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2 students travel to Puerto Rico to present AI research

Published on January 17, 2024

2 students travel to Puerto Rico to present AI research

Deras and Escalante
Katherine Escalante (left) and Christian Deras-Rodriguez present at the HETS conference.

Two students at Eastern Connecticut State University who are native Spanish speakers recently presented artificial intelligence research while in a setting reminding them of home. Katherine Escalante and Christian Deras-Rodriguez presented at the Hispanic Educational Technology Services (HETS) conference from Jan. 10-13 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Escalante and Deras-Rodriguez presented an expanded version of the research that they presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) and Eastern’s CREATE conference last year, which centered on artificial intelligence (AI) and sustainability policy.

The two researchers used AI to analyze high-speed rail policy in the United States. Using AI to create a model of equity best practices, the two students shed light on “the potential for AI to play a crucial role in shaping equitable and inclusive policies in the realm of high-speed rail development,” wrote mathematics major Deras-Rodriguez and political science major Escalante.

Specifically, the two researchers used the popular generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) Chat GPT, by OpenAI, in a process called fine-tuning. "This process allowed us to train a GPT model on our own data instead of the internet as a whole,” wrote Escalante.

The Eastern researchers applied and were accepted under the conference’s student track. The goal of this conference is “to showcase projects by students that strategically use technology to support, drive and optimize their academic goals and/or extracurricular initiatives,” wrote Escalante.

As native Spanish speakers, “the cultural connection we felt in Puerto Rico was deeply personal and significant,” the students wrote. “It was like experiencing a piece of our home countries after a long time.” 

On the other hand, as aspiring professionals, the two researchers found the conference enriching. “We had the chance to meet and engage with a diverse group of professionals and academics who are all passionate about the proper integration of technology in higher education,” they wrote.

“These interactions not only broadened our professional network but also offered us unique insights and perspectives, enriching our understanding and approach to our research.”

Escalante and Deras-Rodriguez found the experience fulfilling on multiple levels. “Overall, the conference in Puerto Rico was more than just an academic endeavor; it was a journey of professional growth and personal reconnection with our cultural heritage.”

Written by Noel Teter