Kevin Womack has always had an affinity for mathematics and computers.
Growing up, he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. The Tampa, Florida, native cites his mother, a civil engineer, and his father, a computer scientist, as big influences. “They would push me, which I needed, and help me to be better when the going got tough,” Womack said.
After graduating from Morehouse College with a double major in computer science and mathematics, Womack participated in a summer internship at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) through the GEM Fellowship Program.
Under the guidance of John Goodall, Ph.D., leader of the Situation Awareness and Visual Analytics Team within the Cyber and Information Security Research Group, Womack collaborated with fellow GEM intern Cody Butler. Their research project dealt with packets, units of data used to transmit information through the internet. Womack and Butler sought to figure out how to process and visualize this data so that cybersecurity analysts can derive insights from it.
“I’m happy I came here (to ORNL) because from the day I stepped foot on campus, I could tell that I was highly encouraged and supported to pursue graduate study and get my Ph.D. There’s so much support here for students, and I haven’t felt this before in my other internships.”
Womack’s role in the project involved building graphical displays showing trends in the internet data. Such visualization techniques have the potential to help cybersecurity specialists in their efforts to detect anomalies on the internet.
Through his mentor Goodall, Womack learned an important lesson when it comes to visualization: “If the person looking at your graphs can’t easily understand what you’re trying to depict, you’re probably doing it wrong.” Specifically, Womack gained valuable experience in React, a tool for building web apps, and D3, a tool for building visuals on a web page.
“Here at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, I am being exposed to research on a level that I couldn’t have imagined,” Womack said. “Truly an amazing experience.”
Following his internship, Womack will attend Columbia University in New York City to pursue his master’s degree in data science. From there, he hopes to stay in the research field and one day earn his doctoral degree.
“I’m happy I came here (to ORNL) because from the day I stepped foot on campus, I could tell that I was highly encouraged and supported to pursue graduate study and get my Ph.D.,” Womack said. “There’s so much support here for students, and I haven’t felt this before in my other internships.”
The GEM Fellowship Program is a partnership between the National GEM Consortium and ORNL. The National GEM Consortium is a network of leading corporations, research institutions and universities that enables qualified students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate education in STEM fields. The program at ORNL is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.