At 22, Breanne Crockett’s four-and-a-half-year self-investment comes to an end Saturday when she receives her degree in computer science and engineering from The University of Toledo.
Following graduation, she will join Oak Ridge National Laboratory as an associate researcher with long-term plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science.
The career trajectory of this Rocket is a course considerably different than what Crockett originally plotted after graduating from Graham High School in St. Paris, Ohio.
“When I stepped onto The University of Toledo campus, I thought I would finish my degree and find a commercial software development position,” Crockett said. “I certainly didn’t consider graduate school or research as a career option. I didn’t know anyone with a Ph.D., so the idea that I would ever want or need one would have seemed ridiculous to me at the time.”
As she progressed through her courses, however, a self-epiphany changed everything.
“I realized that I like to solve big problems,” Crockett said. “And through my first three co-op experiences, I discovered that commercial software engineering didn’t offer me that opportunity. That’s when I shifted focus and started to look at research as a career option.”
Her senior design group project reflects this ethos.
The goal of the project, titled “Neuromorphic Environmental Sensing,” was to create a platform for researchers, scientists and governments to collect, analyze and share environmental data as the world grapples with climate change.
What sets their project apart from existing sensing solutions, though, is the “neuromorphic” component — the ability to learn, if you will — and its customizability.
“We use a neural network to let the system learn from the data it has collected, so that it could alert the user when certain conditions occur – like forest fires or poor air quality,” she said. “Our project is also designed to be very customizable so that it can grow with the science. It can support lots of different sensors because what you’d need to measure for air quality is completely different than what you’d need to measure algal blooms.”
Other highlights for Crockett as a UToledo student include a pair of co-ops in the Department of Energy’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program at Oak Ridge National Lab and working in the Interdisciplinary Data Engineering and Science lab with Dr. Kevin Xu, assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department.
“Those experiences,” she said, “helped me discover what a career in research would be like and gave me the confidence to pursue a Ph.D. that’ll make a research career possible.”
Xu speaks highly of Crockett, and added that her research, education and outreach activities in the years to come have the potential to impact all of us.
“Breanne has been an undergraduate research assistant in my lab for just over a year,” Xu said. “She has developed computer algorithms to analyze data on how undergraduate students read zyBooks, which are interactive-web based textbooks. She will be presenting this research at the undergraduate consortium at the AAAI (Association for Advancement in Artificial Intelligence) annual conference in 2022, which is one of the most prestigious venues for artificial intelligence research!
“During her undergraduate studies, she has been highly involved in both educating other students, serving as a peer mentor and outreach activities to promote STEM among women, including Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. I hope she continues such activities in her graduate studies and throughout her career.”
Now only days from Commencement, Crockett offered this advice to others who are investing in their own futures as Rockets: Do not limit yourself or your opportunities to what you know now.
“If I had limited myself to what I was familiar with, I would have never applied for a research internship at Oak Ridge National Lab, or planned to pursue a Ph.D., or even attended UToledo,” she said. “The decisions that took me beyond my comfort zone turned out to be the most important.”