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CICS Graduate Students Honored for Outstanding Synthesis Projects, Teaching Assistance

Clockwise from top left: Chen Qu, Zezhou Cheng, Zachary While, Cole Reilly

In addition to the two doctoral graduates honored in April for their outstanding dissertations, four graduate students in the UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) were selected to receive Outstanding Graduate Awards for the 2019–2020 academic year.

The Outstanding Synthesis Project awards for interdisciplinary research projects were awarded to Chen Qu and Zezhou Cheng. Synthesis projects are significant research projects that combine at least two different research areas and involve an intellectual stretch to bring them together. The projects are part of the unique CICS culture of collaboration, where each doctoral student is required to complete a synthesis project before they can be considered for candidacy.

Qu won for his project, “Conversation History Understanding in Conversational Question Answering.” As his doctoral advisor Bruce Croft, distinguished professor emeritus put it, “Chen did an outstanding job developing and testing models for conversational question answering. He compared his approach to state-of-the-art baselines and published papers on the basis of the research.”

Cheng won for his project, “Detecting and Tracking Communal Bird Roosts in Weather Radar Data.” As co-advisor Subhransu Maji, assistant professor explains, "Tree swallows congregate in large groups (or roosts) and take flight before sunrise during their fall migration across the continental US ... The project aims to develop a fully-automated method to detect these [behaviors], allowing us to build a multi-year continental-scale model of how they migrate.” Co-advisor Daniel Sheldon, associate professor, adds, “Zezhou hit it out of the park in developing a useful system.”

The Outstanding Teaching Assistant awards were won by Zachary While and Cole Reilly for their exemplary efforts in assisting with course instruction. While was praised for his dedication to student success, including creating supplemental study materials for students in CS 240. Reilly, a Bay State Fellow, was praised by faculty and students for his strength in the classroom when he was asked to step in for lectures in CS 119.