DAC Student Spotlight: Prerna Juneja

Prerna Juneja, DAC Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science

With a master’s degree in computer science from Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi, Prerna Juneja joined Dell EMC where, for three years, she worked for the company’s flagship product VPLEX, a storage virtualization appliance that provides continuous availability and data mobility. She garnered four awards for her work there: the Dell Champion Award in 2018, and Excellence@Dell Bronze Award in 2018, 2017, and 2016.

Deciding to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, Juneja said she chose Virginia Tech over other universities because of its faculty who work in cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in the area of human computer interaction. Her advisor is Tanushree Mitra.

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Davon Woodard heads to South Africa for first phase of research on social networks in minority communities

During an earlier trip to Johannesburg, Davon Woodard explored one of the city’s most popular gathering places, the Neighbourgoods Market.

Davon Woodard will spend the 2019 Fall academic semester as a visiting scholar at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

There, the Ph.D. student in the planning, governance, and globalization program in the School of Public and International Affairs and a research trainee in the National Science Foundation-sponsored Urban Computing (UrbComp) Certificate program administered through the Discovery Analytics Center, will conduct the first phase of research for his dissertation. He is comparing both online and offline social networks in two historically marginalized black communities — Johannesburg and Bronzeville in Chicago, Illinois — to get a better understanding of their structure, practices, and effects.  Click here to read more about Davon’s research on social networks.


Sneha Mehta to attend Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning Summer School in Canada

DAC Ph.D. student Sneha Mehta is an intern this summer at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California.

Sneha Mehta has been selected to attend the Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning Summer School (DLRLSS), from July 24 to August 2, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Mehta is a Ph.D. student in computer science at the Discovery Analytics Center, advised by Naren Ramakrishnan. In May, she began a summer internship as a data scientist at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California, where she is researching novel methods to improve machine translation for subtitles.

“I applied to the Summer School because deep learning and reinforcement learning are very relevant to my work at problem solving both at DAC and at Netflix,” said Mehta. “Hearing directly from some of the pioneers in the field will be a great – and invaluable – experience.”

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Tanushree Mitra among first to receive research grant providing access to Facebook data

(From left) Tanushree Mitra and Ph.D. students Prerna Juneja, Shruti Phadke, and Md Momen Bhuiyan participated in a training workshop at Facebook earlier this month.

Tanushree Mitra, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering and a faculty member at the Discovery Analytics Center, has received a Social Media and Democracy Research Grant, giving her access to Facebook data to study how misinformation and other problematic content spread on the platform. This is the first time Facebook has given academics access to its data.

Mitra is among 60 international researchers — and one of only two women principal investigators — to receive the grant, funded by a number of leading foundations and administered through a Social Science One and Social Science Research Council collaborative partnership that bridges the gap between academics and the private sector.  Click here to read more about Mitra’s grant.


Google Faculty Research Award supports work in detecting human-object interaction in images and videos

Jia-Bin Huang, assistant professor of ECE and DAC faculty member

Jia-Bin Huang, assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member at the Discovery Analytics Center, has received a Google Faculty Research Award to support his work in detecting human-object interaction in images and videos.

The Google award, which is in the Machine Perception category, will allow Huang to tackle the challenges of detecting two aspects of human-object interaction: modeling the relationship between a person and relevant objects/scene for gathering contextual information and mining hard examples automatically from unlabeled but interaction-rich videos.  Click here to read more about Jia-Bin’s Google Award.


Summer months take DAC students to professional internships and jobs across the country

DAC Ph.D. students Ping Wang (left) and Tian Shi are in Richland, Washington, this summer, where they are interns at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

A number of graduate students at the Discovery Analytics Center have opted for internships and jobs at companies and national laboratories across the country this summer as a way of both benefiting their own research and gaining real world experience.

Following is a list of where they are for the next few months:

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Congratulations to our Ph.D. and master’s degree Spring graduates at the Discovery Analytics Center!

DAC graduates include (left to right): Xuchao Zhang with advisor Chang-Tien Lu in the National Capital Region; and Elaheh Raisi with Bert Huang and Yufeng Ma hooded by Ed Fox, both in Blacksburg.

The Discovery Analytics Center is pleased to announce that five of their Ph.D. and four of their master’s degree students celebrated graduation from Virginia Tech last weekend at Commencement ceremonies in Blacksburg and in the National Capital Region.

“It is always bittersweet to bid our students farewell, but we wish them all the best. We know and appreciate how hard they have worked to achieve the high goals they set for themselves and look forward to following their successful careers in academia and industry,” said Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering and director of the center.

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DAC student Xinfeng Xu garners 2019 Computer Science MS Research Award

Xinfeng Xu, DAC Master’s student in computer science

Xinfeng Xu, a master’s student in the Discovery Analytics Center, received the Computer Science MS Research Award at the CS Awards Banquet last night.

The award recognizes the best MS thesis in CS with consideration to novelty of idea; quality of resulting publications; effectiveness of writing; and contributions/impact to the field overall.

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Amazon Research Award supports developing algorithms that tackle unfairness in recommendation engines

Bert Huang, DAC faculty member and assistant professor of computer science

Why would a recommendation engine not suggest computer science classes to a female college student interested in that field of study?

According to Bert Huang, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering and a faculty member at the Discovery Analytics Center, there are a few reasons. The engine may have trained from data representing the existing gender imbalance in computer science, unfair patterns may have inadvertently emerged from the mathematical nature of its learning algorithm and model, or there may be a less-visible or harder-to-detect process in place.  Click here to read more about Bert’s work.


Software platform engages communities in school rezoning decisions

Left to right: Colin Flynn, Vicki Keegan, and Susan Hembach from Loudoun County Public Schools meet at the Discovery Analytics Center with Ph.D. students Andreea Sistrunk, Subhodip Biswas, and Fanglan Chen to discuss how Redistrict is helping to establish school attendance zones.

School rezoning decisions often cause emotional stress for families and communities for a variety of reasons.

Parents worry about continuity of programs and activities at a new school, the toll it might take on their children’s friendships, and modes of transportation. School officials, administrators, and staff want to ensure that all students have equitable access to educational programs and facilities. Almost everyone is concerned about the impact a particular school attendance zone will have on traffic patterns, especially at opening and closing times.

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