This article is published in the January 2016 issue.

2016 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award Winners

This year’s nominees are a very impressive group. A number of them were commended for making significant contributions to more than one research project, several were authors or coauthors on multiple papers, others had made presentations at major conferences, and some had produced software artifacts that are in wide use.

Many nominees had been involved in successful summer research or internship programs; many had worked as teaching assistants, tutors, or mentors; and a number were significantly involved in community volunteer efforts.

CRA gratefully acknowledges the support of Microsoft Research and Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL), which sponsor the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award program in alternate years. MERL is the sponsor of the 2016 awards.

A list of the winners, runners-up, finalists, and honorable mentions appears below.

Selection Committee: Eric Aaron (Vassar College), Chair; Michela Becchi (University of Missouri); Sorelle Friedler (Haverford College); Rajiv Gandhi (Rutgers University, Camden); James Geller (New Jersey Institute of Technology); Walter Lasecki (University of Michigan); Lydia Tapia (University of New Mexico)

Thank you to those who volunteered their time to serve on the selection committee for this award.

Lisa JonesLisa Jones – Female Awardee

United States Military Academy – West Point (non-PhD-granting institution)

Lisa Jones is a senior computer science and mathematics major at the United States Military Academy (West Point). Her research interests include computational phylogeny, cryptography, and quantum computing, with recent projects including endgame studies in quantized chess, computational comparisons of large numbers of evolutionary trees, and discovering invariants in quantum error correcting codes. Lisa is also an accomplished musician, and she is the President of the United States Military Academy’s local chapter of the ACM Committee on Women in Computing.


Photo credit: Lisa Gong

Katherine Ye – Female Awardee

Princeton University (PhD-granting institution)

Katherine Ye is a senior computer science major at Princeton University. Her research applies formal methods and program synthesis techniques to create high-assurance software and hardware, and her past projects have included the formal specification of DNS servers and verification of elements of cryptographic systems. Katherine’s current work continues at the intersection of formal methods and cryptography, developing computer-checked proofs of security properties of pseudo-random number generators.

Jared-CoplinJared Coplin – Male Awardee

Texas State University (non-PhD-granting institution)

Jared Coplin is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics at Texas State University. His research is on energy, power, and performance considerations of GPUs, including studies of the power behavior of GPGPU programs under various hardware settings and the effects of software optimizations on GPU performance. Jared is also a veteran of military service, and he has expressed interest in becoming a professor so he can do research and teach.

mitchell_gordonMitchell Gordon – Male Awardee

University of Rochester (PhD-granting institution)

Mitchell Gordon is a senior computer science major at the University of Rochester, with research interests in the area of human-computer interaction. Mitchell develops crowd-powered systems for various application domains: one project uses crowdsourcing to rapidly annotate behavioral events in videos, while also exploring how the privacy of individuals in videos can be protected; another project applies crowdsourcing to generate tutorials for a web-based computer science education system. He has also been a research intern at Google and a computer science teaching assistant at the University of Rochester.

Weiyun MaWeiyun (Anna) Ma – Female Runner-up

Harvey Mudd College (non-PhD-granting institution)

Weiyun Ma is a junior majoring in computer science and mathematics at Harvey Mudd College. Her research is in the area of computational biology, working on phylogenetic tree reconciliation algorithms that can enable the reconstruction of evolutionary histories of co-evolving species. Her results include an NP-Completeness proof and a fast approximation algorithm for a tree reconciliation problem, as well as implemented demonstrations of the algorithm’s efficiency. She is also a highly regarded pianist whose recent public performances include Mozart and Beethoven piano sonatas.

Megan HofmannMegan Hofmann – Female Runner-up

Colorado State University (PhD-granting institution)

Megan Hofmann is a junior majoring in computer science at Colorado State University. Her research interests are in the area of assistive technology, improving quality of life for people with disabilities. Her recent work focuses on design methodologies and tools for 3D printing of custom devices; examples include devices for people with arthritis or other grip impairments, and custom prosthetics with task-specific components (e.g., cello bow holder, table knife holder). Megan is also a founding member and co-chair of the Colorado State University chapter of the ACM Committee on Women in Computing.

rohan chitnisRohan Chitnis – Male Runner-up

University of California – Berkeley (PhD-granting institution)

Rohan Chitnis is a senior majoring in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Much of his research has been in robotics, where he works on hierarchical approaches for robot task and motion planning in real-world environments. Rohan is also interested in natural language processing research, working on systems that use neural networks to do machine translation. His research goal is to integrate natural language processing into hierarchical planning, an interdisciplinary combination of his interests that can make personal robots more robust and efficient.

Finalists and Honorable Mentions

Finalist (Female)

Non-PhD-granting Institutions


PhD-granting Institutions

Alison Clark, University of British Columbia
Krittika DSilva, University of Washington
Alison Kendler, Boston University
Caroline Lemieux, University of British Columbia

Finalists (Male)

Non-PhD-granting Institutions

Richard Barella, Washington State University – Vancouver
Tian Jin, Haverford College

PhD-granting Institutions

Sitan Chen, Harvard University
Adnan Haider, Illinois Institute of Technology
Yunsung Kim, Columbia University
Zhiyuan Lin, Georgia Institute of Technology
Samuel Saarinen, University of Kentucky

Honorable Mentions (Female)

Non-PhD-granting Institutions

Lillian Pentecost, Colgate University
Siruo Wang, Centre College
Xilin Yu, Mount Holyoke College

PhD-granting Institutions

Andrea Bajcsy, University of Maryland
Alison Chang, Columbia University
Jennifer Hammelman, Tufts University
Kesha Hietala, University of Minnesota
Yuqian Jiang, The University of Texas at Austin
Tara Kola, Tufts University
Minae Kwon, Cornell University
Jingyi Li, University of California – Berkeley
Ramya Rangan, Harvard University
Esther Rolf, Princeton University
Joyce Zhu, University of Rochester

Honorable Mentions (Male)

Non-PhD-granting Institutions

Matt McNiece, Wake Forest University
Alexander Putman, Harvey Mudd College

PhD-granting Institutions

Jonathan Behrens, Cornell University
Frank Cangialosi, University of Maryland
Isaac Cohen, Boston University
Joshua Daymude, Arizona State University
Zhengqi Li, University of Minnesota
Darby Losey, University of Washington
Trevor Nelligan, Texas A&M University – College Station
Thomas Schaffner, Tufts University
Geet Sethi, Rutgers University
Benjamin Spar, Princeton University
Andrew Wells, Catholic University of America
Zhengyang Wu, Georgia Institute of Technology
Robert Ying, Columbia University
Andrey Zaytsev, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Marvin Zhang, University of California – Berkeley
Daryl Zuniga, University of Washington

2016 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award Winners