By Louis DiPietro
Eight graduating seniors from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science were named Merrill Presidential Scholars, a distinction awarded to a select group of outstanding graduation seniors each year.
The scholars were selected by deans of the university’s 10 undergraduate colleges and schools based on their outstanding scholastic achievement, their strong leadership, and their desire to positively impact the world beyond Cornell. This is inaugural class of the inaugural Merrill Presidential Scholars for Cornell Bowers CIS.
This year’s Cornell Bowers CIS Merrill Presidential Scholars are:
Bonnie Akhavan, a double major in computer science and operations research and information engineering (ORIE), made the most of her Cornell experience, serving in leadership roles for Women in Computing at Cornell and the Cornell Data Science team while excelling in the classroom. She earned the Tau Beta Pi (Fall 2021) and Grace Hopper (Fall 2020, 2021) scholarships, and served as a teaching assistant in several courses, including ORIE 3510, CS 2110, and CS 4780, and others. In addition, Bonnie was integral in her work on Cornell’s COVID-19 modeling team, which provided data analysis and advanced modeling to support university decision-making related to COVID-19. After graduation, she plans to return to Goldman Sachs for a summer internship and then pursue a master’s degree in either operations research engineering or statistics.
William Bekerman, biometry and statistics, made an impression on his Merrill nominator Joe Guinness, associate professor of statistics and data science, who called William “one of the most outstanding undergraduate students I have encountered at Cornell.” William approached Guinness about a research project, and together, the duo analyzed satellite wind speed data, culminating in a paper recently submitted to IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. William has been accepted into several top Ph.D. programs in statistics.
Victor Butoi, computer science, collected several academic distinctions and scholarships as an undergraduate at Cornell, including a Tanner Dean Scholar Research Grant as Tanner Dean Scholar in the College of Arts & Sciences, a Computer Science Dream Grant, and a Wood Excellence in Engineering Research Grant. “Many students are excellent academically, but what stands out about Victor is his ability to act as a leader as well,” said Thorsten Joachims, associate dean for research and professor of computer science. Victor served as the academic lead for the Association of Computer Science Undergraduates (ACSU) and president of the Cornell Data Science Club. Victor will be pursuing a Ph.D. at MIT upon graduation.
Anna Effenberger, a double major in statistics and economics, demonstrated a strong commitment to research, according to Martin Wells, chair of statistics and data science. In the Cornell Language, Interaction, and Learning Lab, she conducted research in natural language processing to understand how individuals change their language when collaborating, culminating in her paper “Analysis of Language Change in Collaborative Instruction Following,” which was accepted for publication at various national and international NLP conferences. Anna also participated in a collaborative research project between the Department of Statistics and Data Science and the Law School. She ran computational linguistic analyses to determine how attorneys changed their language to shape minority jurors’ responses, findings which may help to prevent discrimination of minorities from jury pools. The Law School’s first undergraduate Theodore Eisenberg Research Fellow, Anna served with Vision Brand Consulting and the Cornell Hedge Fund Club.
Yiqi Jiang, a double major in computer science and electrical and computer engineering, received overwhelming support in her nomination as a Merrill Presidential Scholar. Nominators cited her extensive research activities in image processing, machine learning and decision systems – including seven different research projects during her time at Cornell – and mentorship in student groups, like Women in Computing at Cornell and ACSU. She also performed as first chair clarinet in Lincoln Center in New York City and Kremlin Palace in Moscow, helped build 18 libraries in many underprivileged areas in China, and founded Volo, a weekly badminton club focused on teaching the game to underprivileged children. Post graduation, Yiqi intends to pursue a Ph.D.
Alisha Kewalramani, information science, earned the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Scholar of Engineering, was named to the Dean’s List for six semesters, and served as president of Cornell’s Engineers Without Borders, among countless achievements. “Alisha is a student who combines creativity, intellect and tenacity,” said Drew Margolin, associate professor of communication and course instructor of Social Networks and Social Capital (COMM/INFO 4360), a class where Alisha excelled. “These are the kind of students that make teaching not only a joy but an inspiration.”
While Caroline Lui, computer science, excelled academically during her time at Cornell and her nominators also emphasized her superb accomplishments as a teaching assistant. Both faculty and students alike praised Caroline for her keen knowledge of course material, openness, and enthusiasm in helping students. Wrote Anke van Zuylen, senior lecturer of computer science: “Caroline's extraordinary academic achievement – evidenced by her transcript and the quality of her work as a TA – combined with the leadership qualities she displays as a head TA and her enthusiasm for working with the students truly makes her one of the best students we have.”
Stephen Yang, information science, was recognized for his academic performance, his research activities, and his role as a community leader. As a researcher, Stephen co-authored three papers submitted to the most prestigious conferences in human computer interaction and artificial intelligence. As a community leader, Stephen served as a peer mentor, was a teaching assistant for six courses, and wrote a regular column for the Cornell Daily Sun, “Rewiring Technoculture,” for two years. “He has been the best undergraduate student I have worked with at Cornell,” wrote Qian Yang, assistant professor of information science. “My students, colleagues, and funding agencies alike praise his research, his work ethic, and his impressive breadth of knowledge."
All 42 students chosen as 2022 Merrill Presidential Scholars were honored at a May 24 ceremony that included remarks from President Martha E. Pollack and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, and welcomed participants from 13 U.S. states as well as countries including Tanzania, Thailand, China and the Republic of Korea.