Student coders join a team working to model the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Vermont.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the need for comprehensive data and up-to-date statistics is clear. Jason Bates, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Biomedical Engineering and in the Department of Medicine, facilitated a project involving a student coder and a team working to model the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Vermont.

The CatCoders program allows students to lend their skills to real ventures and issues. Christian Skalka, the Chair of the Department of Computer Science and one of the faculty leads on CatCoders, touts the benefits of the program.

“CatCoders connects UVM Computer Science students with stakeholders in the broader research and business community— at UVM, in Burlington, and beyond,” Skalka explained. “It provides students with paid opportunities to gain experience with real-world projects. It provides stakeholders with opportunities to engage talented students with unique and valuable skills in CS methods and applications.” Computer Science professors take active roles in the program. Radhakrishna Dasari developed the CatCoders interface and Jason Hibbeler manages the program ongoing.

Connecting the Dots

In a position to support COVID-19 efforts by responding to technology needs such as 3D printing, coding, and computational modeling, and ready to help the community during a crisis, the CatCoders program helps to direct student skills to much-needed projects. In this case, the surveying of research databases to gage current COVID-19 statistics to aid in the creation of a computational model that will help predict how many tests and ventilators will be needed, particularly in Vermont. Jason Bates, who established this particular CatCoders project, found a fit for the job with Jayce Slesar (‘22), a junior data science major.

“Jayce Slesar contacted me about doing more research with me a few weeks ago. He had worked in the lab over a couple of summers, including when at high school, so I knew him well as a bright kid and a diligent worker. I had been starting to work on COVID-related projects, one being the modeling of COVID-19 disease spread in Vermont in order to try to predict what the challenge to healthcare resources might be. I was working with John Hanley, PhD (staff scientist doing computational modeling in infectious disease for the TGIR-COBRE Program run by Beth Kirkpatrick, MD, in LCOM) and Vitor Mori, PhD (a recently arrived post-doc from Brazil working with me and my colleague Matt Kinsey, MD). I figured that Jayce could help them do web research for their models, and they have been working together since. I had to essentially take a bystander role in the modeling project myself because I became consumed by another project to build an emergency ventilator (the "Vermontilator"). The one thing I will remember about this time above everything else is how everyone has come together in such a collaborative way to contribute their energies to help with the crisis.”

Building Skills AND Helping Others

Slesar shed some light on his work, as well as his enthusiasm for lending his skills to help others.

“What I work on is automating the retrieval of stats based on the spread of the virus by filtering and mining scholarly articles produced daily and around the world. The data I pull from those then gets used in models to predict how the virus will behave in Vermont. It is super cool work and I got to see Jason on the news the other night as he is working with others on the emergency ventilator up there. It is an amazing opportunity to be apart of and I feel a lot better knowing the code I write goes into helping people and solving a problem rather than expand a business.”

Jayce Slesar, as well as Jason Bates and his colleagues, have joined the ranks of those turning their passions towards helping their communities during the coronavirus outbreak.


Audrey Wilbur
Computer Science Faculty
Chris Skalka, Lisa Dion, Jackie Horton, and Radhakrishna Dasari of UVM's Computer Science Department at the annual CS Fair, which celebrates student work.