12 New Faculty Add to Expertise in Research and Education at Illinois Computer Science

9/14/2022 Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Six new faculty members joined for the Fall semester 2022, while one more will start in January 2023 and five more in August 2023.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Twelve new faculty have joined the ranks of Illinois Computer Science’s talented researchers and educators, with six joining the department in August, one more joining in January 2023, and five more beginning their positions in August 2023.

The new arrivals add wide-ranging areas of expertise – from cryptography to quantum to computers and education – furthering the department’s incredible depth and breadth in CS research and education.

Since January 2020, Illinois CS has welcomed the arrival of 40 new faculty, including the 12 announced this fall.

Assistant Professor Ramnatthan Alagappan

Ramnatthan Alagappan
Ramnatthan Alagappan

Coming to Illinois CS in August 2022, after serving as a postdoctoral researcher at VMware Research Group, Ramnatthan (Ram) Alagappan is a computer systems researcher who focuses on building systems that offer improved reliability and deliver high performance. Alagappan combines expertise from operating systems, storage, and distributed computing to design new reliability measures and exploit performance opportunities in these systems.

He earned his PhD at the University Wisconsin – Madison, working on reliability and performance problems at the storage interface in distributed systems. Alagappan’s research has had both academic and industrial impact. His work has been published at premier systems venues (SOSP, OSDI, FAST, EuroSys, and ATC), invited to journals (CACM and TOS), and has won three best-paper awards. He has developed tools that have had a practical impact, including exposing more than 80 severe bugs in 20 widely used systems. Additionally, the CTRL protocol introduced in one of his papers has been adopted by a commercial database to make it robust to storage failures.

At Illinois CS, Alagappan will be starting and co-leading the Distributed and Storage Systems Lab. His research at Illinois will (i) explore ways to build next-generation storage systems in disaggregated data centers, (ii) rethink distributed protocols with storage in mind, and (iii) apply ML advances to systems. Ram enjoys teaching and will be teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in storage systems, OS, and distributed systems.

Assistant Professor Katie Cunningham

Headshot of Illinois CS professor Katie Cunningham, pictured in an outdoor setting.
Katie Cunningham

Kathryn “Katie” Cunningham, who joined Illinois CS in August 2022, studies the way novices learn to program and invents new methods for teaching computing. Using human-centered computing methods in the context of computer science education, her research improves learners’ motivation and cognition while learning programming, with a long-term goal of broadening pathways to computing education.

Cunningham’s current focus is on understanding and supporting novice learners with diverse goals, and developing new software-supported scaffolding that allows learners to focus on code’s purpose. She earned her PhD in Information from the University of Michigan. Most recently, Cunningham was a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University. 

Assistant Professor Aishwarya Ganesan

Aishwarya Ganesan
Aishwarya Ganesan

Coming to Illinois CS as an Assistant Professor this August, Aishwarya Ganesan is broadly interested in distributed systems, OS, and storage. Her research addresses the fundamental tradeoff between consistency and performance in distributed storage systems. In addition, Ganesan’s work on distributed storage reliability has exposed many severe bugs in popular systems. Her work has appeared in top systems venues such as OSDI, SOSP, and FAST. Her work has also garnered many accolades, including two best-paper awards (at FAST 20 and FAST 18). Additionally, Ganesan was a recipient of the Facebook 2019 PhD Fellowship and was selected for the MIT Rising Stars in EECS workshop.

Previously, Ganesan was a postdoctoral researcher at VMware Research Group. She earned her PhD in Computer Sciences from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, working with Andrea Arpaci-Dusseau and Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau.

At Illinois CS, Ganesan will co-direct the Distributed and Storage Systems Laboratory, where she will continue her research in systems. Her work will focus on rethinking systems for emerging hardware, building new distributed protocols for modern environments, and leveraging ML to improve system performance.

Ganesan deeply cares about teaching and will teach a new course on ML for systems. For her prior teaching efforts, Ganesan received the graduate-student instructor award at UW Madison.

Assistant Professor David Heath

David Heath
David Heath

Coming to Illinois CS as an Assistant Professor in August 2022, David Heath is a cryptographer and recent PhD recipient from Georgia Tech. His research focuses on Secure Multiparty Computation (MPC). Done in collaboration with his thesis advisor, Vlad Kolesnikov, and others - Heath has improved two important areas of cryptography:

  • Two Party Computation. Garbled Circuits (GC) is a foundational technique in MPC that allows two parties to securely compute arbitrary functions of their inputs with revealing nothing but the output. Heath has had the privilege of finding several new GC techniques.
  • Practical Zero Knowledge. Together with his collaborators, Heath made important advances in the field of Zero Knowledge (ZK) Proofs. In particular, his research shows it is possible to run ZK proofs of very large proofs quite efficiently.

At Illinois CS, Heath will continue his work on MPC and ZK, searching for opportunities where his recent research can be improved and applied. Heath is actively seeking research advisees, who can contact him via email.

Teaching Assistant Professor Ruby Tahboub

Headshot of Illinois CS professor Ruby Tahboub.
Ruby Tahboub

Joining Illinois CS in August 2022, Ruby Tahboub was most recently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department at Purdue University. She earned her PhD from Purdue University in 2019, and her research work unites data management and generative programming to compile query code at runtime efficiently.

Tahboub is looking for opportunities to grow her research into Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Science Education that can benefit from profound ideas and best practices learned from programming languages and data management. In addition, she is passionate about teaching and making the learning process more effective. Tahboub aims to help students construct the link between abstract concepts and practice while minimizing the cognitive load. To that end, she incorporates visualization and storytelling in her teaching materials. She received Purdue’s prestigious Raymond Boyce Graduate Teacher Award for her excellence in teaching.

Teaching Associate Professor Luther Tychonievich

Luther Tychonievich
Luther Tychonievich

Luther Tychonievich joined Illinois CS in August 2022 from the University of Virginia, where he was an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department. His primary academic activity is education: education of students, teaching assistants, faculty, and computer science educators at every level.

Tychonievich’s research has three main thrusts:

  • Pedagogical practices and course designs that attract more diverse students into computing. As part of this, he helped lead course and curriculum redesign efforts at UVA that made the program more inclusive, doubling the number of females in their CS majors and removing almost all demographic differences in student outcomes.
  • Disseminating inclusive teaching practices for computing topics to other educators. He has run more than thirty three-day workshops for K-12 computing educators who subsequently added thousands of new students from populations traditionally under-represented in computing to their computing courses and has published best practices for such workshops. He’s also developed TA training materials that have been used by several institutions, including as part of course assistant training at Illinois.
  • Data models for facilitating large-scale cooperative family history research and associated data standards. He chairs the Family History Information Standards Organisation and is the managing editor of the GEDCOM standard, the file format used by all major family history and genealogical software tools.

Tychonievich was the 2017 recipient of the Harold S. Morton Jr Award for Teaching and the 2015 and 2019 UVA ACM student chapter's Professor of the Year award winner. He served as the chair of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and a member of the Diversty, Ops, Advisory, and both BA CS and BS CS program committees at the University of Virginia. Tychonievich was also on the steering committee of the Center for Innovation in Computing Education and Outreach at UVA. He was instrumental in revising UVA's policies for non-tenure-track faculty and was one of the first teaching faculty to be promoted to Associate Professor under the new policies thus created. Externally, he is the chair of the board for FHISO, a managing editor on the GEDCOM steering committee, and the technical lead for FHMWG; he also serves as a Broadening Participation in Computing consultant for BPCnet.org and is on the program committee for various conferences in CS education.

He earned a PhD degree in computer science from the University of Virginia. At Illinois CS, he will begin by teaching courses in computer graphics and heading the data subcommittee of the BPC committee. He also retains all of his external se

rvice roles and looks forward to continuing to train educators in inclusive teaching.

Research Assistant Professor Sarah Sterman

Sarah Sterman
Sarah Sterman

Sarah Sterman will join Illinois CS in January 2023 after earning her PhD in Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. There, she worked in human computer interaction with Eric Paulos in the Hybrid Ecologies Lab and was a member of the Berkeley Center for New Media and the Berkeley Institute of Design.

Her research spans themes from human-computer interaction, creativity support tools, haptics, and new media. Sterman seeks to understand the creative process and build novel tools to enhance creative work across computational domains. She combines computer science, design, and the humanities to expand the communities, values, and ways of working that our software tools support.

At Illinois CS, she will begin the Process, Interaction, and Creativity Lab to study and improve creative workflows in making, education, and other domains.

Assistant Professor Daniel Kang

Daniel Kang
Daniel Kang

Joining Illinois CS as an Assistant Professor in August 2023, Daniel Kang is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calfiornia, Berkeley in the Sky lab working with Ion Stoica. His research focuses on making analytics with machine learning (ML) easy for scientists and analysts to use. For his dissertation, Kang worked a particular emphasis on video analytics and data systems for deploying ML.

His research has been supported by Google, the Open Philanthropy project, and others. At Illinois CS, Kang is actively recruiting PhD students for fall 2023. Those interested can connect with him via email.


Assistant Professor Yunzhu Li

Yunzhu Li
Yunzhu Li

Beginning at Illinois CS in August 2023, Yunzhu Li is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at Stanford Vision and Learning Lab (SVL), working with professors Fei-Fei Li and Jiajun Wu. He received his PhD from MIT, advised by professors Antonio Torralba and Russ Tedrake, and his BS in Computer Science from Peking University.

Li’s research interests lie in computer vision, machine learning, and robotics. In particular, he is interested in enabling robots and embodied agents to better perceive and interact with the world via learning-based dynamics modeling and multi-modal perception.

Li received the Adobe Research Fellowship and was selected as the First Place Recipient of the Ernst A. Guillemin Master’s Thesis Award in Artificial Intelligence and Decision Making at MIT. His research has been published in top journals and conferences, including Nature, NeurIPS, CVPR, and CoRL, and featured by major media outlets, including CNN, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, and MIT Technology Review.

Assistant Professor Hao Peng

Hao Peng
Hao Peng

Hao Peng will begin at Illinois CS in August 2023 and is currently a Young Investigator at the Allen Institute for AI. He received his PhD from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, and his BS in computer science from Peking University. His research interests include natural language processing and machine learning.

Peng’s research has led to publications at top conferences and journals, some recognized with awards. He received fellowships from the Hopper-Dean Foundation and Google.



Assistant Professor Makrand Sinha

Makrand Sinha
Photo Credit: University of Illinois / Heather Coit
Makrand Sinha

Makrand Sinha will be joining Illinois CS in August 2023, and he is currently a Simons-Berkeley postdoctoral fellow at the Simons Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, he was a postdoctoral researcher in the Networks and Optimization group at CWI in Amsterdam.

Sinha’s research is in the area of theoretical computer science, and his primary research interests lie in the foundations of quantum and classical computation and optimization – specifically in understanding the relative power of quantum vs. classical algorithms and communication protocols, understanding limitations of various approaches in optimization such as Linear or Semidefinite Programs, and designing algorithms for various optimization problems.

He received his PhD in August 2018 from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle under the guidance of Anup Rao.

Assistant Professor Wenzhen Yuan

Wenzhen Yuan
Wenzhen Yuan

Joining Illinois CS in August 2023, Wenzhen Yuan is currently an Assistant Professor with Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to joining the faculty at CMU, Yuan was a Postdoctoral Researcher at Stanford University. She earned her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018.

Yuan’s research focuses on robotic tactile sensing, with an extended interest in robotic perception. Her goal is to build an intelligent robotic tactile perception system that helps the robot to better understand and interact with the physical world. Yuan works on designing frameworks for robots to touch the target objects in specific ways and interpreting the tactile signal from the contact. At the same time, she has been looking for ways for robots to interact with the world with the help of tactile sensing.

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This story was published September 14, 2022.