Machine Learning Club members celebrate the new club. (From left to right) treasurer Justin Tam, co-president Karthick Sivakumar, co-president Grant Armstrong, and secretary Danielle Picarello. (Photo courtesy of Grant Armstrong)

Machine learning club bridges academics and experience


Realizing there was a lack of data science and machine learning clubs at Lehigh, two students created their own space to fill the gap.

Co-presidents Karthick Sivakumar, ‘21, ‘23G, and Grant Armstrong, ‘21, ‘23G, collaborated throughout fall 2022 to create the Machine Learning Club.

Brian Davison, computer science and engineering department chair, said machine learning is the science of systems that learn to produce answers when given an example. 

Since their first meeting on Feb. 16, Armstrong said the Machine Learning Club has become a place where their group of more than 50 members learn about machine learning and gain practical experience.

Armstrong said the club welcomes people of all backgrounds and experience levels.

“We felt like having a machine learning club would really benefit not only people in our situation that have the background, but also people that don’t have the background and want to be exposed to it,” Armstrong said.

The club is made up of two main components: a project-driven aspect and a learning and networking aspect. 

At their weekly Thursday meetings, a graduate student mentor presents a machine learning topic, ranging from linear regression to convolutional neural networks. The mentors assist undergraduate students with questions, troubleshooting and their projects.

Davison said he supports any opportunity for interaction between students, especially graduates and undergraduates.

“These are really nice experiences for the students,” Davison said. “Having a club like this that’s encouraging other students to get involved and providing some camaraderie, I think that’s a great thing for them to be doing.”

He thinks undergraduate students do not fully understand how accessible graduate programs are and how opportunities like the mentorship of the Machine Learning Club can help them.

Armstrong said the club’s project-driven component allows members to pitch their personal machine learning projects to the group.

“It definitely fills in a gap between academia and practical experience,” club member FJ Olugbodi, ‘23, said. “If I learned something in class and I want to do something but I don’t necessarily know where to start, this (club) could help.”

Because the club is newly founded, there is only one project in the works: Armstrong is creating an intelligent game-playing agent with engineers and project managers. He hopes this project can revolutionize game AI, which he said is still primitive. 

Armstrong invites other members to pursue their own pitches through the club. Interested students can receive consulting from members like Olugbodi, who hopes to help younger students advance their knowledge.

“If this (club) had been here when I was a freshman, I think I would be a lot further in my knowledge and experience with machine learning,” Olugbodi said.

Club secretary Danielle Picarello, ‘22, ‘23G, said while their weekly turnout has been lower than the membership in the club’s GroupMe, the club has seen consistent participation and engagement.

With a handful of meetings under their belt, Armstrong said their goal is to cultivate more discussion in group gatherings. Sivakumar said they also hope to host professor speakers and networking events with Lehigh alumni in the machine learning field.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion during the end of the meetings,” Sivakumar said. “Everybody starts to ask questions, and then the more people ask questions, the more that people develop a deeper understanding.”

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