Renzhi Cao innovates in the classroom
By Lisa Patterson ’98
If you search for the CV of Assistant Professor of Computer Science Renzhi Cao, Ph.D., you’ll find a list of published research papers longer than Foss Field. He says it’s a great feeling when a new piece of research is published. But what he finds most rewarding is bringing his students alongside and sharing with them the value of hard work, hands-on learning and timely scholarship.
“One of my goals at PLU is to promote early engagement of undergraduate students – especially for women and underrepresented students – in machine learning, bioinformatics, and the data science field,” he says. “I want to inspire students to pursue advanced STEM education and research careers.”
Cao explains: “Not only is research interesting for the students, I think it’s truly an important part of their education in computer science. I liken it to the Chinese proverb, from Confucius’ disciple Xunzi, that says ‘I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand.’”
Cao says learning is a two-way street. He gains knowledge from his students as well.
“It is also important for me to work with students from different backgrounds, as I am always surprised by students’ new ideas on the research problem, and I can always learn something new from them,” he says. He quotes another favorite saying: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Doing research is kind of like “playing a treasure hunting game,” he says. “Everyone knows that it is more fun with more eyes and minds working together.”
Right now, he’s particularly jazzed about a research project on protein structure prediction using electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) data with a group of PLU undergrads, two master’s students from China, two high school students from Seattle, and two collaborators from the University of Washington Bothell and Saint Louis University.