Engineering student publishes research, presents at technology conference
February 14, 2023
Rebecca “Bex” West has made several remarkable accomplishments as an engineering student, including publishing a scientific paper as lead author, presenting her research at an international conference, and winning a spot in a highly selective mentoring program by Google.
It would be an extraordinary list of achievements for a graduate student or Ph.D. candidate. But it’s even more impressive considering that West is a sophomore majoring in engineering at San Antonio College.
“I didn’t even know this was a possibility at this stage of the game,” West said.
It's unusual for any undergraduate to publish research. It’s extremely rare that one would be the lead author of a research paper, said Henry Griffith, assistant professor and engineering program coordinator at SAC, and department chair of mathematics, architecture, physics and engineering.
“This is a perfect example of what’s achievable,” Griffith said. “The best word to describe her is persistent. In addition to intellect and aptitude, she’s an incredibly hard worker. Without that, these things wouldn’t happen.”
Throughout her time at SAC, West has been interested in developing ways to detect seizures with hard-to-detect symptoms. West recently proposed a detection technique which uses both eye tracking sensors and wearable devices like smart watches or fitness trackers.
That research led her to author a paper entitled “Ubiquitous Multimodal Seizure Management Using Emerging Consumer Technologies,” published in IEEE Xplore, the journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). IEEE is a global professional organization with more than 409,000 engineers, scientists and allied professionals.
While she enjoys researching and solving problems, she credits Griffith with guiding her through the publishing process. Griffith, who also conducts research on using eye-tracking technology for health assessments, is one of three co-authors of West’s paper.
Once published, West set her sights on another goal: to present her research at a conference. She figured it was a long shot, but decided to submit a proposal to present at the International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE) Asia, a conference organized by IEEE.
“I totally freaked out when I got the acceptance email,” she said. “This was not presenting to other sophomores at community college. It’s people in engineering with PhDs.”
She created a PowerPoint presentation on her research and presented it live online to IEEE members worldwide, followed by a question-and-answer session. She describes the experience as both terrifying and amazing.
West won another opportunity she felt was equally unlikely: she landed a spot in the Google Computer Science Research Mentorship Program (CSRMP), which teams students with a Google research engineer for four months of mentoring and professional development.
West was placed in a group of four students including a sophomore from Harvard, a senior from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. student from the University of Toronto.
“It’s incredibly rare for community college students to win a spot in the program,” Griffith said. “These are students from top-notch universities on a global scale.”
West was the first in her group to publish research, followed later in the semester by the PhD student.
She completed the mentorship in December. In addition to learning new perspectives on computer science research and careers at Google, West gained what she says is her most important takeaway: that she belonged there.
“I saw that I am neck and neck, and sometimes ahead, of people going to these prestigious colleges and that I am able to hang with them,” she said. “You don’t need that Ivy League price tag to do things.”
West will transfer to UTSA to complete a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering after graduating from SAC this spring, then plans to pursue a doctorate and a career in medical diagnostics.
“I want to use technology to take artistry and guesswork out of diagnostics and make it more accessible to everyone no matter what doctor they get,” she said.
A non-traditional student, West enrolled at SAC at age 30 as the parent of two children, now ages 4 and 9. When the COVID-19 pandemic shifted classes online, West was able to attend classes remotely. Once she began her studies, she pursued them with a passion.
“It’s just what I do with everything having to do with school and my future,” she said.