Talk of “robot-proof” careers often focuses on how people can maintain their relevancy in a society that increasingly uses robot labor to replace humans. Where others see an automation apocalypse, Daniel Johnson, a junior at Harvey Mudd College, sees opportunity.
A recipient of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship—the most prestigious national award for undergraduate STEM researchers—Johnson will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve complex problems. The award covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year. Rachael Kretsch ’18 received a Goldwater Honorable Mention.
The 2017 Goldwater Scholars were selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,286 natural sciences, mathematics and engineering students nominated by the campus representatives from among 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide. Of those reporting, 133 of the Scholars are men, 103 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a PhD as their highest degree objective. Twenty-two Scholars are mathematics majors, 153 are science and related majors, 51 are majoring in engineering and 14 are computer science majors. Many of the Scholars, like Johnson and Kretsch, have dual majors in a variety of STEM fields.
A joint computer science and math major, Johnson is a tutor for the Math Academic Excellence program (which helps students with math Core classes) and also a grutor (grader/tutor) for the computer science course Neural Networks. Johnson conducted research with engineering Professor David Harris and a group of other students on open-core processor design verification and with computer science Professor Robert Keller on designing a neural network-based system to improvise jazz melodies.
Johnson is working on a neural network model he developed that can manipulate graphical states, which he hopes will allow neural networks to reason abstractly about the structures in data. This summer, Johnson has an internship at Cruise Automation in San Francisco and will work on using machine learning techniques to program self-driving cars.
Rachael Kretsch is a joint chemistry/biology major and legal studies major (Scripps). She will spend this summer at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, where she will research biological and chemical weapons nonproliferation as well as participate in lectures and seminars on nonproliferation.
The scholarship program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. All Harvey Mudd sophomores and juniors are eligible to compete for the Goldwater Scholarship, which is awarded on the basis of academic merit. The HMC Department Chairs Committee nominates up to four students annually.