Five CS Graduate Students Welcomed into Siebel Scholars Family

9/23/2020 Laura Schmitt

CS graduate students Suneer Angra, Beleicia Bullock, Bhavana Jian, Haoyang Wen, and Andrew Yoo were selected as 2021 Siebel Scholars for their academic excellence and leadership potential.

Written by Laura Schmitt

Five accomplished Illinois Computer Science graduate students have been recognized for their academic achievements and leadership, joining the 2021 class of Siebel Scholars. Each student will receive $35,000 during his or her final year of study.

Each year, the Siebel Scholars program recognizes the most talented graduate students at the world’s most prestigious graduate schools of business, computer science, energy science, and bioengineering. Siebel Scholars are examining some of today’s most pressing problems and advancing on solutions. The principles underlying their efforts are social responsibility, entrepreneurship, and lifelong community.

The Siebel Scholars program is funded and run by the Thomas (BA History ’75, MBA ’83, MS CS ’85) and Stacey Siebel Foundation.

Meet the 2021 class of Siebel Scholars from Illinois CS.

Suneer Angra
Suneer Angra

An MS degree candidate, Suneer Angra is passionate about increasing motivation in and access to high-quality education for all students, including disadvantaged children in his home country of India. Working at the intersection of human-computer interaction, machine learning, and educational psychology, Angra is developing and visualizing learner models that will enhance instructors’ ability to teach adaptively and students’ ability to self-direct their learning.

Angra works with faculty members Jenny Amos (bioengineering) and Geoffrey Herman (CS) on an NSF-funded project, where he introduced digital tags to map the hierarchical structure of concepts and skills with a biomedical engineering course’s content and assessment materials. 

Analysis of tagged assessments and instructional materials allow for automated determination of student and class strengths, learning deficiencies, and their respective progressions over time. Interactive visualizations from this data can serve to make courses much more adaptable and motivating.

Before coming to Illinois, Angra developed and integrated technology into his classroom instruction as a Teach for India Fellow. He earned his Bachelor of Technology degree in computer science and was the class valedictorian at the National Institute of Technology in Kurukshetra, India. An ardent practitioner of yoga, he is also an internationally certified teacher for the same.

Beleicia Bullock
Beleicia Bullock

A member of professor Karrie Karahalios’ research group, Beleicia Bullock is exploring ways to leverage computer science education and human-computer interaction to develop preventive measures that protect marginalized communities from technological and algorithmic bias. 

Her current research efforts broadly revolve around two projects—CS ethics interventions and diversity in CS graduate programs. With funding from the Mozilla Foundation, Bullock is working with a team of faculty and students at a small liberal arts college to understand how students perceive and interact with ethical modules embedded into existing CS courses. 

For example, she developed a module on predictive policing algorithms for an intermediate algorithm course, which was later implemented to get student feedback on its content and clarity. In addition, she is exploring the effectiveness of case-based learning (CBL), which is a popular tool for teaching CS ethics. Her CBL findings may help CS departments develop more effective CS ethics courses. 

On the graduate student diversity front, Bullock and her research colleagues—bioengineering professor Karin Jensen and CS doctoral candidates Raul Platero and Vidushi Ojha—will conduct student interviews this fall to discover how graduate education stakeholders view expectations, success, and resources when navigating CS doctoral programs. The team’s findings can be used to improve advising and orientations on how to better support and sustain underrepresented groups in CS graduate education. The project was one of seven selected for funding through the IDEA Institute’s GIANT Program.

Bullock, who expects to earn her MS in May 2021, received an MS Engineering Full Fellowship from the National GEM Consortium. She earned her BA in computer science from Bowdoin College in May 2019.

Bhavana Jain
Bhavana Jain

Master’s degree candidate Bhavana Jain is conducting research in the area of autonomous navigation. This past summer, she worked as a machine learning intern at Nuro, a self-driving startup focused on delivering local goods.

At Nuro, Jain focused on planning the vehicle’s trajectory through two approaches—Integrating the plans generated by an imitation learning algorithm into the reinforcement learning pipeline and implementing a memory-based architecture using recurrent neural networks to help with the partial observability of environments.

The year prior, she was an AI resident at Facebook AI Research, where she worked on training virtual robots on autonomous navigation tasks in simulated 3D environments. She contributed to the AI Habitat project, a simulation platform to facilitate Embodied AI research. This joint work was nominated for the best paper award at ICCV 2019.

Jain earned her bachelor of technology degree in CS from the Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad, India, where she received the Academic Excellence Award. She has interned at Purdue University and Google. She is also a recipient of the Google Anita Borg scholarship and the Google Venkat Panchapakesan scholarship.

Haoyang Wen
Haoyang Wen

As a member of professor Heng Ji’s group, Haoyang Wen is pursuing research in natural language processing with special interests in information extraction, dialogue systems, and question answering.

His current research focuses on event and time, which models the uncertainty temporal boundaries from the evidence of documents and ground events onto a timeline. This past summer, he worked as a research intern at IBM, exploring multi-level document representation for question answering systems.

Wen’s previous work has been published at top conferences such as COLING 2018, EMNLP 2019, and ACL 2020.

Wen earned his bachelor’s degree from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, where he was one of the 73 CS undergraduates nationwide to earn a China Computer Federation Elite Collegiate award, and he was awarded a National Scholarship of China. He also won several gold medals in ACM-ICPC Asia regionals as a competitive programmer.

Andrew Yoo
Andrew Yoo

Second-year MS student Andrew Yoo is working with assistant professor Tianyin Xu on improving the performance of distributed databases when a server in the system encounters a fail-slow failure. His work aims to uncover intolerance of such failures in open-source databases and build a resilient database by integrating a novel programming framework in the area. 

Yoo’s approach was to refine the communication mechanism on the group’s own distributed database by including information in messages about hardware usage and implementing a design pattern known as coroutines.   

Prior to this, Yoo parlayed a class assignment on adaptive bit-rate algorithms for videos into a research project with professor Klara Nahrstedt. He designed, implemented, and validated adaptive bit-rate algorithms for edge devices that take viewports in 360-degree videos into account. 

Yoo earned his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of California, San Diego. In addition to his research, Yoo has served as a teaching assistant for Operating System Design and Probability & Statistics for Computer Science. 

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This story was published September 23, 2020.