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A tribute to the Allen School’s Class of 2020

Pair of hands making "dubs up" symbol in sunshine
Dubs up! The Allen School pays tribute to the Class of 2020.

Each year in June, the Allen School invites graduates and their friends and family from across the country and around the world to join in a celebration on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. As COVID-19 precludes the traditional in-person celebration at present, the school is paying tribute to the 2019-2020 graduates online — including video messages from faculty wishing the graduates well as they embark upon the next stage of their academic or professional journeys.

Professor Magdalena Balazinska, director of the Allen School, kicked off the celebration by acknowledging the difficulties that graduates of the Class of 2020 have had to overcome to reach this milestone.

“Your generation has seen some great challenges. When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly sent us off campus at the end of winter, you rose up to the challenge and completed the quarter,” she said. “You worked hard in difficult conditions all spring. And when it came time to stand up in the name of justice, you stood up. We are immensely proud of you.”

Balazinska’s sentiment was echoed by other Allen School professors featured in the video, including professor and vice director of the Allen School, Dan Grossman. “Your class will always have a special place in our hearts, and not to be melodramatic, a special place in history,” he said. “Please go out and make the world a better place for all of us.”

Portraits of Ethan Chau, Moe Kayali, Pat Kosakanchit, Kimberly Ruth
Outstanding Senior Award winners (clockwise from top left): Ethan Chau, Moe Kayali, Pathirat Kosakanchit, and Kimberly Ruth

Grossman’s confidence in the future impact of the Class of 2020 is understandable, given their past achievements. The school recognized several of them as part of its online tribute for their academic excellence, research, teaching and service. 

Each year, the school selects four graduating bachelor’s students — two each in Computer Science and Computer Engineering — as recipients of the Outstanding Senior Award in recognition of their exceptional academic performance, contributions to the advancement of knowledge, and demonstrated leadership potential and good citizenship. The first of the 2020 honorees, Ethan Chau, is graduating summa cum laude with degrees in Computer Science with the data science option and in Linguistics. Chau worked with Allen School professor Noah Smith in the Natural Language Processing group on the development of new tools for representing languages for which data is scarce and conventional methods are ineffective. He also studied abroad at the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). Chau will continue his studies at the Allen School as part of the Combined B.S./M.S. program.

Fellow Computer Science honoree Moe Kayali is graduating cum laude and will enter the Allen School’s full-time Ph.D. program this fall to work with the Database group. Kayali spearheaded the development of the latest version of the control software for the Manastash Ridge Observatory run by the UW Astronomy Department and earned both a Mary Gates Research Scholarship and an Honorable Mention in the Computing Research Association’s CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards competition. The CRA similarly honored Outstanding Senior Award recipient Pathirat Kosakanchit for her work with the Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab. Kosakanchit, who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Computer Engineering in winter quarter, previously received the Outstanding Female Award from UW Society of Women Engineers and an Honorable Mention in the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards competition. After completing her current internship at Qumulo, Kosakanchit will continue in the Allen School as a Master’s student in the Combined B.S./M.S. program.

The fourth and final Outstanding Senior Award went to Kimberly Ruth, who is graduating summa cum laude with degrees in Computer Engineering and Mathematics. For most of her undergraduate career, Ruth worked with members of the Allen School’s Security and Privacy Research Lab on new tools for safeguarding users of emerging augmented reality technologies. Her work earned her a CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, a Goldwater Scholarship, a Mary Gates Research Scholarship, and a Dean’s Medal for Academic Excellence from the College of Engineering. Her work also earned the Allen School’s Best Senior Thesis Award for “Understanding and Designing for Security and Privacy in Multi-User AR Interactions,” which she completed under the guidance of professors Tadayoshi Kohno and Franziska Roesner. As part of that work, Ruth led the development of ShareAR, a toolkit that helps app developers build in collaborative and interactive features without sacrificing user privacy and security. She will continue her research as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University in the fall.

The Allen School highlighted the work of two other graduating seniors with Best Thesis Award Honorable Mentions. Anand Sekar was recognized for his work on “Hardware Implementation of a Wireless Backscatter Communication Protocol for Brain-Controlled Spinal Interfaces,” supervised by professor Josh Smith, director of the Sensor Systems Laboratory, with postdoctoral researcher Laura Arjona. Guanghao Ye, who worked with Yin Tat Lee of the Allen School’s Theory of Computation group, was honored for “Fast Algorithm for Solving Structured Convex Programs.”

Portraits of Angela Eun, Jenny Liang, Murathan Sarayli, Savanna Yee
Undergraduate Service Award winners, clockwise from top left: Angela Eun, Jenny Liang, Murathan Sarayli, and Savanna Yee

The Allen School also recognizes a group of graduating seniors each year for their exemplary service to their fellow students and contributions to the community through its Undergraduate Service Awards. The first of the 2020 recipients, Angela Eun, earned recognition for her mission-driven leadership and compassion as chair of the UW chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W). During her time at the helm, Eun worked hard to recenter the organization’s focus on supporting, celebrating and advocating for women in computing. She also empowered her peers to develop their own leadership skills and encouraged them to tap into their strengths to serve the broader school community.  Honoree Jenny Liang is similarly passionate about empowering others and also about developing technology for social good. As vice chair of the Student Advisory Council, she served as an advocate for students’ needs to the school’s leadership and led important directives aimed at supporting student success and equity. She also contributed to research on community-owned LTE networks for underserved areas of Indonesia and Mexico.

Murathan Sarayli earned recognition for his commitment to ensuring transfer students have a positive experience in the Allen School in his roles as a TA for the transfer seminar and as the diversity representative on the Student Advisory Council. In selecting him for the award, the Allen School noted that Sarayli gave voice to a student experience that is often overlooked — a contribution that will have a lasting impact on the school and its students. Last but not least, recipient Savanna Yee served her fellow students both as a TA and a peer adviser. In the latter role, she helped hundreds of students understand the application process and navigate their studies. She also served on the Student Advisory Council and as an officer for ACM-W. In those roles, Yee organized several community events, including ones focused on failure and vulnerability to provide a platform for students to learn and grow.

In addition to honoring exemplary graduates, the Allen School also recognized outstanding TAs who have devoted themselves to promoting computer science education and serving their fellow students through the Bob Bandes Memorial Awards for Excellence in Teaching. The three winners were undergraduate Andrew Gies, a Computer Science and Theatrical Design major who spent five quarters as a TA in the Software Design and Implementation Course; Travis McGaha, a fifth-year student in the Combined B.S./M.S. program who was a TA for nine quarters spanning Computer Science Principles, Computer Programming II, The Hardware/Software Interface, Data Structures and Algorithms, and Systems Programming; and Batina Shikhalieva, an Electrical Engineering major served as a TA for five quarters in Computer Programming I and Computer Programming II. 

Bandes Award Honorable Mentions went to Allen School Ph.D. student Jialin Li, a Ph.D. student and TA for the Allen School’s Operating Systems course; Ph.D. student Chung-Yi Weng, a TA in Computer Graphics, and Tal Wolman, an Earth & Space Sciences major who was a TA for five quarters in the Web Programming course.

While unable to honor graduates with its traditional celebration this month, the Allen School plans to invite them back for a belated celebration when it is safe to gather as a group. Balazinska, for one, is already looking forward to reconnecting in person and hearing about the impact they have made with their education.

“I hope you will come back and visit us and let us know how far an Allen School degree has taken you,” Balazinska told the graduates via video. “When you come back to visit, I will not ask you if you have a big salary or if you have a big house. I will want to hear about how you have changed the world.”

View our online tribute to the Class of 2020 here, profiles of our graduating Ph.D.s here, and awards and special recognition here. The Allen School will award roughly 600 total degrees this year. Only the names of graduates who opted into taking part in the public tribute are listed online.

Congratulations to all of the members of the Allen School Class of 2020!