Pearl Hacks preps for 7th annual female and non-binary hackathon

February 7, 2020
Pearl Hacks preps for 7th annual female and non-binary hackathon Buy Photos

Pearl Hacks, a beginner-friendly hackathon for female and non-binary students 18 or older, will host nearly 400 participants on Feb. 21-23, 2020. Photo courtesy of Pearl Hacks.

Pearl Hacks will soon host over 400 participants on campus for UNC’s only hackathon designed specifically for female and non-binary students.

Founded in 2014 by UNC alumna and current Google employee Maegan Clawges, Pearl Hacks is a beginner-friendly hackathon open to female and non-binary students 18 or older and will take place from Feb. 21 to 23.

“Pearl Hacks is sort of a cross between a competition and a conference,” Director of External Workshops and UNC junior Tylar Watson said.

The three-day event offers a number of experiences for students. During the 36-hour project-building hacking competition, participants also have the opportunity to attend workshops led by mentors, local community members and corporate sponsors like Twitter and Google.

“There’s like two things happening that you can participate in,” Watson said. “So if you are working on a project and you get stuck, you can say ‘OK, I’ll go do a workshop for the next hour.’”

Pearl Hacks hosts workshops and sponsor fairs that give participants the chance to meet with recruiters and professionals in the technology field, said Prasiddhi Jain, a junior biostatistics and computer science major and director of hacker experience for Pearl Hacks.

“We have a lot of mentors from companies like Google and Microsoft, so a lot of big name companies,” Jain said. “So you develop relationships, and you develop skills to talk to a lot of different kinds of people.”

While competition and networking are large components of Pearl Hacks, Jain said the goal of the weekend is to create a positive environment for those involved.

“It’s like a safe, inclusive space for people to just explore their interests in technology,” junior and Vice President of Logistics Hannah Cao said. “A lot of people associate hackathons with making a project and being really experienced. With Pearl Hacks, it’s just to create a space safe space for women and non-binaries, which is not very present in the computer science community.”

This year’s event will be the seventh annual hackathon, and Jain said the Pearl Hacks team has been working on making the weekend as inclusive as possible.

“We are trying to frame a lot of our workshops, our panel discussions, projects and events throughout Pearl Hacks toward being more beginner-friendly,” Jain said. “So we’re hoping that a lot of people that are attending — that haven’t had any coding experience or do identify themselves as beginner-friendly — really learn a lot from it and have a positive experience.”

In anticipation for the main event, Pearl Hacks is also hosting a number of “first look” beginner workshops from Feb. 10 to 13. These events are open to all genders.

As the weekend approaches, Cao said the Pearl Hacks team intends to strengthen and share their message that tech is for everyone.

“Tech is such a buzzword right now, and Pearl Hacks creates that safe, inclusive, welcoming space for people to just explore their interests,” Cao said. “There’s no commitment, there’s no pressure.”

A 48-hour marathon [UNC Discover video profile of Global Game Jam 2020]

February 7, 2020

Carolina was one of more than 900 Global Game Jam host locations last weekend, with nearly 90 students developing prototypes of video games over the span of two days.

By Rob Holliday, University Communications, Friday, February 7th, 2020

With USB cables and power strips spread through Sitterson Hall last weekend, dozens of Carolina students settled in for a long weekend in front of their computer screens for work that would never result in a letter grade.

Gathered in groups around tables, the students were on a mission to develop video games — and they only had 48 hours to do it. The students’ efforts were part of an international event called Global Game Jam.

Carolina was one of more than 900 Global Game Jam host locations across 119 countries. Nearly 90 people — most of them Carolina students — participated in Chapel Hill event, which was hosted by the UNC-Chapel Hill Game Development Club.

Because of time limitations, the groups only designed prototypes of their games, which are often turned into more fully fleshed-out versions later. The event encourages teams to collaborate, learn from each other and develop a new set of skills.

“The purpose of a ‘hackathon,’ a game jam or any sort of timed event like this is to learn. It’s to get better,” said Scott Amaranto, a Carolina sophomore and Global Game Jam participant. “That’s much more apparent and helpful with a team. You can share knowledge. You can push each other to be better.”

Press the play button above to learn more

Announcing the Bloomberg Data Science Ph.D. Fellowship Winners for 2019-2020 [Hao Tan was one of only four fellows for 2019-2020]

February 5, 2020

Four exceptional doctoral students, who are working in broadly-construed data science, including natural language processing (NLP), vision-and-language tasks, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, visited Bloomberg’s Global Headquarters in New York City in 2019 as part of the Bloomberg Data Science Ph.D. Fellowship. Bloomberg has benefited significantly from its first class of Fellows in 2018-2019, as well as its Data Science Research Grant Program, which builds relationships with academic researchers around the globe.

The goal of this fellowship is to engage professionals early in their careers and to provide support and encouragement for groundbreaking publications in both academic journals and conference proceedings. Today, we are pleased to announce the second class of Bloomberg Data Science Ph.D. Fellows.

A committee of Bloomberg’s data scientists from across the organization selected the Fellows based on their proposals’ technical resiliency and strengths, and recommendation letters from their academic advisors, some of whom accompanied the Fellows on their visit to Bloomberg. The committee’s decisions were based in part on the candidate’s diverse academic focus, with priority given to machine learning, NLP, information retrieval, knowledge graph, and quantitative finance; the quality of the ideas presented in the proposal; the candidate’s achievements and experience; and the idea’s potential business impact.

Bloomberg’s Ph.D. Fellows and Data Science Grant recipients for 2019-2020 accompanied by some of their academic advisors and members of Bloomberg’s Data Science team (Photographer: Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg)

“Each project will advance the state of the art in their respective academic areas,” explained Songyun Duan, Head of Machine Learning Incubation in Bloomberg’s Office of the CTO. “The results will be published in top-tier conferences.”

During their Fellowship, each of the Fellows will work to advance their research and explore real-world applications that contribute to the innovative work leveraging data science and machine learning in Bloomberg’s products and services. The Fellows will also participate in an internship during the summer of 2020, during which they will collaborate with a Bloomberg team under the guidance of their research advisor to implement their research into one of the company’s applications to solve real-world problems and refine workflows.

As an introduction to Bloomberg, the Fellows traveled to New York City for three days to meet with their mentors and the company’s data science and AI engineering teams. During their visit, they learned more about the variety and depth of the company’s data science research and how the organization operates.

Katherine Keith, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was already familiar with Bloomberg through an internship during the summer of 2019 with Bloomberg’s Data Science team in the Office of the CTO, which offered a hands-on introduction to Bloomberg’s research. Through the relationships she developed during her internship, she published a paper at ACL 2019 titled “Modeling financial analysts’ decision making via the pragmatics and semantics of earnings calls” together with Amanda Stent, NLP Architect in Bloomberg’s Office of the CTO.

During her fellowship, Keith will further her research focused on improving natural language processing methods for computational social science applications. “I’m interested in improving social measurements of text, such as event extraction and extracting semantic and pragmatic signals from text, and improving methods that use these measurements in descriptive and causal inferences,” Keith said.

Contagion risk exists within the financial system when market participants utilize contracts to interact with each other, and the complex financial products that bind these networks create new ‘spiral’ risks that can potentially be measured and controlled with algorithms. Applying financial network analysis to real-world problems has been a challenge though, and Ariah Klages-Mundt, a Ph.D. candidate in applied math at Cornell University’s Center for Applied Mathematics, hopes to overcome hurdles by developing numerical methods and machine learning tools for sensitivity analysis and probabilistic measure of network risks. “I look forward to working with Bloomberg to see first-hand how these tools could realistically be used within the finance industry,” said Klages-Mundt.

Hao Tan, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s NLP Research Group (which is led by Assistant Professor Mohit Bansal), has worked on building the mapping from words and phrases to visual concepts, like objects and relationships, by designing tasks, building neural models, and developing training methods to learn this connection. At Bloomberg, where billions of data points are processed daily, Tan plans to explore the possibility of including visual information like images, videos and data plots by adapting methods developed for natural images to structural figures.

Machine learning algorithms can be used to solve sequential decision-making problems, as most interactive systems – like search engines – are improved through a recurrent loop with various stages involving learning from new data, improving the features and the model, and then testing the new system.

“My goal is to fundamentally speed up this process through new counterfactual inference techniques that move both learning and evaluation from ‘online’ to ‘offline’,” said

Yi Su, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Statistics and Data Science (DSDS) at Cornell University, where she is advised by Professor Thorsten Joachims. “Since logged historical data is both biased and partial, machine learning algorithms on this partial information data can be highly sub-optimal. I’m interested in developing new estimators and algorithms to work on this partial-information setting.”

The 2018-2019 Ph.D. Fellows have all completed their internships and have had their fellowships renewed. Bloomberg has already benefited from the academic collaboration with strong Ph.D. candidates with interests similar to the company’s Data Science and AI Engineering teams. This included facilitating publications in top-tier conferences and improving the quality of the company’s products, where applicable, said Duan.

Notably, 2018-2019 Fellow Huazheng Wang, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Computer Science of University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, won the prestigious Best Paper Award at SIGIR 2019 for his work on “Variance Reduction in Gradient Exploration for Online Learning to Rank.” This research, which was supported by Bloomberg, was performed together with his three other students and Professor Hongning Wang, his faculty advisor at the University of Virginia.

Out of 79 applications from doctorate students at universities in the United States, European Union and United Kingdom, a committee of Bloomberg’s data scientists from across the organization selected these four Fellows for the 2019-2020 academic year:

Bloomberg Ph.D. Fellow Yi Su

Yi Su (Cornell University)
Off-Policy Evaluation and Learning for Interactive Systems
Search engines, recommender systems, and most other user interactive systems go through a recurrent loop of improvement. This loop typically involves learning from newly collected data, making improvements to the features and the model, and then testing the new system in an online A/B test. My goal is to fundamentally speed up this process through new counterfactual inference techniques that move both learning and evaluation from “online” to “offline.”

Bloomberg Ph.D. Fellow Katherine Keith (Photographer: Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg)

Katherine Keith (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Constructing Subjective Knowledge Bases
The field of information extraction (IE) has made great strides in constructing knowledge bases by extracting facts from large collections of unstructured text. IE methods have been used in many applied settings, including my recent work building a database of police fatality victims. However, extracting facts implies discerning between different realities in order to determine what is “true”. Social scientists, journalists, policy makers, and financial investors may be more interested in understanding a populations’ shared and conflicting subjective beliefs and how they vary temporally and spatially. This leads to the following research questions:

  • Can we extract propositions representing authors’ stated beliefs in order to construct subjective knowledge bases?
  • Once we have extracted subjective propositions for individual authors, can we infer belief communities by clustering authors with similar beliefs?
Bloomberg Ph.D. Fellow Hao Tan (Photographer: Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg)

Hao Tan (UNC Chapel Hill)
Summarizing Salient Content in Structured Documents with Figures
Describing content in structured images, i.e., plots, charts, and diagrams, is crucial when summarizing or searching over, for example, complex financial or legal news documents. It helps a layperson to understand the salient information inside these complex figures and also enables visually-impaired people to “see” the figure. It also enhances pure-text paragraph summarization systems by providing additional valuable information from figures inside the news/legal document and allows search/retrieval over documents containing such structured figures. Hence, we propose models that learn to generate informative and comprehensive summaries for such structured figures in complex documents, that capture salient and logically entailed (verified) information.

Bloomberg Ph.D. Fellow Ariah Klages-Mundt (Photographer: Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg)

Ariah Klages-Mundt (Cornell University)
Learning Cascade Risks in Complex Economic Networks: Methods to Make Financial Network Analysis Practical for Application
Computational and sensitivity problems currently present a barrier to using network models to quantify risks in networks of interacting firms. For instance, sensitivity from parameter uncertainty is not currently well understood and network computations can be algorithmically hard. I am developing numerical methods and machine learning tools to address these problems. This work will help make financial network analysis practical for application in industry.

Bansal receives DARPA Director’s Fellowship and Microsoft Investigator Fellowship

January 30, 2020

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the prestigious Director’s Fellowship to assistant professor Mohit Bansal, naming him one of the top performers among the agency’s Young Faculty Award recipients.

UNC Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson said, “We are exceedingly proud of Dr. Bansal’s well-deserved recognition and ground-breaking work.”

DARPA Director’s Fellowships are given to only a few recipients of the agency’s already selective Young Faculty Award recipients, who have demonstrated exceptional project performance through the 24-month base period of the original award. The Young Faculty Award identifies and engages rising research stars in junior faculty positions at U.S. academic institutions. Bansal was one of only 28 recipients of DARPA’s Young Faculty Award in 2017, across all science and engineering fields and U.S. universities, and his performance since then has put him in an even more select group of 13 researchers who were awarded the Director’s Fellowship, which provides up to $500,000 on top of the initial $500,000 Young Faculty Award.

“This award is a great recognition of the consequential nature of Dr. Bansal’s innovations in natural language processing. This is a great honor for him and for UNC,” said Jaye Cable, senior associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The Young Faculty Award has supported Bansal’s research on developing life-long learning-based artificial intelligence models that continually revise their neural architecture, use feedback from common-sense knowledge bases, and automate several expensive manual decisions in multi-task learning, and the Director’s Fellowship will help his lab continue important research in this direction of life-long and self-learning models. Bansal is the director of the UNC-NLP Lab, which focuses on natural language processing and generation, multimodal and grounded machine learning, and deep learning-based text analysis.

Bansal has also concurrently received the Microsoft Investigator Fellowship, a two-year fellowship that recognizes higher education faculty in the United States whose exceptional talent identifies them as distinguished scientists and teachers. This fellowship program is designed to empower researchers who plan to make an impact with research and teaching using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. Fellows receive an unrestricted gift of $200,000 over two years to support their research.

Bansal is one of 15 fellows in the program’s inaugural group, with around 300 applications received (all full-time faculty at U.S. universities were eligible to apply).

“This exciting Microsoft fellowship will help us further advance our research goals of developing human-like NLG, Q&A, and dialogue systems with multimodal grounding, personality, and generalizable knowledge skills,” Bansal said.

Other benefits of the program include invitations to attend multiple events during the two-year term. The goal is to enable the members of the cohort to make connections with other faculty from leading universities and Microsoft and participate in the greater academic community (the full list of winners can be found on the Microsoft Research website). More details can be found in this Microsoft Research blog post.

Karlekar, Guo recognized by CRA for excellence in undergraduate research

January 22, 2020
Han Guo and Sweta Karlekar meet with their advisor Mohit Bansal
Han Guo (left) and Sweta Karlekar (right) meet with Dr. Mohit Bansal in Brooks Building

Each year, the Computing Research Association (CRA) recognizes undergraduate students at North American Universities who show outstanding potential in an area of computing research. This year, two UNC Computer Science students were honored by the CRA with 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards. Sweta Karlekar and Han Guo were recognized as Runner-up and Finalist, respectively.

Karlekar’s research has been focused in the areas of NLP and ML. Her first project detected signs of Alzheimer’s Disease through identifying linguistic characteristics in patient interviews. Using visualization techniques, in her second project Karlekar examined linguistic commonalities to support a data-driven approach in the treatment of victims of domestic abuse.

Karlekar reflected fondly upon her undergraduate research experiences, “research gave me the chance to prove myself. The freedom for creativity and mobility. Research allowed me to build my next steps brick by brick, and through research I was provided the foundation I needed to grow professionally.”

Guo’s research has been sequential, building on skills each next step. His first project focused on automated image captioning, followed by a project that applied automated text summarization of news articles. Today, Guo’s research lies at the intersection of machine learning and NLP, and he’s interested in building robust NLP systems that are interpretable. Guo says his commitment to becoming an expert in AI has reinforced his desire to continue research moving forward.

“I want to stay in front of technology, I enjoy learning and understanding how things work and am always considering how areas could be integrated together. Through research, you are shaping the future of technology.”

Karlekar and Guo, who will graduate in May, expressed sincere gratitude for the mentorship of assistant professor Mohit Bansal, director of the UNC Natural Language Processing (NLP) group, where they completed their research.

Bansal, who nominated the students for this award, said, “I am very proud of Sweta and Han for this prestigious achievement. They have been an important and beloved part of our UNC-NLP lab for several years and have pursued exciting, advanced projects with real-world impact. These students are great examples of the extremely strong undergraduate researchers we have here at UNC.”

The CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award has been announced annually since 1995. Awardees are nominated by the chair of the department and require a faculty recommendation. Students submit a research summary, explaining the significance of their research project(s) to the field and/or society, their specific contributions, and challenges they addressed. Nominees have often been involved in multiple projects as undergraduates, authored papers, and presented at major conferences. Past awardees have continued their impact, making significant contributions to industry, research, and academia.

For the full list of 2020 awardees and their accomplishments, visit the CRA website.

Graduating senior snags a prestigious role at Amazon [profile of CS major Selina Zhang]

December 10, 2019

Selina Zhang’s risky decision to change her major toward the end of her junior year paid off. She snagged a job as a software engineer at tech giant Amazon and will start her career in Seattle after she graduates on Dec. 15.

By Emilie Poplett, University Communications, Monday, December 9th, 2019

After Selina Zhang graduates from Carolina on Dec. 15, she’ll start her career at one of the biggest, most influential companies in the world: Amazon.

Soon, she will be a software engineer at the tech giant, but the story of how she got there isn’t what you might expect.

Zhang came to Carolina intent on becoming a doctor. Since both of her parents work in the medical field, it seemed like an obvious choice.

But by the middle of her junior year at UNC-Chapel Hill — several semesters into her pre-med track — something kept nagging at her. She was still thinking about the introductory computer science class she took as an elective during her first year.

Zhang took the class to diversify her resume and to strengthen her medical school applications. And, Zhang admits, she wasn’t sure she would like computer science at all. But there was something about working with computers that excited her in a way that pre-med classes didn’t.

“I’d coded the quadratic formula on my calculator, so I thought it would be no issue, but it was actually pretty hard. There was a steep learning curve,” she said, “but I really liked solving puzzles.”

The joy of the challenge kept bringing her back to computer science. And just before the second semester of her junior year, Zhang made a risky move: She switched her major and left medicine behind.

“When I first joined the major, I had zero friends and didn’t know anybody, but they very quickly adopted me,” she said. “They were much further along in their careers than I was because I was still pretty behind at this point. But they really helped me not just catch up, but excel.”

Zhang then became a teaching assistant for the course that changed her trajectory three years before. Among 60 other TAs for assistant professor Kris Jordan’s Computer Science 110 course, she found a true passion for coding and a network of friends who understood how her mind worked.

A former Carolina varsity gymnast, Zhang said coding is a lot like perfecting a new skill in her sport.

“In gymnastics, with a skill, you have to know exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it. When you’re coding, you think the same way,” she said. “And kind of like gymnastics, you’re learning how to be a better person, not a better coder.”

When she heads out to Seattle after graduation, Zhang said she’ll have the chance to reconnect with many of the friends she met as part of the computer science TA staff. Several of those friends work at Amazon, while others are at Microsoft or tech startups in the city.

“It will be cool to be in that area and just have that network,” she said. “I think what Kris [Jordan] has done with the 110 team is something very special. You’re making friends that you can continue to network with even in your post-grad life.”

Because of those friends, she said, she now has the opportunity to pursue a career in a field she loves.

“I definitely think the big thing that Carolina offers is community,” Zhang said. “Once you find that community, it really changes your college experience.”

Although moving out west and starting a new job sounds a little intimidating, there’s one thing Zhang said she can always hold on to.

“No matter where you go,” she said, “Carolina never leaves you.”

By the Thinnest of Margins, UNC Student Tai Huynh Made History in Chapel Hill

December 3, 2019

BY DEC. 03, 2019   5:09 P.M.

Twenty-four votes.

When everything was tallied, that’s all that separated Tai Huynh from Nancy Oates in the race for the fourth and final spot on the Chapel Hill Town Council. The difference between Huynh and sixth-place finisher Sue Hunter? Thirty-four votes. Between him and seventh-place finisher Renuka Soll? Eighty-nine votes.

The November 5 election was razor-close, yet it produced a historic result. When he is sworn in Wednesday, Huynh will become the first Vietnamese-American elected to office in North Carolina. At twenty-two, he’s also only the third UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate to sit on the town’s governing body.

Incumbents Jessica Anderson and Michael Parker were re-elected last month. Huynh, a senior computer science major, joins fellow newcomer Amy Ryan on the council; both defeated the incumbent Oates.

Huynh says his approach to public service was shaped by his upbringing.

“My parents were refugees from Vietnam,” Huynh says. “Growing up, we didn’t exactly have much. But I think that shaped a certain sense of community, because we always had a community that supported us. When they first came over, they didn’t have jobs, they didn’t have anything, and the refugee community in America really puffed them up, got them their first jobs, drove them around, helped with groceries, things like that.”

He was raised with a village mentality, with shared responsibility. His parents worked long hours while his grandparents and family friends took care of him. So even as an undergrad, he found himself wanting to give back.

Huynh first became involved in town government about three years ago, after he formed a relationship with a Carolina Dining Services employee who lives in public housing, which in turn made him more aware of the town’s affordable housing crisis. He wanted to help, he says, and he decided that the best way to make an impact was to become a member of the town’s housing advisory board.

After his appointment, he became increasingly involved in activism in Chapel Hill, especially with issues surrounding racial disparities. Dissatisfied with the solutions in place, he decided to run for the town council.

He says the results—narrow as his victory was—prove that the town is ready for change.

“My main priorities will be increasing the affordability of our community,” Huynh says. “So increasing the affordable housing stock, decreasing the cost of living for our residents, especially for our moderate-to-low-income residents, and then increasing socioeconomic mobility, so trying to get together and develop a workforce development program.”

After graduating this spring, Huynh—a Morehead-Cain scholar—says he’ll work full-time on his start-up, Acta Solutions, which sells software to local governments to enable more community-driven, data-backed decision-making.

Huynh says the election showed how important it is for UNC-Chapel Hill students to get involved in the town’s government. The school has 19,117 undergraduates; only about 14,000 Chapel Hill residents voted on November 5. Students have the power to make a difference—and in Huynh’s case, they likely did.

And while some students are registered to vote at their parents’ addresses, Huynh says he learned during the campaign that many simply don’t get involved because they’re overwhelmed by the many other things vying for their attention.

That, he argues, needs to change.

“There are so many issues that the town is involved in that impacts the day-to-day lives of students—housing, police, etc.,” he says. “So I think it’s high time for students to become involved in the community.”

Non-binary code [profile of CS major Kipp Williams]

November 20, 2019

Chancellor’s Science Scholar Kipp Williams looks through a deconstructed computer in the Applied Engineering Lab in Sitterson Hall. He is interested in the intersection of technology and social justice work. (photo by Donn Young)

Non-binary code

A Chancellor’s Science Scholar is helping to diversify the computer industry by building a visible community of LGBTQ professionals in the coding world.

More than 300 LGBTQ students from universities across the South are expected to convene at Carolina in November 2020 for the nation’s first college hackathon for queer students in technology.

Hackathons, in which students gather to code projects, learn programming skills and network, are key ways students get their start in technology-related fields. But they can be intimidating and unwelcoming, especially for queer students, said Kipp Williams, a junior computer science and public policy major in the College of Arts & Sciences. Williams is founder and executive director of queer_hack, the Carolina student group planning the event.

The hackathon is one way Williams hopes to build a visible, networked and supportive community of LGBTQ people in technology who can help diversify the industry.

Williams knows the value of support from his own experience. Although he loved math and science and attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, he assumed he would pursue public policy or political science in college.

But three UNC programs — Chancellor’s Science Scholars, Honors Carolina and the Campus Y — as well as studies in computer science and public policy have helped shape Williams’ broader path that includes science.

“I’m really interested in the intersection of technology and social justice work,” Williams said. “I’m thinking about how we can solve social issues using science and math.”

Williams’ pursuit of computer science resulted from his participation in Chancellor’s Science Scholars. Its requirement that scholars pursue a STEM major prompted Williams to sign up for a computer science course his first year. Thirty students were in his introductory honors course.

The small class size gave Williams the comfort level he needed to speak up, ask lots of questions and interact more with the professor and his classmates. The final course project — a hackathon — sealed the deal for his new-found discipline.

“I stayed up all night with my brand-new friends and tried to figure out how to code the project,” Williams recalled. “That experience was so amazing. It was the moment I figured out this is cool!”

While Williams’ love of computer science was developing, so was his understanding of social justice. He’d heard about the Campus Y from his grandmother, a 1959 Carolina graduate. But a student member at UNC’s Week of Welcome sold him on joining. Williams applied for and was named a first-year member-at-large, learning as a member of the executive board about social justice, direct service, advocacy and activism. He served as director of membership and alumni relations his sophomore year and was elected co-president in March.

“A former chancellor at UNC called the Campus Y the conscience of the university,” Williams said. “That resonated with me. My involvement in the Campus Y has allowed me to think critically about some of the issues in the tech industry.” The Campus Y is also providing seed funding and support for queer_hack through its CUBE social innovation incubator.

Williams credits Chancellor’s Science Scholars in particular with providing a strong and supportive community as he struggled with a major life change.

“I’m a transgender man. I came out right before college. So I entered UNC at a time when I was really nervous about life,” Williams said.

The merit-based scholarship program promotes diversity and inclusion in science and technology fields through a combination of academic advising, connections to research opportunities and graduate studies, leadership training and community-building for its 40-member scholar cohorts each year.

“CSS has been the backbone of support for me my whole time here at UNC,” Williams said. “My friends gave me the strength to be myself both in and outside of the classroom. My goal with queer_hack is to create a support system that empowers the queer students who come after me.”

By Cyndy Falgout

UNC researchers win Best Paper at RTNS 2019

November 19, 2019
Professor James Anderson and doctoral students Clara Hobbs and Zelin "Peter" Tong receive the Best Paper award at RTNS 2019.
Professor James Anderson and doctoral students Clara Hobbs and Zelin “Peter” Tong receive the Best Paper award at RTNS 2019.

A paper co-authored by doctoral students Clara Hobbs and Zelin “Peter” Tong and professor James Anderson was recognized with the Best Paper award at the 27th International Conference on Real-Time Networks and Systems (RTNS), held in Toulouse, France on November 6-8, 2019.

The paper, “Optimal Soft Real-Time Semi-Partitioned Scheduling Made Simple (And Dynamic),” introduced EDF-sc, the first semi-partitioned scheduling algorithm that is optimal for scheduling static, soft real-time, sporadic task systems and allows tasks to dynamically join and leave processors. This algorithm optimizes the migration of tasks between processors in multiprocessor environments, providing advantages over existing algorithms that either rigidly affix tasks to processors or rely on a complex intertwining of offline task assignment and online execution.

UNC Computer Science personnel received two of the four Outstanding Paper awards at RTNS 2019. The second awarded submission, “Concurrency Groups: A New Way to Look at Real-Time Multiprocessor Lock Nesting,” was authored by doctoral students Catherine Nemitz, Tanya Amert, and Manish Goyal and professor James Anderson.

UNC Computer Science’s 55th anniversary year brings a new line-up of faculty and researchers

November 19, 2019

2019/2020 brings a prestigious group of faculty researchers to UNC Chapel Hill’s Department of Computer Science.

“We are proud to welcome an exceptional cohort to UNC Computer Science, adding to our already accomplished and internationally recognized faculty team,” states Gillian T. Cell Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and UNC CS Department Chair Kevin Jeffay.

“Together, we are home to several National Science Foundation CAREER awards, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), DARPA Young Faculty Award and Director’s Fellowship, and many other notable awards. This new team will continue our long standing tradition in excellence and exemplifies our commitment to innovation, propelling students and research for the next 55 years.”

Meet the UNC Department of Computer Science 2019/20 faculty cohort:

Samarjit ChakrabortySamarjit Chakraborty

As a William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor at UNC CS, Samarjit Chakraborty will continue his research on real-time and embedded systems for electric vehicles. From 2008 to 2019, Chakraborty was a professor of electrical engineering at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, where he served as chair of real-time computer systems. From 2011 to 2016 he also led a research program at the TUMCREATE Center for Electromobility in Megacities in Singapore, where he also served as a scientific advisor. He was an assistant professor of computer science at the National University of Singapore from 2003 to 2008. He obtained his doctorate in electrical engineering from ETH Zurich in 2003. Chakraborty has received many distinctions for his research, including the ETH Medal and the European Design and Automation Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award in 2003 and best paper and demo awards at many of the top conferences in real-time and embedded systems. In addition to funding from several governmental agencies, his work has also been supported by grants from General Motors, Intel, Google, BMW, Audi, Siemens and Bosch.

Snigdha ChaturvediSnigdha Chaturvedi

Snigdha is excited about natural language understanding, with a focus on narratives and social aspects of language.

Prior to joining the Department of Computer Science, Chaturvedi was an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz (2018-2019) and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She received her doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2016. Snigdha is the recipient of the IBM PhD fellowship in 2014-15 and 2015-16; a best paper award at NAACL 2016; and the first prize at ACM Student Research Competition at GHC 2014.

Bo DaiBo Dai

Bo Dai’s research interest lies broadly in machine learning, especially in principled machine learning methods using optimization tools for reinforcement learning and representation learning on structured data, as well as various applications. Dai obtained his doctorate in computational science and engineering in 2018 at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the recipient of best paper awards at AISTATS 2016 and NIPS 2017 workshop on Machine Learning for Molecules and Materials.

Sridhar DuggiralaParasara Sridhar Duggirala

Sridhar Duggirala is developing scalable algorithms to verify complex interactions between the physical and cyber world. Before joining UNC as an assistant professor, he was an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department and UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering at the University of Connecticut from 2015 to 2018. He received his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. Duggirala received the Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Embedded Software (EMSOFT) 2013, Most Promising Benchmark Result by Robert Bosch at ARCH Workshop in CPS Week 2015, and the Best Paper Award at ARCH Workshop in CPS Week 2017. He was selected as a Young Researcher to attend the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in 2014.

Colin RaffelColin Raffel

Colin Raffel’s research focuses on developing machine learning techniques, especially semi-supervised, unsupervised, and transfer learning methods for learning from limited labeled data. Raffel’s most recent work has been as a senior research scientist at Google Brain. He completed his doctorate at Columbia University, and holds a master’s degree in music, science and technology from Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Raffel received the Best paper at the 16th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference in 2016, Best Poster at the 15th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference in 2015, and the NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training Fellowship (2012-2015).

Shashank SrivastavaShashank Srivastava

Shashank Srivastava studies natural language processing, machine learning and interactive methods for AI. Srivastava received a doctorate from the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University in 2018, and was an AI resident researcher at Microsoft Research in 2018-19. He previously received a master’s degree in language technologies from Carnegie Mellon in 2014. Shashank received the Yahoo! InMind Fellowship for 2016-17, and his research has been covered by popular media outlets including GeekWire Magazine and New Scientist.