would write programs on it, like maze games, for (my sister and me). As I got a little older and games got a little more complex, he would play them with me. In fact, now he plays World of Warcraft with my husband and me in the same guild, so that’s always been our thing since as long as I can remember.

Q. What are your thoughts about the new computer science building?

A. Right now the computer science department is not even on campus. Having a prime location like just next to the student center is going to attract students to the computer science major. Also, there are going to be computer labs that are open to the general student population which will boost student access to technology-and people who can help them to use technology. I also think that as a more accessible department, we will be able to attract people outside of computer science to participate in our activities such as our robot club, game programming club and ACM (association for computing machinery) club.

Q. What kind of music do you like to listen to?

A. Classical. If I really need to get fired up-I know this sounds bizarre-but I listen to “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi. I used to turn it up loud when I went to Fort Lewis.

Q. Why do you want to get into teaching?

A. Well I come from a tiny town in Colorado called Ignacio, and there were 65 people in my graduating class. By the time I got out of junior high I think three of them had babies and by the time I graduated from high school, it was more like 12 girls. So, education is really not high priority and it would be good if I could go back to my roots and help people understand that it is something that can change your life.

Q. Anything else you want to add?

A. I guess the big thing is if there’s anything that defines me, it’s the influence of my dad. Just being the kind of person that explores things and asks questions, because I think that’s pretty important. (I’m a) chip off the old bock.

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