Archive for Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Tonganoxie alumnus nets Fulbright grant to study in Austria

March 29, 2000

When Mark Albert gave his valedictory address at the 1996 Tonganoxie High School graduation, he gave his fellow classmates some basic advice:

"When you can't change your world, try changing the way you see it."

Today, as Albert, 21, prepares for graduation from Pittsburg State University and looks forward to spending next year in Vienna, Austria, on a Fulbright study grant, some might say Albert is doing his best to change the world.

His goal is to teach computers how to think.

This ties in with Albert's four majors, in chemistry, computer science, math and physics, which may be more closely related than commonly thought.

"I majored in theoretical chemistry for three years before I switched to computer science," Albert said, "But hey they're the same thing anyway."

In Vienna, Albert will be studying and researching connectionism and cognitive modeling.

"Connectionism is basically working with neural networks," Albert said. "It's modeling neurons or modeling cells in the brain to use in decision making on the computer."

In other words, he's teaching computers how to think.

"That's the kind of thing that interests me, to teacher computers rather than to program them," Albert said.

Albert's grant will provide about 12,000 shillings a month from September to June 2001. That's the equivalent of about $1,000 a month, he said.

He decided to study in Austria after he enrolled in a German class to have more in common with his girlfriend.

"She liked German and it became one of those things where I took a class because of her, and after I took it, I started liking it on my own and continued because I wanted to," Albert said. "After all, you can't take those kinds of classes just to impress chicks."

When he decided to try for the Fulbright, because he could speak German, the first places he looked at studying were Germany and Austria.

He noticed that in Vienna, researchers were studying the brain's neural networks. They were working to help computers interpret medical data to determine, based on various reading, if someone has an illness.

"I thought that would be interesting to look into," Albert said.

When he graduates from PSU next month, Albert said he will have accumulated about 250 college hours. But his course load hasn't been quite as heavy as this number might make it seem.

"I tested out of a lot of the classes and that helps," Albert said.

This semester, his last in college, he's taking things a little easier, even indulging in a course in western and ballroom dance. The ballroom dance part he likes.

"But the western I'm not so crazy about," he said.

The son of Delbert and Wilma Hammond, Tonganoxie, and Dean Albert, Wichita, Albert said he's looking forward to going to Vienna.

"It sounds exciting," he said. "I haven't even seen an ocean yet and it will be interesting being halfway around the world."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.