Summer 2020 TA Awards!

Clockwise (from top left): Brandon Joel Gonzalez, Katie Pizziketti, Nicole Chiou, Serena Gandhi (Image: Penn Engineering Online Learning Twitter Acct.)

As the academic community has had to adapt to experience learning in a mostly virtual realm, the position of Teaching Assistant has morphed a bit as well. This year’s Summer 2020 TA Award Winners have been recognized for their outstanding ability to help facilitate efficient and smooth online engagement. CIS staff, faculty, and students are honored to have them!

Visit Penn Engineering Online to view the full list.


C.I.S. Strong: Meet Tejas Srivastava

Tejas Srivastava (Image: courtesy of Tejas Srivastava)

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science Engineering back home at India’s University of Pune, Tejas Srivastava chose to join the UPenn CIS family as a graduate student (c/o 2021). And we’re so lucky to have him!

When Tejas is not listening to his favorite tech podcasts, or getting into a new workout routine, he’s probably studying ways to better interpret the data of human emotion. Find out more about Tejas and his work with the World Well Being Project below.

What research/ projects are you currently working on?

As a research assistant under Prof. Lyle Ungar within the World Well Being Project, I am currently working on building a generalizable emotion-based lexicon from social media data by interpreting and inverting deep neural networks for text classification. I am also working on some mini projects such as  building an online portfolio website to showcase my work, projects, experiences and learnings, and an app which shares select new photos from my phone and shares them with my parents and across devices (TV and tablet) back in India (still in progress).  Apart from these projects, I am spending time revising some subjects and preparing for the upcoming recruitment season.

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

COVID-19 has sure propelled me to inculcate new habits and hobbies to maintain my well-being, one of the most significant ones being networking and talking to people. I have been spending time to talk to my parents daily and talking to friends back in India and fellow classmates at Penn and celebrating birthdays and other festivals virtually. I have also been attending a lot of virtual tech meetups hosted by Penn and communities in and around Philly and meeting new people with similar interests. I am also connecting with a lot of Penn Alumni, and talking to them about their experiences, and seeking general advice from them.

I spent some time redesigning my room and specifically my workplace, to create a welcoming and clean setup, knowing that I would have to spend a lot of time there.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have also started to cook a lot and spend more time in the kitchen and have tried a lot of new dishes, and enjoyed taking cooking breaks in between work. Very recently, I have also started basic workouts at home, and going on runs and walks (with proper precaution of course!) in and around Penn Park and Schuylkill River, exploring University City and some parts of Philly, in order to get some fresh air and compensate for my old regular walks to the campus from my apartment. Thus, I would say that the pandemic has given me a chance to pause, and re-evaluate myself, and with some time on hand, develop myself in a lot of ways.

What future research/ projects are you excited about?

Me along with my research group have made some progress on the lexicon building project, and I plan to continue to work on the same, as we are on the way to promising results. Apart from that I plan to take the distributed systems course in the upcoming semester, and am particularly excited to work on the course project, which includes building a fully-fledged distributed cloud platform from scratch.

Favorite culture intakes right now?

I recently started reading “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson, which talks about the philosophy of being successful by taking insignificant and simple decisions and actions, consistently over time, instead of waiting for or taking the one revolutionary move, and have been trying to test and implement the same. I also enjoy sometimes listening to podcasts while I workout and run, and specifically follow the Artificial Intelligence Podcast by Lex Fridman, and The ChangeLog podcast, where hosts interview hackers, leaders and innovators within software development and open source. I also indulge in some Bollywood music and occasional Prateek Kuhad (one of my favorite singers) songs while I run. Mostly on the weekends, I spend some free time watching videos on YouTube, following the latest in technology, and admire the works of MKBHD, Unbox Therapy, The Verge and many other tech Youtubers, and have also recently restarted watching “DeathNote,” one of my favorite animes.


GRASP Lab’s Fall Virtual Events

Oladapo (Dapo) Afolabi,  final year CS PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, was the featured speaker at GRASP Lab’s latest seminar, titled “Data Driven Perception for Autonomy.”

In the upcoming Fall semester, interdisciplinary academic center GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab will present a series of seminars and events with speakers from all over the country. Speakers include Tichakorn (Nok) Wongpiromsarn, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University, and Penn CIS’ own Jim Gee. The GRASP Lab’s faculty contains a large chunk of CIS members.

Find more info The GRASP Lab’s upcoming events and seminars HERE.


CIS Lecturer and MCIT Alumnus Brandon Krakowsky speaks to how MCIT changed his life

A still from the MCIT Online Admissions Webinar (featured on the Penn Engineering Online Learning YouTube channel.)

In their latest installment of informative presentations, Penn Engineering Online Learning invited musician and CIS community member Brandon Krakowsky to discuss how the MCIT program led him to various opportunities within the world of Penn.

Watch the full webinar HERE to learn more about Brandon (and his adorable dog), as well as what to expect in the first course of the MCIT program.


CIS community members’ latest platform uses language to help cut through COVID misinfo

Member of Penn’s Information Pollution Project team (from left), professor Dan Roth, Ph.D. student Sihao Chen, and undergraduate research assistant Xander Uyttendaele. (Image: “Navigating ‘information pollution’ with the help of artificial intelligence”

Putting in the work to sort reliable info on the internet from the not so reliable requires an amount of time that most of us just don’t have available. With the subsequent pressures of COVID-19 weighing on society, that time is a more valuable resource than ever.

That’s why CIS’ own Dan Roth, together with his team at the Cognitive Computation Group, have created the Penn Information Pollution Project.

In a Penn Today article, Science News Officer Erica K. Brockmeier described the Penn Information Pollution Project as “an online platform to help users find relevant and trustworthy information about the novel coronavirus.” The platform relies on natural language processing to not only analyze a source’s amount of credibility, but also identify the multiple perspectives that could serve as viable answers.

But the intricacy of language itself presents difficulties.

‘Language is ambiguous. Every word, depending on context, could mean completely different things,’ says Roth in the article. ‘And language is variable. Everything you want to say, you can say in different ways. To automate this process, we have to get around these two key difficulties, and this is where the challenge is coming from.’

Read the full article HERE

Additional information and resources on COVID-19 are available at


Penn Engineering’s “Summer Reading” program encourages Penn community to share its stories

from Penn Engineering Medium Site

Penn’s School of Engineering has issued a call for submissions from the Penn community’s staff, students and faculty alike. In the midst of a global pandemic, heightened tensions due to police brutality and systemic injustice, and looming economic crisis, Penn Engineering wants to provide opportunities for staff and students to share how they are coping, how they are thriving and what the summer may bring for them.

Below is a more detailed snippet of the School’s inspiration behind the project:

“In difficult times, we often turn to our communities to seek comfort, grow in our understanding of the world around us and to figure out the best way forward.

Penn Engineering’s “Summer Reading” project is our way of learning about what members of the School’s community are doing to engage and challenge themselves both as academics and human beings.

And summer reading can be about more than just books. We want to know: How will you be developing yourself as an individual and as an engineer this summer? What types of conversations are you having (or would you like to have) with your friends and family members about race? Are you completing a remote internship in your field? Making time for self-care is important, too. What fantasy worlds are you adventuring to this summer, and what souvenirs are you bringing back with you?”

Click HERE to submit a story of your own!


Penn Alumni offers a series of “Antiracist Education and Action” programs

Graphic for Penn Spectrum on the Road event, “Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Reason Behind Protest and Unrest,” scheduled for 07/14/2020, 7-9PM EST.

Given the current racial tensions and incidents involving police brutality around the country, the Penn Alumni’sAntiracist Education and Action” series is timely and important. Starting as soon as tomorrow, the events range from a Zoom chat with Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith (Penn ’97) as he answers questions about his latest Black Lives Matter-centered cover story, to a discussion of the importance of Penn Alumni’s James Brister Society. The series has come into fruition concurrently with the announcement of Raymond S. Markowitz President’s Distinguished Professor CJ Taylor as Penn Engineering’s inaugural Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Find the full listing of events (to date) below.

Zoom Q&A with Penn Alum and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 6:00 PM PT/9:00 PM ET
Join Penn Club LA and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Jamil Smith (Penn ’97) for a timely and topical discussion on Tuesday, June 30 at 6 pm PT. Jamil will discuss his recent cover story in Rolling Stone (The Power of Black Lives Matter) and issues relating to the current social justice movement around Black Lives Matter and racial inequity in America.
Host: Penn Club of Los Angeles
Featuring: Jamil Smith C’97 
Click here to register. – –

La Casa Latina Combating Anti-Blackness Book Club

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 6:00 PM EDT
Please join us in reading and discussing: Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. Join us Tuesday, June 30 at 6pm EST for a virtual discussion on the book!
Please RSVP at to receive Zoom link.
Host: La Casa Latina
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Solidarity and Allyship: LGBTQ and Black Communities

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 | 8:00 PM EDT
Due to Covid-19 and civil unrest in the country, this year’s PennGALA / YaleGALA annual Pride party has been rescheduled and in its place, we will be hosting a conversation about Pride, allyship and solidary between the Black and LGBTQ communities. We invite you to participate in the conversation as our speakers take us on a journey to explore how we can support and advance our communities. Click here to register. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Host: PennGALA & YaleGALA
Featuring: Malik Muhammad, Associate Director of the LGBT Center and Thomas Simsarian Dolan, Yale C’05 
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Diversity at Penn: An Introduction to The James Brister Society

July 9, 2020 | 7:00 PM EDT
Our speakers will discuss Diversity & Inclusion, their experience as Penn students, and the importance of the James Brister Society.
Host: James Brister Society, Penn Club of San Francisco
Featuring: Trustee Ramanan Raghavendran, ENG’89, W’89, LPS’15, Trustee Patricia Martin, MD, M’85, Trustee Michael Barrett, ENG’89
Click here to register. 
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Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Reason Behind Protest and Unrest

July 14, 2020 | 7:00 PM EDT
With a focus on current events, police brutality, juvenile justice, and prison reform how are activists today forging change for our communities?
Host: Penn Spectrum on the Road
Speakers: Sara Reese Lomax, C’87, Judith Browne Dianis, W’87
Click here to register. 
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Penn Alumni Reading Club

Discussion will be held in August – date and time to be announced soon
Host: Black Alumni Society, Alumni Education


Data Science Masters students tackle the mental health crisis and more at the Spring 2020 DATS Presentation

Presentation still from Pedro Peterson’s “Screening for mental illness from mobile phone data: a detection of psychotic symptoms.”

This year’s Spring 2020 DATS Presentation featured a wide variety of insightful and relevant topics. Below, you’ll find a list of the presenters, in addition to some project goals and key takeaways.

A hierarchical bayesian approach for tagged playlist generation”

Presenter: Anish Jain
Advised by: Eric Bradlow
Conclusion: “There’s a very high degree of heterogeneity in moods/activities definition across music listeners, and there’s quite a high degree of homogeneity in definition of genre across music listeners.”

“A data set for training QA systems to answer questions about novels”

Presenter: Yonah Mann
Advised by: Chris Callison-Burch and Clayton Greenberg
Goal: “Given a context which is a document or a set of documents, can you teach a system to answer questions in that context?”

“Understanding film characters and their social networks through a gender lens”

Presenter: Weizhen Sheng
Advised by: Ani Nenkova
Conclusion: “Gender affects how characters are portrayed and impacts their role in a social network.”

“Predicting the career success of NBA players from college statistics and draft timing”

Presenter: Jimmy Gao
Advised by: Shane Jenson
Inspiration: “As a diehard basketball fan, I constantly follow the NBA draft, and the draft stakes are pretty high right now. The increase in salary cap: this allows a lot of players to demand very expensive contracts.”

“Screening for mental illness from mobile phone data: a detection of psychotic symptoms”

Presenter: Pedro Petersen
Advised by: Ian Barnett
Asks the question: ” What if it were possible to help tackle the mental health crisis? Even if diagnosed, perhaps a close monitoring could help on treatment.”

“The carbon shock: investor response to the British Columbia carbon tax”

Presenter: Akshay Malhotra
Advised by: Frank Diebold
Takeaway: Market fear is upticked by “the idea that once a carbon tax or some sort of similar legislative policy is introduced, companies [are left with] all these assets that no longer produce value” (“stranded assets”).

“Predicting academic success of Masters students using application data”

Presenter: Karen Shen
Advised by: Boon Thau Loo and Ira Winston
Goals: “Create a data-driven approach to help admissions staff identify which students will struggle to graduate and which students will succeed in the Penn Engineering Masters Program…find which factors in the application profile are most indicative of future academic performance.”


Pivoting to meet critical needs: Penn Health Tech and others unite to produce PPE amidst crisis

HUP Nurses sporting shields produced by the face shields Rapid Response Team

Every year, Penn Health Tech (PHT) hosts a call for proposals that center the organization’s ethos: developing solutions that merge the fields of medicine and engineering.

This year, with the ethos still in the foreground, the specific goals changed.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we rapidly pivoted to create an initiative that we call the Rapid Response Teams,” said Victoria Berenholz, Executive Director of PHT.

Berenholz, together with Brian Litt, Dr. David Meaney and Dr. Kevin Turner, quickly assumed leadership roles.

Each of the 7 teams of the initiative focused on a specific need that included face shields, telemedicine carts, intubation PPE, and emergency ventilators.

Neil Ray, an ER doctor at HUP who worked with the initiative, felt the pressure early in the pandemic’s insurgence.

“It was a very scary time…we didn’t know much about how it was transmitted,” said Ray. “We needed face shields and we needed masks, we just didn’t have the resources to get them.”

Mark Yim – Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Director of the GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab – opted to be a part of the face shield team. Although the need for shields was dire, hospital protocol was constantly changing requirements. Designs should not be too close to the face (so as not to cause fogging), they should be secure and comfortable, and they should be reusable.

A shortage of suitable materials such as PETG, PET, and cellulose acetate meant they might have to get particularly resourceful. Consequently, vendor delays and other hiccups threatened an already tight timeline. The urgency of the situation was ever looming.

“We were thinking we might need to get soda bottles and cut them up,” said Yim. “Clear plastic was why most of the vendors were having problems with [producing] face shields.”

The team didn’t need to resort to recycling bin raids to secure materials, and the process moved forward into production, marked by 3 phases: 1) design and prototype, 2) 3D/foam production and 3) riveted production. The second and third phases followed the team’s progression from their first 2 design types: foam (the easiest to make) and 3D printed, to the riveted. Hospitals’ preferences for the riveted model, in addition to it being easier to construct than the foam, contributed to the production of roughly 10,000 riveted models alone.

At the Pennovation Center, CIS staff member Charity Payne — Associate Director of both the GRASP Lab and PERCH (Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub) — led a team of volunteer students responsible for shield and short band attachment. Afterwards, they were sent to Gaby Alvaro (GRASP Lab) and her team in the Levine Lobby for long band attachment and final assembly. Together they helped contribute to the creation of 1000-2000 shields per day.

“As a result of you guys’ hard work, we’ve had face shields, not only in the emergency department, but in the ICUs, and every floor, “ said ER doctor Ray in a virtual recap meeting. “You were actively impacting patient care, in a time when we needed you guys the most. “

Overall, the initiative was responsible for the production and delivery of over 15,000 shields to 5 Penn Medicine hospitals: Chester, HUP (5,000), Pennsylvania, Presbyterian and Princeton.  Roughly 200-300 volunteers came together to make this happen, most of which hustled into formation to finish assembly of the riveted models at the end of phase 3.

Despite these impactful results, PHT’s ED knows there is still more work to be done.

“[We] continue to source opportunities for new projects,” said Berenholz. “Even as we move out of this acute crisis phase.”

** Click here to submit proposals for the Rapid Response Teams **
** Click here for more in-depth coverage


Spring 2020 Senior Design: Final Presentations

Alumni panelists:

Luke Carlson (Apple), Jenny Chen (Airbnb), Qi Fang (​ IQVIA), Marty Gindi (Signant Health), Alwyn Goodloe (NASA Langley Research Center), John Hewitt (Stanford University), Derek Jobst (RaiseMe), Kavya Lakshminarayanan (Microsoft),  Spencer Lee (Epic Systems), Sudarshan Muralidhar (Igneous Systems), Sneha Rajana,  Ishan Srivastava (Microsoft – Applied AI Group), Joey Schorr (Red Hat, Inc (part of IBM)), Robert Zajac (Two Sigma)


Team 1: RoadX: An Automated Road Defect Inspection System
Members: Mei Chung, Arnav Jagasia, Mark Lewis, Adele Li, Jeffrey Zhou

Team 2: PRECEPTA: Ethical AI for Safer Retail
Members: Xinran Han, Ho-Wa-Jonathan Mak, Philippe Sawaya, Rahul Shekhar

Team 3: Trailblazing in forestry: automatic biomass prediction
Members: Adam Kirsh, John Mings, Ethan Perelmuter, Nathan Rush, Maria Turner

Team 4: Gigfitter: A personalized scheduling App for Gig Economy Workers
Members: Cameron Cabo, Jeffrey Chen, Minjae Kwon, Hao Lei

Team 5: CoParse: Performance-enhancing document reader for legal contracts
Members: Jacob Beckerman, Josh Doman, Sarah Herman, James Xue

Team 6: AMiAI: Using ML Models to Generate Product Reviews
Members: Sherjeel Arif, Srinath Makesh, Aavo Reinvald, Andrew Si

Team 7: Newsfluence: Identifying influential entities in news-related tweets
Members: Jack Buttimer, Matthew Kongsiri, Siyuan Liu 

Team 8: Evidence Retrieval for Ethical Investing
Members: Edward Cohen, Samuel Davis, James Feng, Joseph Goodman, Thomas Kumpf

Team 9: Addressing news bias through browsing behavior
Members: Azzam Althagafi, Roopa Chandra, Claire Donovan, Jennifer Jun

Team 10: Forage: Savings for EBT recipients
Members: Jacob Goldman, Daniel Leiser, Salomon Serfati, Ajay Vasisht 

Team 11: Spry: Aging at home made easier using IoT technology
Members: Tanusri Balla, Megan Kotrappa, Christopher Lin, Emily Tan, Spencer Weiss

Team 12: Compiler optimization for ELM
Members: Paul Palmer, John Powell, Vighnesh Vijay

Team 13: Remora: Transferring resource-intensive computational tasks between personal devices in real time
Members: Sam Akhavan, Hana Pearlman, Weizhen Sheng, Jane Xu

Team 14: Gamifying Physical Therapy Using Virtual Reality
Members: Alexander Chea, Yi Ching, Vijay Ramanujan, Anelia Valtchanova, Leon Wu

Team 15: doBetter deBugging
Members: Amit Gupta, Changwook Shim, Hannah Walsh, Zhijing Wu 

Team 16: Data Synchronization
Members: Suyog Bobhate, Tsz Lam, William Sun, Zeyu Zhao, Zhilei Zheng

Team 17: Personalizing Physical Therapy via Muscular Feedback
Members: Makarios Chung, Delender McCants, Vinaichandra Rachakonda, Saniyah Shaikh, Abdullah Zaini

Team 18: SmartCare
Members: Walter Chen, Kehao Lou, Ria Nagar, Haoxuan Yuan

Team 19: Online OH Queue
Members: Steven Bursztyn, Christopher Fischer, Monal Garg, Karen Shen, Marshall Vail

Team 20: Inventory Management and Predictions for Local Restaurants
Members: Mehmet Alaca, Natasha Gedeon, Maxwell Giancaterino, Deniz Kecik, Juliana Sales

Team 21: Goal-laborator: A social platform that promotes wellness by establishing habits through collaboration and competition
Members: Pranjal Goel, Nishita Jain, Wellington Lee, Shirali Shah

Team 22: Batmanhood: A network driven portfolio manager
Members: Samuel Fleischer, Ranwei Hu, Michael Lu, Saran Mumick, Wei Zhang

Team 23: Empowering the homeless through secure ID storage
Members: James Bigbee, Connor Chong, Steffen Cornwell, Alexander Do, Gregory Kofman

Team 24: Lex: A Community for the Curious
Members: Sydney Essex, Vibhav Jagwani, Rohan Menezes, Pranav Pillai, Harrison Silver

Team 25: Online Music Streaming via Collaborative Recommendations
Members: Somil Govani, Dominic Holmes, Sanjit Kalapatapu, Nihar Patil

Team 26: Adio: Location-based audio advertising for rideshare
Members: Sneha Advani, Bharath Jaladi, Arjun Lal, Romit Nagda, Sneha Rampalli

Team 27: BlockIt: Time blocking, made easy
Members: Griffin Fitzsimmons, Rishab Jaggi, Jaeyoung Lee, Ezaan Mangalji

Team 28: CityRun: The User-friendly scenic route generation
Members: Taras Bukachevskyy, Allison Domm, Luigi Mangione, Sierra Mills, William Morrissy

Team 29: Sparrow: A Travel Itinerary Recommendation System for Groups
Members: Victor Chien, Jesse Cui, Alexander Lichen, Akshay Malhotra, Linzhi Qi

Team 30: Where2Go: Resource Mapping for Non-profits
Members: Vicente Guallpa, Katie Jiang, Stephanie Shi, Erik Zhao

Team 31: PhilaForm: Simplifying the tax abatement process
Members: Stephen Eyerly, Vincent Gubitosi, Anant Kumar, Paul Lorenc, Tianyu Yin, Natalie Wiegand


Technical sophistication: Team 5: CoParse: Performance-enhancing document reader for legal contracts

Creativity: Team 14: Gamifying Physical Therapy Using Virtual Reality

Societal impact: Team 19: Online OH Queue

Alumni’s choice: Team 16: Data Synchronization