Faculty Panel: Black Students in STEM

Please join the Makuu Black Cultural Center and the SEAS Office of Diversity and Inclusion for a discussion focused on Black students in STEM. The university community is welcome, with a particular emphasis on STEM faculty, Black students who are STEM majors, and Black students interested in STEM.

Date: Friday, January 29
Time: 4pm – 5pm
Zoom Link: https://upenn.zoom.us/j/97562319571


Professor CJ Taylor, Computer and Information Science Department, Associate Dean, SEAS Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Dr. Brian Peterson, Director, Makuu Black Cultural Center

Professor Eric Fouh, Computer and Information Science Department

Professor Jennifer Lukes, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics Department

Professor Nakia Rimmer, Mathematics Department

Dr. Laura Stubbs, Director, SEAS Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Student Committee:

Ruby Washington, Bioengineering, President, National Society of Black Engineers

Niko Simpkins, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, President, Underrepresented Students Advisory Board in Engineering

Amelia Sharpe, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics

Abdul-Rakeem Yakubu, Mathematics

Jacob Chidawaya, Computer and Information Science

Chiadika Eleh, Bioengineering

Luyando Kwenda, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics

Perpetual Balfour, Computer and Information Science

For more information, contact Dr. Rita Powell, rpowell@cis.upenn.edu

CIS’s own Cheryl Hickey receives Green Purchasing Award

Cheryl Hickey, the Administrative/Event Administrator for CIS, is an active member of the SEAS Green Team, and earnest about her efforts to help the environment.

Below is a snippet of Cheryl’s nomination letter, written by Jackie Caliman, the Director of Administrative Operations for CIS:

“Cheryl led the effort in CIS to switch from paper coffee cups to ceramic mugs to help protect the environment.  She purchased 150 ceramic mugs and distributed them throughout the dept. She also encouraged faculty, staff and students to bring in their own mugs for coffee or tea use. She even found some new, leftover mugs from another event, and distributed them as well. Eliminating the use of paper cups has a huge impact on protecting our environment by helping to keep waste out of our landfills, and that was Cheryl’s goal.”

Join us in congratulating Cheryl for all of her hard work!

“Flipping the Script”: Kristian Lum speaks on non-existent boundaries in her career

Image courtesy of: Kristian Lum’s Twitter account

In early August of this year, before the number of new Coronavirus disease cases had yet to reach its peak, Kristian Lum was wrapping up a project with epidemiologists and collegiate academics that modeled the spread of COVID-19 in jails.  

The work was an effort to look at the many ways in which the rate of transmission could be reduced, and it wasn’t Kristian’s first experience with studying data around communicable diseases. 

In 2013, she was working at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, simulating epidemic outbreaks. It was here — creating realistic population models to mimic the spread of disease in pragmatic ways — that she first began thinking of applying statistical expertise to issues of social justice. 

“One of the things I was thinking about was applying the methods that we were using to model incarceration is, as a contagious disease,” says Kristian in a recent ACM Bytecast episode. “It was really a fairly direct move. I was applying the same sorts of methods that we were using to simulate things like the spread of infectious disease through a population, to think about what sorts of social influence can cause close associates of people who are incarcerated, to themselves become incarcerated.” 

Positions in academia and industry, working with nonprofits and politicians, has given Kristian a unique and multi-faceted perspective: “stark disciplinary boundaries” are not necessary. She uses her methodology from training as a statistician to guide her research in algorithmic fairness and transparency. 

Wearing multiple hats and juggling various roles is nothing new to Kristian. In an interview with CIS, the Duke graduate described her path as a “winding” one, each varied experience leading to another not-so-predictable professional move. 

“It’s really helped me to see problems from a variety of perspectives,” says Lum. “When you’re in academia, you tend to see it from the perspective of other academics who’ve come before you, from what makes it into the academic literature. Those perspectives aren’t always the same as, what you get when you work for, say, a nonprofit. A lot of the work there, I was listening to advocacy groups, or listening to lawyers, or policy makers.” 

Kristian is currently a member of the Executive Committee for the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (ACM FAccT). Her research in the field of health care has recently pivoted to focus on developing a tool for predicting PPE consumption by hospitals as a function of projections of the number of COVID-19 patients in the future. 

Much in line with her professional boldness, Kristian has plans to shake things up in the world of statistical prediction. 

“One thing I’m interested in doing in the future is sort of flipping the script on various machine learning or statistically-based prediction tools,” says Lum. “Oftentimes they will be pointed at predicting the risk an individual poses to society, or measure something like whether they’ll be arrested. I’d like to try and flip the script in some ways by using similar data sets and make predictive tools that sort of predict the risk the system poses to that individual.” 

Early this year, we had the pleasure of welcoming Kristian Lum into the Penn community, in several capacities. She serves key roles in Penn’s AlgoWatch Initiative and the Warren Center for Network and Data Science. She is a Senior Fellow with Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI). And, much to our delight, Kristian is also one of CIS’s newest Research Assistant Professors. Welcome again, Kristian! 

“The current crisis presents new opportunities for increased engagement and collaboration:” Prof. Susan Davidson on the potential of data science in the age of COVID

Data consortium 4CE, featuring Penn faculty, collaborate on a global level to examine COVID patient info, while also protecting patient security. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Today)

“The keys for data science to succeed are interdisciplinarity and the desire to work together, and Penn is a great place for doing that.”

In a recent article from Penn Today, CIS Professor and Faculty Director of the MSE program in Data Science Susan Davidson and several other experts in the field weigh in on the integral role data science has been playing during this era of pandemic.

On the heels of announcements from biotech companies Pfizer and Moderna of having developed highly effective vaccines for the COVID-19 illness, it has become more clear that our ability to arrive at solutions this pandemic around has been greatly accelerated due to our access to technology, and the subsequent data that access provides.

In the article, Professor Davidson discusses how, in these times, data access and scrutiny from the public is the highest it’s ever been, and how the need for apt and skilled statisticians to assist with interpreting such data is more critical than ever. She notes how data science education will also be important moving forward, and mentions that “this fall’s Big Data Analytics course has 400 students from 50 different majors across campus.” Integrative indeed.

** To read the full article, click HERE. **
** To view Susan Davidson’s insightful overview of the field of data science, click HERE. **

Prof. Insup Lee amongst team of researchers to receive $6 mil grant to improve AI resiliency

Image courtesy of Penn Engineering blog

Cecilia Fitler Moore Professor in Penn Engineering’s Departments of Computer and Information Science (CIS) and Electrical and Systems Engineering (ESE) Insup Lee leads a team of researchers who have just received a five-year, $6million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant.

The grant is funding a proposal by the team titled “Robust Concept Learning and Lifelong Adaptation Against Adversarial Attacks,” and ‘aims to leverage insights from human cognitive development to make artificial intelligence systems better at protecting themselves from malicious disruptions,” according to an article about the project on the Penn Engineering blog.

*** For the full article, click HERE***

Faculty Spotlight: CoRL accepts esteemed work of Asst. Prof Jayaraman

The international Conference on Robot Learning (CoRL) has accepted the renowned work of CIS and GRASP Lab Assistant Professor Dinesh Jayaraman.

According to their site, the “CoRL is a selective, single-track conference for robot learning research, covering a broad range of topics spanning robotics, ML and control, and including theory and applications.” With an acceptance rate of 34% this year, the conference was able to increase their intake slightly due to the fact that it’s taking place solely online. The call for 2020 submissions featured a variety of topics such as Imitation learning and (inverse) reinforcement learning, Bio-inspired learning and control and Multimodal perception, sensor fusion, and computer vision.

Jayaraman’s paper, titled Model-Based Inverse Reinforcement Learning from Visual Demonstrations, was co-authored by Neha Das, Sarah Bechtle, Todor Davchev, Dinesh Jayaraman, Akshara Rai and Franziska Meie. All accepted papers are also published in the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) Workshop & Conference Proceedings series.

The fourth annual CoRL 2020, whose previous hosting sites include Osaka, Japan, Zurich, Switzerland and Mountain View, USA, will be held virtually from November 16 – 18.

Research and Resources: A Peak at CIS Highlights

The CIS Highlights site is one of the department’s many digital platforms that centers prominent research from students and faculty, as well as other interdisciplinary programs and centers affiliated with CIS. Featured research areas include projects in the fields of Computational Biology and Biomedical Informatics, Natural Language Processing, and Formal Methods and Logic. And of course, highlights — featuring important department blurbs and updates from CIS’ own chair, Zachary Ives.

*** Visit the CIS Highlights site here for more. ***

C.I.S. Strong: Meet Edo Roth

What research/ projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on research in the field of privacy-preserving data analytics with my advisor Andreas Haeberlen and a group of other great collaborators at Penn CIS. We’re working mostly on how to design systems for massive-scale distributed data analysis while guaranteeing differential privacy. It’s a nice mix of applied cryptography and distributed systems thinking, which has been really enjoyable for me. I’m currently thinking of how to expand some of our work to graph analytics, which introduce a host of other challenges, but also bring in a lot of possible applications (even potentially in understanding aggregate statistics during the pandemic).

What has been keeping you grounded and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The most important quarantine hobby I have is exercise – I mostly work out in my apartment, but I’ve also recently started playing tennis again (a naturally physically-distanced sport!) I have also been trying to stay on a constant reading schedule outside of research, with a healthy mix of baking every once in a while.

What future research/ projects are you excited about?

I’m excited to continue my research on privacy-preserving technologies, because I believe they have so much potential to unlock additional sources of sensitive data, and also because they can give a chance for people to have meaningful consent and control over the data they choose to contribute for aggregate analytic purposes. In the long-term, I’m passionate about all sorts of public interest technology, particularly those that can help protect privacy rights, decrease inequality, and strengthen democracy.

Favorite culture intakes right now.

I’m a huge fan of the Ezra Klein podcast – he’s a great systems-level thinker and brings on so many incredible guests from a wide variety of fields. A good chunk of the podcast is about politics, but regardless of your interests, I guarantee you can find an episode in the catalog which will leave you thinking about the world in a new way. I’ve been listening to a lot of different music, but one artist I’ll highlight is Jazmine Sullivan, because her voice makes me feel things!

Up Next: Penn’s Climate Week

Now more than ever it is critically important for us to address the impending and drastic changes occuring in our global climate: science and our own corporeal experiences demand it. Next week, Monday, September 21 marks the beginning of Penn’s Climate Week, and it could not be more timely.

Each day of the week (09/21 – 09/25) will center a different theme, including Monday’s focus on Africa and Climate Change. While a plethora of events will be hosted throughout the University, SEAS has its own special lineup, featuring CIS’s own Benjamin Pierce as a speaker for Wednesday’s carbon offset webinar.

***Click HERE for the full schedule of events***

CIS Distinguished Lecture Series Presents: Adam Finkelstein

Adam Finkelstein, Professor, Computer Science Department, Princeton University

The CIS Colloquium series is proud to feature the Distinguished Lecturer for Fall 2020, Princeton University’s own Adam Finkelstein.

As a Computer Science professor at Princeton, Adam’s research focuses on the “art of science,” comprising audio, photo and video manipulation. Much like the title suggests, his lecture with CIS will focus specifically on “Recovering, manipulating and enhancing recorded speech (1905-2020).” Projects up for discussion and survey include the process of retrieving audio recorded onto a postcard over a century ago, as well as a method designed to make real-world recorded speech sound as if it was recorded in a studio!

***The seminar will take place on Tuesday, September 15th, 3PM-4PM. Click HERE for more info.