The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI College of Engineering chatbot streamlining student services

DINA has aided electrical and computer engineering students and advisors as they schedule classes.
Sahithi Shankaiahgari
Er-wei Bai and Tyler Bell, professors of The College of Engineering at University of Iowa, demonstrate DINA, an artificial intelligence advisor, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. DINA is a departmental intelligent neutral advisor created to guide electrical and computer engineering students in information related to undergraduate programs offered at the university.

Since the launch of the University of Iowa’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering artificial intelligence chatbot DINA, answering student advising questions has been easier than ever, according to students and faculty.

UI engineering professor Tyler Bell created the chatbot as an example of what students can do with artificial intelligence. UI professor Er-Wei Bai caught wind of Bell’s program and wanted to turn the chatbot into something students could use. The two decided to explore the idea of an academic advising assistant.

The program has undergone edits over the past few months. Bell said he and a few students have sorted out bugs they’ve found along the way, and now the chat features an audio introduction that explains what DINA does. The bot still operates on ChatGPT, but Bell said it is only fed information on the engineering department website.

Ryan Puhrmann, the director of engineering admissions and outreach, said DINA significantly reduced the time it took him to answer prospective students’ questions about the engineering department, the different class options, and who was researching specific areas of study.

Rather than having to memorize as much information on the engineering department website as he can or taking the time to comb through the website for answers, he can now just type the question into the chat and get an answer in seconds.

He said DINA also provides information he never would have known, which he encountered when he was answering a student’s question about who is researching nanotechnology.

“Now, with a student on a call, I pull up this new tool created within the department we’re talking about, and their interest is already piqued,” Puhrmann said. “They’re really curious about the tool.”

Bai said he has also used the chatbot when answering student and parent questions at events held for students interested in applying for the College of Engineering. He encourages parents and students to direct their questions to DINA as a way to demonstrate the technology.

“They are amazed DINA can answer all these kinds of questions,” Bai said.

UI fourth-year student Luke Farmer was in Bell’s class when he originally created DINA. Farmer said in his last semester, DINA was useful in helping him find classes and the requirements he needed to meet to graduate.

“I asked a lot of the questions that I had to do deep dives to figure it out,” Farmer said. “Looking back, I would have definitely used it as an undergrad when I was younger.”

As a first-generation college student, Farmer said a resource like DINA would have been very beneficial in answering questions about college he couldn’t ask his parents.

“It would really help to answer a lot of those questions where maybe you don’t want to go to your advisor and ask a stupid question like, ‘What is a gen ed?’” he said.

Now that they’ve seen the benefits, Bai and Bell think DINA is a resource that should be welcomed by other departments or colleges at the UI. The two are also working with a team at UI Health Care to take the structure of DINA and repurpose it for the UIHC atrial fibrillation website.

Bell has also presented to the entire UI IT department since they expressed interest in what the engineering department has done with this AI technology.

“We want to be the example,” Bell said. “We built this advising chatbot, you can plug it into your own data, and now you have a chatbot.”

Bai said the University of Michigan already offers all its students a tool similar to DINA, and the UI should look to follow suit.

“This is our push to have DINA be seen,” Bai said. “In our view, the university should develop this kind of thing, so it’s not each department’s efforts. If they need help, we are here because eventually, every university will have something like that, so the University of Iowa should not wait.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Grace Olson
Grace Olson, News Reporter
Grace Olson is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. She's a news reporter for The DI, reporting primarily on local government. She is from Denver, Colorado and worked on the pirnt publication from her high school prior to her work in college.