Kimberly Ruth, a senior graduating from the University of Washington this spring with bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and mathematics, has been awarded the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Medal for Academic Excellence. Each year, the college recognizes two graduating students for academic excellence; Ruth’s combination of exemplary grades, rigorous coursework, hands-on research experience, and leadership on campus and off illustrate why she was chosen for the honor.
“We have a very strong program and many of our students are remarkable, but Kimberly stands out even from this select group,” said Allen School director and professor Magdalena Balazinska. “Her drive, leadership, undergraduate research and academic excellence are admirable, and she has only reached the beginning of her potential.”
As a freshman in the Allen School, Ruth set her sights on research right away. During her first quarter on campus, she reached out to professors Tadayoshi Kohno and Franziska Roesner, co-directors of the Security and Privacy Research Lab. Although she had not been on campus very long, Kohno and Roesner decided to interview her for a position as an undergraduate researcher anyway.
“Though we met with several other promising undergraduates that day, we knew before our meeting with Kimberly even finished that she stood out far above the rest,” recalled Kohno. “She has now been working with us since January of 2016, and her work in the past four and a half years has only strengthened that initial impression.”
Ruth’s research focuses on security and privacy for augmented reality (AR) platforms. These emerging technologies, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, generate visual and audio feedback to change a person’s perception of the real world. They also raise new privacy and security risks for users. While working in the Security and Privacy Research Lab, Ruth played a critical role in several research projects. In one project, Ruth worked with Ph.D. student Kiron Lebeck to design an AR operating system that can protect against malicious or buggy output from applications. Ruth was second author on the resulting paper, “Arya: Operating System Support for Securely Augmenting Reality,” which appeared at the 38th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy and was published in the IEEE Security and Privacy magazine in 2017. Ruth followed that up by co-authoring “Securing Augmented Reality Output,” and “Towards Security and Privacy for Multi-user Augmented Reality: Foundations with End Users” the following year.
But that wasn’t quite enough for Ruth, who has made the most of her undergraduate research experience. In June of 2017, she also began leading her own project in AR security, focusing on security for multiuser AR applications like the popular game Pokémon Go. The result was ShareAR, a toolkit that helps app developers build in collaborative and interactive features without sacrificing user privacy and security. Ruth and the team published their paper, “Secure Multi-User Content Sharing for Augmented Reality Applications,” last year at the 28th USENIX Security Symposium, where she presented the results.
“Kimberly’s work on this project was incredible. She independently raised, explored, prioritized, and answered a range of sophisticated research questions,” said Roesner. “She worked through design questions and implementation subtleties that were not only technically but also intellectually challenging—requiring thoughtful framing of the problem space and inventing new approaches.”
Outside of the lab, Ruth is also an adept teacher, helping her fellow students to succeed as a peer tutor for the Allen School’s Foundations in Computing course last year and inspiring the next generation through Go Figure, an initiative she founded to ignite middle school students’ interest in math.
“Kimberly is wholly deserving of all of the honors she has received, and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to work with her in this early stage of her career,” said Roesner. “I look forward to seeing all of the great things she will do in the future, whether in computer security research or otherwise.”
In addition to being a Dean’s Medalist, Ruth previously earned the Lisa Simonyi Prize, a 2018 Goldwater Scholarship (Kimberly’s brother Parker, also an extraordinary Allen School senior, received a Goldwater in 2020), finalist standing in the Computing Research Association’s Undergraduate Researcher Award competition in both 2018 and 2019, Washington Research Foundation Fellowships for 2017, 2018 and 2019, and most recently a 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Program. In 2018 she was recognized as a member of the Husky 100, which celebrates UW students who are making the most of their “Husky Experience.” This fall she’ll be pursuing her Ph.D. at Stanford, focusing on computer security and privacy.
Congratulations, Kimberly, and thank you for your commitment to excellence inside and outside of the Allen School!