Computing Research Association Recognizes Two Harvey Mudd Students

Harvey Mudd College computer science and mathematics major Jane Wu ’18 has received a Computing Research Association (CRA) 2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award for Non-PhD-granting institutions. Alex Ozdemir ’17 is a finalist.

The prestigious program recognizes undergraduates at North American universities who demonstrate outstanding potential in an area of computing research. Harvey Mudd College is the only non-PhD-granting institution to have more than one student among CRA’s 2016 top selections.

According to CRA, “This year’s nominees were a very impressive group. A number of them were commended for making significant contributions to more than one research project, several were authors or coauthors on multiple papers, others had made presentations at major conferences, and some had produced software artifacts that were in widespread use. Many of our nominees had been involved in successful summer research or internship programs, many had been teaching assistants, tutors, or mentors, and a number had significant involvement in community volunteer efforts. It is quite an honor to be selected as an awardee.”

As one of four awardees, Wu will receive financial assistance of up to $1,500 to attend a research conference of her choice.

Jane Wu '18 Wu’s research is in the area of human-robot trust, applying game theory to explore how people’s perception of interacting with robots, rather than with other people, influences trust and cooperation. She is a researcher on the HEATlab team, headed by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Jim Boerkoel. Using a variant of “prisoner’s dilemma” called the coin entrustment game, the team looks to measure trust and cooperation as separate phenomena between human and robot teammates. These projects carry broad implications for real-world human-robot interaction applications, says Boerkoel.

With other Human Robot Trust team members, Wu has presented research related to human-robot cooperation and decision making at the 2016 Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) Conference and the AAAI-16 Conference. Their work also has been published.

In addition to her academic work, Wu is an officer of the club Mudders Making a Difference, co-chair of her local chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery Committee on Women in Computing and a facilitator for engineering in the Academic Excellence program, where she assists peers with problem solving and collaborative learning strategies.

Wu plans to attend graduate school to study robotics.

Alex OzdemirFinalist Alex Ozdemir is pursuing an individual program of studies focused on computational, mathematical and physical theory. He has conducted research on and off campus.

At Harvey Mudd, he worked under the guidance of computer science Professor Ran Libeskind-Hadas to develop a new group of algorithms that would allow biologists to sort different phylogenetic reconciliations into clusters to more easily understand large sets of data. At Harvard University, he and his advisor, computer science Professor Stephen Chong, studied Rust, a new systems programming language, as well as program analysis.

In the 2015 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, considered one of the world’s most prestigious university-level mathematics competitions, Ozdemir was one of 12 Harvey Mudd students who made the Putnam Top 500 list. He is an active campus leader, having served as a dorm treasurer and mentor, president of Hash House Harriers and Judicial Board chair. He has tutored for 18 different courses (computer science, math and physics) and recently taught a half-semester course of his own design that incorporated his research on Rust: His class of 11 students investigated how the programming language is able to systematically prevent violations of memory safety.

Ozdemir plans to attend graduate school then, perhaps, work in industry to improve how software is written.

The selection committee for the CRA awards was composed of faculty members from institutions across the U.S.: Eric Aaron (Vassar College) Chair, Michela Becchi (University of Missouri), Rajiv Gandhi (Rutgers University – Camden), Dan Grossman (University of Washington), Sorelle Friedler (Haverford College), Walter Lasecki (University of Michigan) and Christina Nita-Rotaru (Northeastern University). The program was sponsored this year by Microsoft Research.