Illinois CS Faculty Recognized for Excellence in Research and Teaching by College of Engineering


Nahrstedt wins Drucker Eminent Faculty Award, Fleck the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence, and Smaragdis and Kumar the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research.

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The College of Engineering this spring has recognized four Illinois Computer Science faculty for their outstanding contributions to research or teaching. Three more Illinois CS faculty members were recognized for excellence in advising.

Faculty award winners will be recognized at a ceremony on April 29 at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.


Klara Nahrstedt, the Ralph M. and Catherine V. Fisher Professor of Computer Science, won this year’s Tau Beta Pi Daniel C. Drucker Eminent Faculty Award.

Klara Nahrstedt
Klara Nahrstedt

The Drucker award is among the college’s highest honors and is conferred on faculty who have received national or international acclaim for dedication to academic excellence through teaching and research, and who have made exemplary contributions to the understanding of their field. The most recent Illinois CS recipient was Lui Sha, the Donald B. Gillies Chair in Computer Science, in 2018.

Nahrstedt’s work has included major contributions to the quality of service in multimedia distributed systems and networks; the creation of novel coordination algorithms to optimize multi-resource allocation in distributed systems and networks to allow for real-time video streams; development of novel trust algorithms for smart grids; and building the large-scale distributed cloud system 4CeeD for scientists to be able to upload, store, query, and analyze data gathered by microscope.

Currently she is working on Video-360 systems to enable live, panoramic video streaming for AR/VR applications; exploring the use of machine learning in distributed systems to manage multi-resources; and working on edge computing and architecture of edges for live-streaming data.

Nahrstedt also introduced the multimedia-systems courses CS 414 and CS 598 KN, has graduated 40 PhD students, and co-authored two books with Professor Ralph Steinmetz, “Multimedia systems : Computing, Communication and Applications” in 1995, and “Multimedia Systems” in 2004.

Nahrstedt is, in addition, the director of the Coordinated Science Laboratory.


Research Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer Margaret M. Fleck won the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence.

Research Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer Margaret M. Fleck won the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence.
Margaret Fleck

The Rose Award is intended to foster and reward excellence and innovation in undergraduate teaching across the College of Engineering. Recipients excel at motivating undergraduate students to learn and to appreciate engineering. The last Illinois CS recipient was Cinda Heeren in 2014.

Fleck teaches CS 173, “Discrete Structures,” one of the foundational courses in the CS undergraduate curriculum and one of the department’s most in-demand courses. Since 2016, an average of 530 students take the class each semester. Students in the course learn how to construct proofs and read and write literate formal mathematics.

Fleck conducted a complete overhaul of the course to deal with increased demand from a population of students that includes CS majors, minors, and students attempting to transfer into the CS program. She started by rewriting the course’s textbook to make it easier to read and more effective in teaching fundamentals.

Fleck also developed new online materials for CS 173, including a series of “pre-lectures” that allow students to review materials on their own. And she changed homework assignments to allow for auto-grading online, providing students with more timely feedback.

Elsewhere in the course, Fleck revised its semester-long format to emphasize short, weekly exams rather than fewer, more heavily weighted exams, and created a system to generate nine different versions of each exam. She also served as a mentor for instructors who have led the second section of the popular course.

Fleck’s research interests include computational linguistics, computer vision, and programming language tools to support language and vision research. She is currently working on unsupervised algorithms that learn word boundaries from transcribed speech.


Two Illinois CS faculty have won this year’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research, Associate Professor Paris Smaragdis and Assistant Professor Ranjitha Kumar.

The award honors faculty for outstanding research. Four assistant professors are chosen each year by their peers based on who has conducted the most outstanding research during the last academic year. Four associate professors are additionally chosen for their outstanding research over the past five academic years. Assistant Professor Aditya G. Parameswaran was among 2018’s winners.

Illinois CS professor Paris Smaragdis headshot with a grey background and wearing a light blue shirt.
Paris Smaragdis

Associate Professor Smaragdis was recognized for innovative research focused on machine listening, the design and building of systems to sense and understand sound. He is best known for his work on source separation, the process of extracting a single sound from a mix of many, such as a singer from accompanying music. He was the first person to introduce the use of deep learning for source separation, a technique that is now the standard.

More recently, Smaragdis’ work has shown how existing signal-processing algorithms can be enhanced using deep learning, achieving better performance and previously unattainable results. He also has worked closely with hardware designers to improve efficiency.

Smaragdis’ work has resulted in 22 patents over the past five years, giving him a total of 37 in the United States and 33 abroad. Many of those patents have been licensed for use in familiar commercial products such as Adobe Premier Elements, Adobe Audition, and Adobe Premiere, as well as for oil well-damage detection by Haliburton.

In 2015 Smaragdis won an NSF CAREER Award and was named an IEEE Fellow.

In addition, he has appeared on the List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by Students nine times in eight years, advises students in three departments -- CS, ECE, and Music – and is involved with the new CS + Music degree.

Assistant Professor Kumar studies data-driven design, using data mining and machine learning to improve human-computer interaction, and ultimately help push design closer to science.

Ranjitha Kumar
Ranjitha Kumar

Kumar has introduced design mining for digital media, creating tools that allow for the study of design practice on a massive scale. Recently, her group released Rico, the world’s largest dataset of mobile app designs, work supported by a Google Faculty Award.

Kumar also won an Amazon Research Award for her development of experimentation engines for fashion that can be used to understand user needs. Her research also explores the mining of social networks to capture information on user tastes in order to make personalized recommendations. Based on this work, she is collaborating with Professor David Forsyth to develop deep learning architectures to automate personal stylist interactions. The two jointly won a 2018 AWS Machine Learning Research Award.

Kumar’s group also recently launched an emoji-based social media app known as Opico. It has more than 1,000 registered users and provides the group with a way to study social media design.

In 2018 Kumar won an NSF CAREER Award.


In addition, three CS faculty have also been selected by engineering students as being among the top 10 percent of engineering advisors. Those recognized by the college were Teaching Professor Lawrence Angrave, Associate Professor Matthew Caesar, and Teaching Assistant Professor Mariana Silva.

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This story was published April 15, 2019.