College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

James Rodgers gets inspired by research

James Rodgers

James Rodgers, a junior studying software engineering, spent his 2023 summer as an IINSPIRE-LSAMP undergraduate mentee. IINSPIRE-LSAMP, or the Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, is a Midwest STEM partnership for innovation in research and education and focuses on increasing the number of STEM bachelor’s and graduate degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

James Rodgers presenting his research from INSPIRE-LSAMP.

Rodgers said attending a four-year institution was never part of his original plan, when he began a two-year program at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) studying computer information systems. Rodgers transferred to Iowa State this fall.

“I joined the [LSAMP] program partly because I feel it is critical to get intern experience every summer,” Rodgers said. “And the opportunity to do research at Iowa State was something I wanted to work on once I knew I’d be transferring, especially because my interest is in machine learning and AI, and there are so many resources at Iowa State.”

Rodgers is currently working on using machine learning to predict the angle of view between two images of the same object, taken from different angles. Rodgers said this is part of a larger project involving protein sequencing.

“The program itself gave a lot of support and perspective on research, how to do research, ethics and things like that on what it’s like to be a part of the research community, which was helpful. And then the research itself was interesting because it just takes a while to get acclimated. You know, you’re joining the team. There’s a lot to learn to pick up on,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers is currently working under Anwesha Sarkar, a Harpole-Pentair Assistant Professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering and Rodgers’ co-mentor for IINSPIRE-LSAMP. Sarkar began working at Iowa State in 2020, with a goal to get involved mentoring with WiSE (Program for Women in Science and Engineering) and IINSPIRE-LSAMP.

Sarkar also runs an experimental lab, where Rodgers worked on the computational aspects of predicting the three dimensional aspects of protein complexes. “I certainly didn’t think that coming right from DMACC that I would be able to do research in such an awesome lab, it’s an extremely valuable opportunity,” Rodgers said. “The things I’m learning in there are not things that I can just learn in class. They’re so much more practical, and quite frankly, they give you more confidence about being able to work with the tools through learning, which is very useful and amazing. I would say everyone who can do research should do research at least a little bit.”

Sarkar said she is happy that collaborations like these are strengthening inter-college relations, such as those between DMACC and Iowa State.

“I enjoyed this process of mentoring thoroughly, and I expect to mentor many more students,” Sarkar said. “If they stick around, if they are transferring to ISU, that’s good for the university they are coming from, and good for us definitely.”