Earlier this month, the Allen School held a virtual celebration showcasing efforts to increase diversity in computing and honoring members of our community who have demonstrated their commitment to diversity, excellence and leadership. An annual tradition, the event this year also offered Allen School leaders an opportunity to share highlights from its five-year strategic plan to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and access (DEIA), spanning curriculum and programs, professional development, policies and procedures, internal community engagement, external outreach and budget. Allen School professor and director Magdalena Balazinksa had the happy task of introducing two undergraduate scholarship winners: senior Nayha Auradkar, recipient of the Allen AI Outstanding Engineer Scholarship for Women and Underrepresented Minorities from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), and senior Caiwei Tian, recipient of the Lisa Simonyi Prize.
Auradkar, who is enrolled in the Allen School’s B.S./M.S. program, exemplifies the goal of the AI2 scholarship to encourage students from underrepresented groups to excel in computer science and engineering and become leaders and role models in their fields. Finding a passion for machine learning and human computer interaction, Auradkar used it to conduct accessibility research in the Make4All lab with Allen School professor Jennifer Mankoff. As an undergraduate she published two papers, one aimed at analyzing the features of personal protective equipment in response to the pandemic and the other focused on automating the process of creating complex textured knitting objects to make it easier for people with mobility-related disabilities to knit. Auradkar said that as someone with a disability, accessibility research has deep personal value to her and enables her to use her skills to help other people with disabilities.
Auradkar isn’t focused solely on academics, though; she’s determined to make a difference on campus through leadership, too. She is the chair of the ACM-W, founded and leads the Allen School affinity group Ability, founded and leads Huskies Who Stutter and served as the outreach director for the Society of Women Engineers. In these roles she teaches middle school girls introductory engineering, cultivates a strong community of women in tech, promotes disability community and accessibility awareness and supports other UW students who stutter.
“This scholarship will enable me to learn from and collaborate with top research scientists, which will allow me to grow my research skills as I transition in my graduate degree,” Auradkar said. “It will also provide me with extra support in my DEIA work.”
The Lisa Simonyi Prize was established by longtime Allen School supporters Lisa and Charles Simonyi. The couple created the scholarship to recognize and support students who exemplify excellence, leadership, and diversity. This year’s recipient, Tian, is a double major in computer science and applied and computational mathematical sciences. She added the former after a data structure and algorithm course inspired a newfound interest in using programming as a tool to turn complex ideas into practice and discussing algorithms and the tradeoff between runtime and memories. Tian works in the Allen School’s UbiComp Lab with professor Shwetak Patel on developing a generalized deep learning model that uses video signals from smartphones to measure blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels, a crucial test in modern medicine. This work focuses on building a unified platform-agnostic model that works on all major smartphone systems.
Tian also has worked as a software development engineering intern at Amazon, a research assistant in the Make4All Lab and a research assistant at Fred Hutch. Tian co-founded a Chinese student choir group, MotE, a 50-member group that performs at festivals. She also assisted underprivileged students and provided academic support and encouragement as a math and science tutor for students at Licton Spring K-8 Public School.
“I’m really excited and honored to get this scholarship,” Tian said. “Knowing nothing about computer science before coming to UW and now graduating with this award, I think it is an evidence of my hard-work and my growth at the Allen School. It also encourages me to go further and keep learning.”
Thanks to AI2 and the Simonyis for supporting diversity and excellence, and thanks to everyone who logged on to celebrate the people who are making our school and our field a more welcoming destination for all. And congratulations to Nayha and Caiwei!
For more about the Allen School’s efforts to advance diversity in computing, please visit our website.