Penn State team uses AI to find shortest path to graduation

October 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of seven Penn State undergraduates were awarded $30,000 in September from the Nittany AI Alliance to further develop LionPlanner, an application that is designed to provide a solution to many undergraduate woes: finding the shortest path to graduation.

Christina Warren from the College of Arts and Architecture; and Michael Roos, Benjamin Proto, Thanh Tran, Quinn Verbeke, Mathew Mancini, Dylan Shoemaker, and faculty adviser Wang-Chien Lee from the College of Engineering, developed LionPlanner as part of the 2018  Nittany AI Challenge.

The team members said they used machine learning and a natural language-processing technique called "term frequency-inverse document frequency," or TFIDF, and other more traditional algorithms to identify courses for students based on their interests. In use of artificial intelligence, TFIDF is a numerical statistic that is intended to reflect how important a word is due to its repetition in a collection of documents. LionPlanner will export results that could assist advisers through the next steps of academic planning for a student, and encourage students to plan ahead to ensure they are meeting degree requirements.

The team members talked about how they had each experienced the complicated and tedious process of academic planning, explaining that, currently, there isn’t a really good or easy way to plan more than one semester at a time. Using TFIDF, LionPlanner helps students plan their entire experience at Penn State, allowing deeper insights when they meet with their advisers. With LionPlanner results in hand, advisers will have more time to help students learn about opportunities at Penn State to develop an academic plan that works best for their individual circumstances.

Brad Zdenek, innovation strategist for the Nittany AI Alliance, worked closely with teams during the eight-month challenge.

“The LionPlanner team perfectly represents the innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit of Penn State students,” Zdenek said.

Daren Coudriet, director of the Nittany AI Alliance, commented on the teams’ successes.

“We are proud to have played a part in launching a few of those transformational ideas and excited to continue working with our teams as they leverage additional programs to advance their solutions through Happy Valley LaunchBox, Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator and with PennTAP through the Inc.U competition, ‘The Investment.’

Tracey Huston, vice president for Penn State Outreach and member of both the award and review committees, said that along with their pitch, finalists also were chosen based on the following criteria:

  • Advancement of their product during the three phases of the NAIC
  • A diverse and widespread student representation
  • Product criteria requirements
  • Demonstrated use of AI in their product to solve a problem, advance a solution and/or improve a current service

“LionPlanner was selected to receive the most funding due to the widespread and immediate impact that the product can make on the student experience and its potential to create efficiencies that would enable advisers to utilize their time with more students to focus on strategic conversations,” Huston said. “The pitch and product generated enthusiastic support among the reviewers and judges for these reasons.”

Two other NAIC finalist teams, Aspire and ProFound, were each awarded $10,000 to continue development of their solutions.

The next Nittany AI Challenge will begin in January 2019. An ideation session will be held during Global Entrepreneurship Week at Penn State, Nov. 7-15, 2018.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 11, 2018