Illinois Computer Science will celebrate top alumni and faculty at its ninth annual Alumni Awards Ceremony and Banquet on October 18. These individuals will be recognized for their professional, technical, educational, or service contributions that bring distinction to themselves, the department, and the university.
If you know of an outstanding CS alumnus who deserves recognition, make sure that the department knows! Join the tradition and make a nomination.
Submit a Nomination
In collaboration with the CS Alumni Awards activities, student groups Women in Computer Science (WCS) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) will also be hosting events for the CS community to engage with its alumni guests.
WCS is hosting its annual Women in Computer Science Alumni-Student program on Thursday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m., in 2405 Siebel Center. Director of engineering at Google Shobana Radhakrishnan (MS CS ’99) will be the keynote speaker.
ACM is hosting the CS Alumni Awards recipients for a panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 18, from Noon-1:30pm, in 2405 Siebel Center. Attendees can enjoy Papa Del’s pizza while alumni share stories from their Illinois experience, career successes, and advice for current students.”
Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
Jeff Holden (BS CS ’91, MS CS ‘92) has had a career filled with innovation. After graduation, Jeff joined D.E. Shaw & Co., LP as a software engineer, under the supervision of Jeff Bezos (now CEO and President of Amazon). Together, they created Shaw's third-market strategy (the off-board trading of listed stocks), which launched in less than a year. Holden then went on to build a proprietary middleware system and application framework upon which he created a number of different applications, including a client trading system for smaller partners, a real-time ticker with a UI for traders, a trade capture-and-execution system, and many others.
In 1997, Holden joined Amazon. Early on, he led the development of Amazon's supply chain and fulfillment technology, evolving it from, literally, a shell script, a command-line binary, and a modem to the architecture still largely in place today. For the latter half of his tenure there, Holden was the Senior Vice President of Consumer Applications, Worldwide. He was responsible for the worldwide consumer website experience, including personalization, ordering, community, search, automated merchandising, and online traffic (Associates, SEM/SEO). One of his proudest accomplishments during this period was leading the development of Amazon Prime.
Holden left Amazon in 2006 to start his own company, Pelago. Its flagship product, Whrrl, was designed to apply Amazon-like recommendation technology to the real world in order to help people discover and experience the best their cities have to offer. Before moving to Uber in 2014, Jeff also was the Senior Vice President of Product Management at Groupon (2011-2014).
As Uber's Chief Product Officer, Holden founded the Advanced Technology Group that developed Uber’s self-driving technology. He also led the development of Uber Eats from its inception, spearheaded the Uber Elevate urban air transportation initiative, and created Uber’s AI Labs.
Young Alumni Achievement Award
Vinay Hiremath attended the University of Illinois from 2010-2012. He is a co-founder of Loom, which is a video recording tool that is focused on helping employees communicate more efficiently and human. It has over 1.5 million users and was backed by Slack in a $4M funding round during the summer of 2018 and $11M Series A from Kleiner, Slack, Cue founder Daniel Gross and Jared Leto. There are hundreds of thousands of employees at companies like Dropbox and Google using the Loom Chrome extension and desktop applications.
Vinay is currently the Head of Engineering for Loom where he oversee the architecture, infrastructural unit economics, scaling of the team from both a recruitment and culture perspective, management and output of the team, as well as the strategic technical and product direction of the company. In 2017, he was named to Forbes list of 30 Under 30.
Before Loom, Vinay worked at Upthere - a cloud-computing startup - where he gained most of his technical competency in service architecture and distributed systems. Before Upthere, he worked at Backplane - a social network startup for celebrities and before that he interned at Facebook, primarily working on optimizing the mobile web composer, the tool that allows someone to post a status update to their timeline.
Distinguished Academic Achievement Alumni Award
Sy-Yen Kuo (PhD CS ’87) is the Pegatron Chair Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering, National Taiwan University (NTU). He previously served as the Dean of College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at NTU (2012-2015); a Chair Professor and Dean of the College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (while on leave from NTU from 2006-2009); and the Chairman of Department of Electrical Engineering at NTU (2001 to 2004).
His current research interests include dependable and secure systems, edge and cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and quantum computing. Throughout his career, he has conducted research at AT&T Labs-Research, Fairchild Semiconductor, Silvar-Lisco, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
Kuo’s work has resulted in 450 papers in journals and conferences, and he holds 24 U.S. patents, 23 patents in Taiwan, and 15 patents from other countries. He has won several best paper awards, was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 2001 “for contributions to dependable computing and software reliability engineering,” and received the Distinguished Research Award (three times) and the Distinguished Research Fellow award (two times) from the National Science Council in Taiwan.
Kuo has also been deeply engaged in service to IEEE, where he has served on numerous award and conference committees, held multiple editorship positions, and been a member of the Board of Governors. In 2018, he was recognized with the IEEE Computer Society Golden Core Award, which is awarded to longstanding members who have an exceptional record of service.
After earning three degrees from Illinois (BS CE ’83, MS CS ’85, PhD CS ’88), including his PhD under the supervision of Professor Gerald DeJong in 1988, Raymond Mooney joined the University of Texas at Austin where he has just entered the fourth decade as a member of the faculty. Currently, as a Computer Science Professor and Director of the UT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, he leads the Machine Learning Research Group, which is currently focused on natural language processing and computational linguistics.
Mooney is an author of more than 170 published research papers, primarily in the areas of machine learning and natural language processing. His research interests extend to artificial intelligence, bioinformatics and computational biology, and data mining.
Mooney has also dedicated much of his career to service, and won a number of awards. He was the President of the International Machine Learning Society from 2008 to 2011, program co-chair for AAAI 2006, general chair for HLT-EMNLP 2005, and co-chair for ICML 1990. He is a Fellow of AAAI, ACM, and ACL, and is the recipient of the Classic Paper award from AAAI-19, as well as best paper awards from AAAI-96, KDD-04, ICML-05 and ACL-07.
Early Career Academic Achievement Alumni Award
Hui Fang (PhD CS ’07, MS CS ’04) is an Associate Professor and the David L. and Beverley J. C. Mills Chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Delaware. She is also affiliated with the Institute of Financial Services Analytics, Data Science Institute, Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, and Department of Computer and Information Sciences.
Her primary research focus is on information retrieval, natural language processing, and text mining. She is especially interested in applying axiomatic analysis to develop effective and robust general information retrieval models that can be applied to any search domains. She is also conducting research surrounding search results diversification, entity-centric IR, domain specific IR (such as enterprise search and infographic search), contextual suggestion, and biomedical informatics. She enjoys conducting cross disciplinary research in various domains such as disaster, health, finance, and education.
As a student, under the supervision of Professor ChengXiang Zhai, Hui received the ACM SIGIR 2004 Best Paper Award for her work on formalizing Information Retrieval. Thus far as a faculty member, she has received an HP Labs Innovation Research Award (2010-2012) and a University of Delaware College of Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award (2013), and she has been named a JPMC Interim Faculty Scholar/Fellow since 2017.
On top of her strong research and teaching agendas, Fang has also developed an impressive record for service including numerous conference and program committees, editorial boards, grant and panel reviewer positions, and departmental and college committees on Diversity, Graduate Education, and ACM-W.
Ali Farhadi is an Associate Professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. He is the Senior Research Manager leading the PRIOR team at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and is the Co-founder and Chief Xnor Officer of Xnor.ai. He is a 2011 PhD graduate of Illinois CS, who was advised by Professor David Forsyth. Farhadi’s research is focused on computer vision, machine learning, the intersection of natural language and vision, analysis of the role of semantics in visual understanding, and visual reasoning.
His company, Xnor.ai, brings highly efficient AI to edge devices such as cameras, cars, drones, wearables, and IoT devices. The Xnor platform allows product developers to run complex deep learning algorithms, which were previously restricted to the cloud, locally on a wide range of mobile and low energy devices. Throughout this year, Xnor.ai has launched several new projects including AI2GO, a self-serve platform with a set of ready-to-go applications and deep-learning models with which users can experiment; solar-powered AI, a battery-free, efficient AI technology that can operate independently of the cloud or a power source; and a partnership with Wyze, providing AI enabled person detection on Wyze home security cameras that automatically identifies when people appear in the camera’s field of view. Since it was spun out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 2017, Xnor.ai has raised over $14 million in funding and is continuing to grow.
In 2018, Forbes named Farhadi one of “5 Entrepreneurs on the Rise in AI.” He is a recipient of an NSF CAREER Award (2017), the Sloan Research Fellowship (2017), best paper awards from CVPR (2017; honorable mention, 2011) and AAAI (2016), and was Illinois Computer Science’s 2010 C.W. Gear Outstanding Graduate Student.
Distinguished Service Alumni Award
Having earned a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 1962, Shigenori “Shig" Matsushita (MS EE ‘63) joined the University of Illinois where he worked to develop a pattern recognition computer, ILLIAC III. Matsushita then went on to receive his Doctor of Engineering degree from UTokyo in 1974.
Prior to joining Illinois, Matsushita worked for Toshiba Corporation where he designed basic transistor circuits for computers. He was a chief design engineer for a patchboard programmed computer and a magnetic drum internal-program computer. While at Toshiba, in partnership with Kyoto University, they completed the first full-scale microprogrammed computer, KT-P. This work was presented at the International Federation of Information Processing IFIP Congress and attracted attention for its variable microprograms, which were implemented by patch boards and punched-hole cards covering photo-transistors. Based on this technology, the development of a high-speed microprogrammed computer, TOSBAC-3400, for commercialization was initiated. Matsushita served as the chief design engineer.
Matsushita continued to play vital roles in both project development and management throughout his career at Toshiba. In holding positions like Associate General Manager and Executive Vice President of Information Systems, Matsushita was responsible for the structuring and planning of new business opportunities and mergers. In 1985 he established the company’s strategy for an IBM-compatible laptop personal computer, the T-1100, which was the forerunner of Toshiba’s notebook computers.
When a new breed of companies emerged overseas, Matsushita promoted several alliances, including Toshiba’s OEM contract with Sun Microsystems, a joint company with Computer-Vision, a joint company with Olivetti, and a sales contract of internet browsers with Netscape. The contracts with Sun Microsystems and Netscape are said to be the first such contracts entered by any Japanese company.
Matsushita is a member of the Japanese Computer Pioneers elected by the Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ). He is also involved with a non-profit called Friends of UTokyo, Inc., which awards scholarships to students of the University of Tokyo and to U.S. universities for mutual study abroad. Since 2015, he has been a Director and the Chairman of the Scholarship Committee.
In 2000, Matsushita was a major contributor to the Saburo Muroga Endowed Fellowship, which was established by the late Prof. Saburo Muroga. The Muroga Fellowship is awarded to outstanding graduate students in computer science ever since then.
Distinguished Achievement Memorial Award
Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first African-American to earn a PhD in computer science (PhD CS ’69). While at Illinois, he worked on computer systems, in particular the hardware, software, and applications of the ILLIAC IV supercomputer.
Before coming to Illinois, Ellis received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Beloit College in Wisconsin. At Beloit, he helped set up the school’s first computer laboratory, a place where he spent many hours developing his interest in computers.
Ellis held positions at Bell Telephone Laboratories, IBM, Xerox, Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (now Los Alamos National Laboratory), and Argonne National Laboratory. From 1976 to 1984, he headed a group at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) that invented and developed Officetalk, the first office system to use icons and Ethernet to allow people to collaborate from a distance. Ellis continued to work in this area, and is considered one of the pioneers of the field of operational transformation, which examines functionality in collaborative systems. Operational transformation is now found in a host of computer applications, including Apache Wave and Google Docs. Among his many contributions to computing, he is most well-known for his pioneering work in groupware and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) systems.
In addition to his career in industry, Ellis held teaching positions at Stanford University, the University of Texas, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Stevens Institute of Technology. He also taught in Taiwan under an AFIPS teaching fellowship. Ellis finally joined the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1992 as a professor of computer science and retired in 2010. He was an early leader in that university’s research on human-centered computing.
At CU Boulder, Ellis regularly taught the introductory computer science course in addition to offering advanced courses on groupware. He wanted to encourage students of all backgrounds to stretch their academic abilities and to consider careers in computer science. In the February 2002 issue of Black Issues in Higher Education, Ellis said he wanted to counter the approach some teachers early in his academic career took when they advised him to not take courses beyond the basic math level. “People put together an image of what I was supposed to be,” he recalled. “So I always tell my students to push.”
During his later years at Colorado and into his retirement, Ellis worked with higher education institutions in Africa. In particular, he maintained a close connection to Ashesi University in Ghana for several years. In 2013 Ellis received a Fulbright grant to support his educational work in Ghana.
Ellis was named a Fellow of ACM in 1998 in recognition of his leadership in ACM SIGOIS and his impact in the office information systems field.
He passed away in 2014 at the age of 71.
Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award
Teaching Associate Professor Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider is driven by his passion for bringing an understanding of computing and data to the masses. He believes that world-class education is education that is worth sharing. He earned his PhD right here at Illinois in 2013 and joined the department as a Teaching Assistant Professor later that year. This past year, he was promoted to Teaching Associate Professor and has continued to teach a variety of computer science courses during his time at Illinois.
He has won numerous awards, including being named to campus’ List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students eight times! He was also recognized with The Grainger College of Engineering’s Collins Award for Innovative Teaching for his redesign of CS 105 “Introduction to Computing.” Last year, he was also earned an Engineering Council’s Award for Excellence in Advising, as well as a university-level award for excellence in teaching and mentoring, Chi Omega’s Outstanding Faculty Award.
Most recently, Wade has collaborated with Prof. Karle Flanagan in the Department of Statistics to develop a brand new Introduction to Data Science course. In this project-driven course, students perform hands-on-analysis of real-world datasets to analyze and discover the impact of the data. Throughout each experience, students reflect on the social issues surrounding data analysis such as privacy and design.
Wade is an exceptional member of Illinois Computer Science’s teaching faculty and highly deserving of this honor.
C.W. Gear Outstanding Junior Faculty Award
A rising star in the field of computational biology, Assistant Professor Jian Peng’s record is truly remarkable. He designs efficient and effective algorithms for biological data analysis, software tools that are especially important for extracting meaningful information from genomic sequencing data, which is growing at an exponential rate, and from the large repositories of experimental data now being generated by high-throughput techniques in proteomics and biotechnology. Using those algorithms, Jian has already developed widely-used software and helped to discover new biology and hypotheses.
Jian’s contributions have been unusually broad, covering protein structure prediction, biological networks, and genomics. His outstanding work has garnered several awards, including a prestigious 2016 Sloan Research Fellowship in Computational and Evolutionary Biology, a competitive 2017 PhRMA Foundation Research Starter Grant in Informatics, and an NCSA Faculty Fellowship. He or his students have also won several competitions: the 2016 CASP12 Protein Contact Prediction Assessment, the 2015 ALS Stratification Prize4Life Challenge, and the 2015 DREAM Prostate Cancer Challenge (with results published in Lancet Oncology).
In 2017, Jian earned an NSF Early CAREER Award for his plan to develop a new computational framework to integrate the large amounts of high-resolution data being generated by those applications, with the goal of enabling the annotation of genome-scale gene functions across species. He also aims to create methods to infer functional homology or analogy between genes from different species.
Jian is not only full of potential; he’s already making a significant impact on his field.
David J. Kuck Outstanding Thesis Awards
Shadi Noghabi (PhD CS ’19) is currently a researcher in the Mobility and Networking team at Microsoft Research. Her research interests are in distributed systems, big data, edge computing, and the Internet of Things, and she has published several papers in top venues such as SIGMOD and VLDB. During her time at Illinois, she was co-advised by Professors Indranil Gupta and Roy Campbell.
Noghabi’s PhD thesis, titled “Building Interactive Distributed Processing Applications at a Global Scale,” demonstrated how latency-driven designs for placement and data-motion can be used to build production infrastructures for interactive applications at a global scale, while also being able to address myriad challenges on heterogeneity, dynamism, state, and availability.
Her research career has led to and contributed to many production open-source projects, including Ambry, LinkedIn’s geo-distributed object store, and Samza, which is a top-level Apache project used by more than 15 companies.
Noghabi is a recipient of the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant and The Grainger College of Engineering’s Mavis Future Faculty Fellowship, and was chosen to attend the 2018 Rising Stars in EECS Workshop
Unnat Jain (MS CS ‘18) is currently in the Illinois Computer Science PhD program working with Professors Alex Schwing and Lana Lazebnik. Jain’s research is focused on using machine learning and computer vision to build communicative visual agents.
His Master’s thesis, titled “Visual Questioning Agents,” explored two computer-vision tasks, visual question generation and visual dialog. For visual question generation, Jain and his collaborators combined language models with variational autoencoders to enhance diversity in text generations and suggested diversity metrics to quantify these improvements. For visual dialog, they introduced a reformulated dataset to enable training of questioning agents in a dialog setup and also introduced simpler and more effective baselines for the task. These are both critical steps in building agents that can utilize this feedback to improve learning.
Exploring his interests in AI, Jain has worked as an intern with Uber’s self-driving project, the Allen Institute for AI, and Facebook AI Research. Prior to joining Illinois, Jain graduated with the best thesis award across all engineering departments from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur.
He was also a 2018 Siebel Scholar and won the Director’s Gold Medal at IIT Kanpur for his all-round achievement and leadership.