Bryant Hornick spotlight

Starting Early

photo:: bryant hornick

Bryant Hornick

Traditionally, undergraduate education has taken place in the classroom, while research has been for graduate students and faculty.

Not at UC Irvine.

Third year Informatics major Bryant Hornick is one of the more than one-third of UCI undergraduates who do research work with faculty.

“I started doing undergraduate research under professor Bill Tomlinson the end of winter quarter my freshman year, so I guess that means I've been doing research for almost two years now,” Hornick said.

UC Irvine's Summer Undergraduate Research Program provided Hornick an opportunity to do full time research during the summer between his freshman and sophomore year. Between his sophomore and junior year, he did full time research as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Information Technology fellow.

Among the projects he has had the opportunity to work on include the EcoRaft Project, an interactive educational installation that teaches children and adults about restoration ecology.

“I didn't have much experience at this point, but I worked on the project as a designer, programmer, and evaluator,” Hornick said. “One of my responsibilities was to figure out how we could test whether or not participants are actually learning anything about restoration ecology while interacting with the exhibit. It was not an easy task, but in the end the evaluations were a success.”

His work on EcoRaft allowed Hornick to attend SIGGRAPH, the definitive conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques. The group ran on very little sleep and had to commute to and from Los Angeles during the conference, but it was all worth it.

“We demo'd our project to over a thousand people over the course of a week, including George Lucas,” Hornick said. “I met some amazing people and saw the technology of tomorrow coming out of companies and universities all over the world.”

Another project he worked on was called Dreams, an interactive program that uses dreams as a metaphor for visualizing the processes behind adaptive user interfaces.

“I worked on this project both from the design level and the programming level, coding up the cinematography system and some of the behind-the-scenes memory management stuff,” Hornick said.

The paper he co-authored with his research group was recently accepted into CHI, a conference on human-computer interaction, making him an officially published author, which he finds pretty exciting.

“Overall I would say that I've learned more out of my experience as an undergraduate researcher than I have in any of my classes,” Hornick said. “It's one of the best things you can do as an undergraduate.”

ACADEMIC TRAILBLAZER

Hornick, a Corona native, isn’t just on the cutting edge of HCI research, he is also on the bleeding edge of computer science education as a member of the inaugural Informatics class.

Check out our spotlight page to read more profiles of Bren School students, faculty and alumni.

“I started programming when I was a sophomore in high school, so I knew I wanted to go into computer science,” Hornick said. “It wasn't until I heard about the Informatics program through the orientation lectures that I thought I could do something computer-related without focusing on the programming-aspect of things.”

The Informatics major covers the design, implementation, use and impact of information technology. Compared to traditional computer science, which primarily focuses on the internal features of computer systems, Informatics is also concerned with computer systems and their surrounding context -- the people and organizations that use them and the problems they need to solve.

“I enjoy programming, but it's certainly not what I want to do as a career,” Hornick said. “Informatics offered a path to do something different and something more people-oriented. That's really what sold me. It's a people-oriented major.”

Though he is filled with a sense of pride and excitement, there are also some uncertainties that which can make being on the cutting edge of education a tad bit interesting.

“Many of the Informatics courses are being taught for the first time when I take them,” Hornick said. “Some can be a little rough around the edges in terms of content. But that's only because we're apart of something brand new and there is no reference out there as to how these classes should be taught.”

Since it is a comparatively small major, it is also imperative that students come up with and stick to a four-year plan as most of the Informatics-specific classes are only offered once a year.

“From my experience, Informatics is not that friendly to those pursuing a double major, or even a minor,” Hornick said. “Hopefully, though, this will change if more people start signing up.”

Despite a few rough edges, Hornick heartily recommends Informatics to prospective students who feel it is the right major for them and are not enamored with programming or the hardware aspect of computers.   

“It's exciting!” Hornick said. “I really feel like this major is cutting edge, and that I'm learning skills that not many traditional computer science students are.”

Computer science is constantly changing and Hornick credits the Informatics program for teaching him the skills to adapt to a constantly changing field.

“I never took a class on C++ or Python, but classes like ICS 141 and Informatics 142 have given me the skills to learn any language with relative ease,” Hornick said. “The Bren School has given me a very strong foundation for me to build on, and both the classes I have taken and the research I have done have given me the skill set to take on the challenging problems that will face me after college.”

ENJOYING DOWN TIME

Even with a busy schedule of class and research, Hornick still finds time to enjoy the social aspect of college life like going to the movies with friends, listening to music, or reading a good book.   

He also attends the Video Game Development Club meetings and tries to take a class at the ARC every quarter.

“I recently took African dance, which was pretty interesting,” Hornick said. “My mom is a huge volleyball nut, so you might catch me and her attending some of UCI's home games from time to time.”

With graduation less than a year away, Hornick hopes to attend graduate school for his Masters before entering the video game industry, either from the design side or the production side.

- Eric Kowalik