The Education Committee of the Computing Research Association (CRA-E) is proud to announce two recipients of the 2022 CRA-E Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentoring Award: Darko Marinov from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Jelani Nelson from the University of California Berkeley.
These outstanding individuals are being recognized for providing exceptional mentorship, undergraduate research experiences, and, in parallel, guidance on admission and matriculation of their students to research-focused graduate programs in computing.
Darko Marinov is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His main research interests are in software engineering, in particular improving software quality using software testing. He published over 100 conference papers, winning three “test-of-time” awards — two ACM SIGSOFT Impact Paper awards (2012 and 2019) and one ASE Most Influential Paper Award (2015) — and eight more paper awards – seven ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper awards and one CHI Best Paper Award (2017).
Marinov has mentored in research over 60 undergraduate students over the past 20 years at the University of Illinois and MIT. Twenty-five of his undergraduate students have already enrolled in highly competitive graduate programs, including MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Illinois, Princeton, Cornell Tech, Northwestern, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of South California, National University of Singapore, and EPFL in Switzerland. Several of these students have themselves become faculty members, including at UT Austin, UC Berkeley, Columbia, Illinois, and Imperial College London. Marinov has co-authored 30 papers with 24 undergraduate students, including papers published in premier software engineering conferences such as ICSE, ESEC/FSE, ASE, ISSTA, and ICST. His students have made innovative contributions by releasing open-source software and datasets and contributing to the existing open-source projects. Marinov’s students have been recognized by winning multiple national and departmental awards, including one NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, one national Runner-up CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, as well as two Finalists and one Honorable Mention, and two departmental Best Undergraduate Research Project Awards. Marinov’s advising has been recognized at the University of Illinois with a prestigious Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research in 2020.
Jelani Nelson is a Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California Berkeley. His main research interests are in Theory. He is a winner of multiple highly prestigious awards and honors, including Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2017), Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2017), ONR Young Investigator Award (2015), NSF CAREER award (2014), and the Best Paper Award at ACM Symposium on Principles of Database Systems (2010) among the others.
Nelson had advised both formally and informally many undergraduate students. Three of his students became the winners of the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award. The students that he mentored and advised over the years have enrolled into the Ph.D. programs at top universities, including MIT, Berkeley, Stanford among the others. Nelson maintains a small research group and interacts frequently and in a hands-on manner with his mentees and does not have a hierarchical structure to his group. Although he believes strongly that PhD students should identify or define their own research problems, he does initially assist undergraduates in this process. He says “I usually suggest many different broad areas first and ask them which they find most interesting, then I suggest problem directions within those areas and let them choose. Later on, I do try to encourage them to develop the skill of reading papers and finding their own problems. I also include undergraduate researchers in the reading group meetings, and I mostly treat them just as I do my graduate students (that is, I set the bar high so that they rise to it).” Nelson has also been running “AddisCoder” (see addiscoder.com), which introduced over 500 Ethiopian high schoolers to theoretical computer science (specifically algorithms), and several of his alumni have eventually enrolled in PhD programs (and one has already obtained a PhD degree in math).
The 2022 selection committee includes Monica Anderson (University of Alabama), Gary Holness (Clark University), Lenore Cowen (Tufts University), and Denys Poshyvanyk (Chair, William & Mary).