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Opportunity in any language

November 30, 2022

No matter what language you use, student research is a huge opportunity.

Jackson Ruedebusch has always been interested in linguistics and computers. Through Dakota State’s Student Mentored Research Initiative (SRI), he’s been able to blend those into an undergraduate research project.

He fostered his interest in computers during high school by attending DSU’s GenCyber camps every year he was eligible. Once enrolled at Dakota State University, his interest in language caught up with him in a language processing class. He took advantage of an honors project requirement through the General Beadle Honors Program to study something related to that topic.

Because the Lakota language is local, “I started looking and could find nothing on the Lakota language being used,” he said, so he decided to create a linguistic research project that could help preserve the language. He applied for and received an SRI grant for this natural language processing project.

A machine learning project, “it would be a translator, like a Duolingo or Rosetta Stone,” explained the Cyber Operations major from Colton, S.D.

Ruedebusch will create a model, and will feed it data on both English and Lakota. When it learns the translations, a user will be able to input English into the model and it will give an output in the Native language. This would be something they will do with text initially, and in the future could be done with audible translations.

As with all machine learning projects, “the hardest part is finding the data to start the process,” said his mentor, Dr. Austin O’Brien. There are some written texts, Ruedebusch said, with Lakota and English parallels, and they have reached out to the Lakota Language Consortium.

Despite this challenge, he hopes the project will create some groundwork for people to work with in the future.

It will create a strong foundation for Ruedebusch’s future as he looks to the job market after he graduates in May 2023.

“Collecting data, training a model, analyzing output, that’s something that anyone doing machine learning or artificial intelligence needs to do,” said O’Brien, “so going through the research process and learning all the bumps you run into is a huge advantage for students.”

It’s also impressive that the university will give students these grants, which include a small stipend for expenses. This is appreciated because data is not free and computational processing is expensive.

“Giving undergraduates a chance to do something typically thought of as a master’s level project prepares them to do something at that level,” O’Brien stated. “It is really nice that DSU supports that.”

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