CRA-E Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentoring Award
This award recognizes individual faculty members who have provided exceptional mentorship, undergraduate research experiences, and, in parallel, guidance on admission and matriculation of these students to research-focused graduate programs in computing. Click here for award information.
Selection committee: Pat Morreale (Kean University, committee chair), Eric Aaron (Colby College), Chandra Krintz (UC Santa Barbara), and Denys Poshyvanyk (William & Mary)
Jennifer Rexford, Ph.D., is the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at Princeton University, an ACM Fellow, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. She is a CCC Council member and former CRA board member.
Rexford began her career at AT&T Research before joining Princeton University. In addition to her distinguished research career, she has actively mentored students, particularly undergraduates. Rexford established events and spaces to motivate undergraduates as researchers, and to support members of traditionally underrepresented groups in CS. In 2010, she mentored students who established a women in computer science group (PWiCS) in the department, and the group is still active.
With a smaller pool of undergraduate students, Rexford advises students both in single semester independent projects, as well as theses. She regularly publishes with undergraduate mentees, and there are multiple papers on which undergraduates were the first author. Rexford has mentored 23 undergraduate students in 10 years, half of who are women, and her mentorship has led to student placement at top graduate schools. She has mentored students who have received recognition in the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards as awardee, runner-up, and honorable mention, and three of her students received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. Her students have matriculated in Ph.D. programs at MIT, University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and University of Washington.
The nomination letter noted that Rexford provides “office space and a support network of helpful graduate students and postdocs to conduct nonjudgmental discussions. Despite being the Department Chair of Computer Science at Princeton, she still makes time to meet personally with her undergraduate advisees, often taking out more than an hour every week for each advisee. Mentees thrive in this supportive environment, becoming highly confident in their own skin…”.
Westley Weimer, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan. He is also an ACM Senior Member and a NSF CAREER awardee.
Each year, Weimer includes undergraduate students in his research group and works with them in a focused approach, providing mentoring and support in a manner similar to that given to a Ph.D. student. He has had 18 mentees in 10 years, and is known for his empathy in mentoring diverse student populations. His undergraduate mentees are often first authors on the papers that they co-author with Weimer.
His undergraduate mentees are trained on the basics of how to conduct research and work on projects, as well as communicating research results and impact. In his approach, Weimer takes the time to fully develop students, leading one student to state “he has had more impact on my career than any other person.” Several noted that the skills learned by students mentored by Weimer allowed the students to be more successful, sooner, in their Ph.D. programs as the expertise gained in “think[ing] about research: how to explore, develop, and communicate ideas” was invaluable. The one-to-one mentoring provided by Weimer to his undergraduate students is supported by the full participation of the undergraduates in research presentations, meetings, and lab activities along with graduate students. His students have matriculated in Ph.D. programs at Cornell University, Stanford University, University of Wisconsin, and University of Michigan.
Selection committee: Chandra Krintz (UC Santa Barbara), Pat Morreale (Kean University), Denys Poshyvanyk (William & Mary), Barbara Ryder (Virginia Tech, committee chair) and Neil Spring (University of Maryland)
Michael Ernst, Ph.D., is a professor of computer science at the University of Washington in Seattle (UW), a Fellow of the ACM, and an NSF CAREER award winner.
Ernst is an accomplished researcher. Over the past 15 years he has authored nine best or distinguished papers at major conferences in programming languages and software engineering such as ECOOP, ESEC, FSE, ICSE, and ISSTA.
A champion of undergraduate research, Ernst has an exceptional mentorship record that spans multiple institutions, projects, and high-quality publications. He is typically described as a caring and careful mentor who is selfless, patient, quality-driven, and student-focused. Impressively, more than 60 of his 123 undergraduate mentees have attended graduate school in computer science. He has also co-authored 51 publications with his mentees. His undergraduate students have become faculty members at universities such as Harvard, University of Massachusetts and University of California, San Diego. One commented, “I strive to use as much of prof. Ernst’s mentoring style in my own advising as I can.”
Ernst’s extraordinary mentoring has produced a broad impact. He has built a research environment that is collaborative, welcoming to undergraduates, and mindful of teaching graduate students, postdocs, and other faculty how to successfully work with undergraduates. He has adopted state-of-the art research tools that are used in undergraduate classes and has included research explorations in undergraduate project classes. His “Advice for researchers and students” webpage is used throughout the CS community.
Catherine Putonti, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Biology at Loyola University Chicago as well as in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Stritch School of Medicine. She is also director of the interdisciplinary bioinformatics program and an NSF CAREER Award winner. According to a colleague, Loyola is an institution “where undergraduate students do the bulk of the lab work for principal investigators.” In 10 years, Putonti was awarded two university awards for excellence — the Sujack Master Researcher Award and the Sujack Teaching Excellence Award. She is the only faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences of Loyola to recently receive both of these honors.
Putonti has successfully mentored 45 undergraduate students since spring 2008, and 16 of these students have continued to graduate school in computer science, bioinformatics, or computational biology. Her “top in department” placement of students at outstanding graduate programs across the country and across disciplines is exceptional, with students gaining admission to schools such as University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Stanford University.
Putonti hosts up to a dozen undergraduate research students in her two labs, one a molecular biology lab and the other a computational lab, annually. She actively encourages her mentees in their work (even beyond graduation), and reviews their applications for funding, awards, graduate admission, and scientific publication. One mentee remarked that “Dr. Putonti truly strikes a magical balance between having a structured research environment and encouraging independence and creativity from her students in research.”
Selection committee: Nancy Amato (Texas A&M University), Jeff Forbes (Duke University), Pat Morreale (Kean University), Manuel Pérez Quiñones (UNC Charlotte), and Barbara Ryder (Virginia Tech, committee chair).
Margaret Burnett, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Oregon State University (OSU), a member of the ACM CHI Academy, and an ACM Distinguished Scientist. Burnett has contributed pioneering research on how ordinary users interact with software and optimizing that interaction. This resulted, in part, in the development of a new subarea, which is at the intersection of human-computer interaction and software engineering, called end-user software engineering.
Throughout her academic career, Burnett has continuously worked with undergraduate researchers and even accommodated high school students in her lab. She has mentored 39 undergraduate students in research; 21 were from underrepresented groups in computing, 32 co-authored published research papers, and 25 went on to graduate studies. A selection of the honors of her highly accomplished mentees includes three Google Scholarships, three NSF Graduate Fellowships, and two National Physical Sciences Consortium Graduate Fellowships. In her nomination, several mentees attested to her personal influence on and involvement in their lives and careers.
Impressively, Burnett influenced the culture of faculty undergraduate research mentoring in her school, increasing it to 50% participation. She has also led efforts to better support a diverse undergraduate population through trips to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the adoption of a diversity plan, and new experimental scholarships for incoming freshmen women in computing. She has received awards from NCWIT, Microsoft, and OSU for her mentoring and research.
Nayda Santiago, Ph.D., is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. Her research areas are computer performance evaluation and engineering education. Santiago is a founding member of the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI). For the past 12 years, she has been promoting undergraduate research and the Affinity Research Group model among the Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and in her own department. She also is active in FemProf, an organization aimed at encouraging undergraduate female computer science and computer engineering students to attend graduate school. Santiago has been recognized as a Distinguished Computer Engineer by the Puerto Rico Society of Professional Engineers and Surveyors, and has received honors for her educational achievements from the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference.
Santiago has an impressive record of caringly mentoring of undergraduate researchers into high-quality computing graduate programs at Research I institutions. She communicates the possibilities for graduate study and a research career to her students, and since 2004, 21 of her 56 undergraduate research mentees have entered graduate school.
In fall 2015, there were 35 undergraduate researchers working with her on 6 different projects, a department record. Santiago co-authors papers with her mentees and has them present their work at technical venues. These achievements are extraordinary because she is mentoring in a Hispanic-serving Masters I institution with limited internal resources for research support.
Margo Seltzer, Ph.D., is the Herchel Smith professor of computer science and the faculty director of the Center for Research on Computation and Society in Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Her research in computer systems, broadly defined, includes systems for data provenance, transaction processing, new architectures for parallel execution, and healthcare informatics. Seltzer also conducts research in pedagogy and the retention of women in computer science. Seltzer is an ACM Fellow, a Sloan Foundation Fellow in computer science, and has won awards for mentoring and teaching from Harvard. She is a member of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies, and a past president of the USENIX Association.
Seltzer has thoughtfully mentored 49 undergraduate students over her career, 16 of whom have matriculated into computing graduate studies. And many of these students have entered academia. She has co-authored 29 papers with her undergrad mentees, and has included them in her research team as full-fledged members. Seltzer takes deep personal interest in her mentees and interacts with them and their families beyond the research relationship. She serves as a role model and an effective advocate for the women undergraduates in the Harvard program. One of her mentees remarked, “I credit my undergraduate experience with Margo as the genesis of and essential training for my research career.”
Selection committee: Nancy Amato (Texas A&M University, committee chair); Eric Aaron (Vassar College); Pat Morreale (Kean University); Barbara Ryder (Virginia Tech)
Pieter Abbeel is an associate professor of computer science at UC Berkeley. He works in machine learning and robotics, more specifically on making robots learn from people (apprenticeship learning) and how to make robots learn through their own trial and error (reinforcement learning). His robots have learned: advanced helicopter aerobatics, knot-tying, basic assembly, and organizing laundry. He currently advises and mentors 15 undergraduates. In 7 years on the faculty at UC Berkeley, the research opportunities he provided motivated 33 of his undergraduate mentees to pursue graduate programs in computing, with the majority pursuing or having received a Ph.D.
His successful mentoring of undergraduates focuses on early identification of students, individual encouragement to pursue research, weekly research meetings, discussion of research skills, ongoing advice about graduate school, and help during the graduate application process. Pieter co-authored over 40 journal or conference publications with his undergraduate researchers. The number of undergraduates mentored, the high quality of the student accomplishments, and the regular, annual placement of his students in top-tier Ph.D. programs over the past decade, demonstrates not only the success of his approach but also his energy, dedication, and vision for his students.
Marie desJardins is an associate dean of engineering and information technology and a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research is in the area of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer science education. Currently, her research group includes six undergraduates and five graduate students. Since 2005, she has mentored over 70 undergraduate students. At least 29 of them have enrolled in graduate programs in computing, with 8 of the 29 having pursued a Ph.D. in computer science.
Many of the undergraduates Marie has mentored never imagined that they would be involved in research and consider graduate education. Marie’s strategy for working with undergraduate majors involves engaging with students in their first two years and building teams in which her more senior research students (graduate and undergraduate) help train and lead the junior students. She is known for her unconditional support, encouragement, and dedication. She encourages students from underrepresented minorities to get involved with national organizations and programs, including CRA-W, NCWIT, Grace Hopper, IJCAI and AAAI. She stays in touch with her mentees beyond their graduation, and she has helped some to become effective mentors themselves.
Judy Goldsmith is a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky. Her research is in the area of artificial intelligence and theory of computation. She is dedicated to promoting participation of underrepresented groups, especially women, not only at University of Kentucky, but also other institutions in the state. Judy has mentored over 25 undergraduate students, involving them in her research program or in software projects. In the last 10 years, four of her mentored students have enrolled in Ph.D. programs in computer science.
Judy’s mentoring approach is influenced by the diversity of students she encounters. Many students have worked to put themselves through college, are the first in their family to attend college, and may not know why one would attend graduate school. Judy gives attention to students in and outside of her classroom and provides an active model of mentoring. She works tirelessly on personalized ways to excite them about research, attract them to her research program and, most importantly, retain them. Her weekly AI Seminar doubles as a key mentoring experience for undergraduates. She provides all with a window into academic research and stresses the importance of professional training in conduct and engagement.