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Sources: Tim Weninger, 785-532-6350, weninger@k-state.edu;
William Hsu, 785-532-7905, bhsu@k-state.edu;
and Jim Hohenbary, 785-532-6904, jimlth@k-state.edu
Pronouncer: Hsu is shoe
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415, khodges2@k-state.edu

Thursday, April 9, 2009

K-STATE RESEARCHER RECEIVES NATIONAL DEFENSE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING GRADUATE FELLOWSHIP, USES COMPUTER PROGRAMS TO MAKE SENSE OF INFORMATION OVERLOAD

MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University researcher from Hutchinson has received a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship to pursue his doctoral studies in computer science.

Tim WeningerTim Weninger, research associate in computer science at K-State, has received the 2009 fellowship. The award pays for tuition and fees and an average annual stipend of $31,000 for doctoral studies.

"The National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship is extremely generous and highly selective," said Jim Hohenbary, K-State assistant dean for nationally competitive scholarships. "I think this selection is indicative of the fact that Tim has built a truly outstanding record of both undergraduate and graduate research experience during his time at K-State."

The fellowship is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research in cooperation with the American Society for Engineering Education. The three-year graduate fellowship has been awarded to just more than 3,000 people throughout the 20 years of the competition's history; it is meant to increase the number and quality of U.S. scientists and engineers trained in disciplines of military importance. Fellows are selected based on demonstrated ability and special aptitude for advanced training in science and engineering.

Weninger currently works as a full-time research associate in K-State's Laboratory for Knowledge Discovery in Databases under the direction of William Hsu, associate professor of computer and information sciences. His current research focuses on using and developing computer programs that make sense of unstructured textual data.

"We have all this information on the Internet that people freely create and distribute," Weninger said. "Typically, this information is in the form of newspaper articles, blog entries, Twitter messages and Facebook updates.

"This is especially occurring now that anyone with a phone or an Internet connection can contribute to this wealth of knowledge. When all these sources are looked at independently, we can lose track of important trends and fail to see important information," Weninger said.

Weninger gave the example of Facebook news feeds. He said Facebook doesn't post messages about trends like, "It seems like 14 of your friends went to see Harry Potter this weekend." Instead, Facebook posts individual news feeds specific to each person like, "I loved Harry Potter," "Just got back from Harry Potter" and "My girlfriend took me to see Harry Potter."

He said he has previously found that most of this unstructured data is interrelated. His research goal is to bring order to the information overload.

"People generally write how they speak, that is, in free form text," Weninger said. "People don't say, 'Movies: Harry Potter, Matrix.' They say, 'I like Harry Potter and really hated the Matrix.' My goal is to make sense of it all and sort through it to find interesting nuggets of information."

He said one application of his research is used to look for disease outbreaks in foreign countries.

"I want my techniques to be widely accessible and implemented," Weninger said. "The ultimate goal is to be able to manage and examine the extremely large amounts of data currently being generated."

Weninger's current research is funded through the National Ag and Biosecurity Center at K-State under a U.S. Department of Defense grant. He has presented past research at several conferences, including the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, International Conference on Database and Expert Systems Applications and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's Spring Symposium. He will use the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Illinois.

"Tim has done some really great work with the lab group over the last four years that we've worked together," Hsu said. "We have a continuing collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so it is very gratifying to see him continue to help that project grow."

Professionally, Weninger said he would like to stay involved in academics, potentially as a faculty member at a research university. He also would like to run for a local public office.

Weninger completed his bachelor's degree in information systems at K-State in May 2007 and his master's degree in computer science at K-State in December 2008. At K-State, Weninger was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, the K-State Engineering Student Council and the Association of Computing Machinery. He also has been involved with the K-State Student Governing Association as the director of technology, the faculty senate representative and a senator. In addition, he has been a graduate teaching assistant in computing and information sciences.

A 2003 graduate of Trinity Catholic High School, Weninger is the son of Ralph and Beth Weninger, Hutchinson. He is married to Jordan Weninger, also of Hutchinson, who is a December 2008 K-State graduate in music education.