USAGE in its fourth year

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USAGE 2014-15
As the 2014-15 Undergraduate Student Advisory Group in EECS (USAGE) gathered this fall term, for its fourth year as a standing committee in MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, there was an air of familiarity, with nearly a third of its 35 members returning for another year of reflection, discussion and action to enhance the undergraduate experience for fellow and future EECS undergraduates.

Pratheek Nagaraj, a member of USAGE since fall 2013 as a sophomore, recognizes that the group is unique in bridging the gap between the department administration and the undergraduate student body. “In my time on USAGE,” he says, “we have contributed to several high-impact decisions within the Course 6 community, ranging from the creation of a new EECS undergraduate student lounge to revamping the curriculum. For me,” he continues, “the meaningfulness and the visibility of my contributions are most significant, as I truly feel that I have a voice in the future of Course 6.”

Serving on USAGE has become a sought-after outlet and opportunity that students find worth their time despite their heavy course load commitments. The accomplishments of their USAGE predecessors are evidence of the value USAGE members bring to the department — including input that helped shape the formation of the SuperUROP in fall 2012; feedback that has created roles for undergraduates in the faculty search process; input that influenced the creation of EECScon, the EECS undergraduate research conference; and the creation of the EECS Undergraduate Student Lounge, launched in early October this year.

Anantha Chandrakasan, EECS Department head since July 2011, notes the significance of forming this group. “One of my best early decisions as department head was to form the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group in EECS, whose members provide critical student input guiding curriculum development and enhancements.” USAGE was created in 2011-12 as part of the department’s strategic planning process.

USAGE members this academic year are focused on providing feedback to the EECS faculty on three areas: the new curriculum; the workload balance in EECS classes; and gender imbalances. Meeting every other week with Prof. Chandrakasan, EECS undergraduate officer Prof. Albert Meyer, and EECS undergraduate administrator Anne Hunter, the students report on data collection and analysis supporting their recommendations on best approaches for further action.

A subgroup including Bianca Homberg ’15, Aakanksha Sarda ’14, Katie Bartel ’16, Gustavo Goretkin ’13 (now a PhD student), and Pratiksha Thaker MEng ’15 recently presented findings based on a department-wide survey of undergraduate confidence in taking advanced subjects in EECS. They noted in a presentation to EECS faculty members, “The results suggest that more than twice as many women as men have doubted their abilities in EECS and that this proportion is not explained exclusively by differences in prior preparation.” In response, this group has turned to HKN, the honor society for computer science and electrical engineering, to support initiatives such as dinners for students with similar interests to meet each other, workshops on skills not taught in classes but necessary for Course 6, and a series of study breaks next semester to facilitate students pairing to work together outside of classes.

EECS faculty members have also become involved in helping USAGE members on specific issues. Prof. Shafi Goldwasser, for example, is meeting with a USAGE subcommittee to discuss workload for EECS undergraduate students and its implications. Goldwasser, who proposed the idea to USAGE, notes about this project: “The USAGE group met to discuss the charter of a new EECS committee commissioned to study the work load of Course 6 students. The meeting was instrumental in formulating areas of investigation, such as the balance between credits and hours students put into the course, typical work weeks and sleep schedules of MIT students, and evaluating knowledge retention in light of the above.”

In December 2014, Prof. Leslie Kaelbling presented a progress report of the EECS Education Curriculum Committee (ECC) to the members of USAGE. On this first exposure to the proposed new curriculum, the students raised many questions in addition to providing input on various issues. Prof. Chandrakasan notes that the students provided some excellent suggestions and good feedback, as the ECC continues to shape the new curriculum.

Meet the 2014-15 USAGE members, whose brief bios and statements appear below.

 

Neerja Aggarwal

Hi! I am currently a junior from Houston, Texas majoring in Electrical Engineering (6-1) and minoring in Theatre (21M). My interests are focused around optics, signal processing, nanotechnology along with systems engineering, interdisciplinary projects, and international development. I am also involved with MIT Women's Club Ultimate, DramaShop, Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, EECS SuperUROP program, and IEEE/ACM. Through USAGE, I would like to advocate on behalf of the 6-1s in the department to have more options for classes and guidance in finding internships. I would also like to develop a stronger and more structured advising system offering more opportunities for student-faculty interaction.

 Neerja Aggarwal

Mohammed M. Ai Al Baky

I am a sophomore at MIT interested in physics and EECS, but declared EECS (6-2) as I believe that the MIT engineering education will prepare well to build and develop things that will be affordable by a large scale of population in the world. The EECS department has a lot of interdisciplinary resear ch opportunities and I can still pursue my interests in physics through this department’s labs, such as the MTL and RLE. I have been involved in many clubs and communities on campus, including the MIT International Development House (iHouse), and the Experimental Study G roup. I have also been doing a UROP on developing a cheap digital X-ray machine for developing countries..

I believe USAGE is a great opportunity for me to learn important administrative and communication skills, and I would like to contribute to it by working with the EECS department and MIT administration to bring up more interdisciplinary academic opportunities for the undergrad students.

Mohammed Al Baky

Kai Aicholz

My first exposure to MIT was taking one of edX.org’s first course offerings, 6.002x Circuits & Electronics, when I was 16. I quickly became fascinated by EECS, and continued on to major in course 6-2. Today, I am working as an iOS software developer at a startup called Zipwire, and researching for RLE’s Quanta Research Group as a UROP.

During my time with USAGE, I hope to aid the advent of hybrid online summer courses in subjects like Circuits & Electronics, and more entrepreneurial initiatives and opportunities like Start6.

Kai Aicholz

Brian Axelrod

I am a sophomore in 6-2 that grew up in the Bay Area. During my time at MIT I have gotten involved in manipulation and task planning research with LIS. I started working on Robotics and CS many years ago, and have had four summer internships in the field.

During my time with USAGE, In USAGE I would like to help develop better requirements in course 6 for students that come in with prior experience.

Brian Axelrod

Kathryn W. Bartel

I am a junior in course 6-2 with a minor in music. I love computer science in the context of art, music, and interactive technology. I am the Membership Director at WMBR, MIT’s radio station, and a founding member of MIT’s Engineering Design Group for Exhibition. I am currently doing research with the Computational Fabrication Group at CSAIL.

I am looking forward to improving the EECS department by participating in USAGE.

Kathryn Bartel

Jonathan Birjiniuk

My name is Jonathan Birjiniuk and I am a senior in 6-1. During my time at MIT, research has played a significant role in my education. For the past three years I have been UROPing in the Computational Biophysics Group, where I research protein structure modeling and computation. I am also a member of the EECScon programming committee (the course 6 undergraduate research conference).

As a member of USAGE, I would like to provide input to the department regarding undergraduate education as well as maintain and improve the great research opportunities provided within the department.

Jonathan Birjiniuk

Marcus Boorstin

I am a sophomore double majoring in Courses 6-3 and 18, and am originally from Washington, D.C. I spent the past semester and summer UROPing on the LuminAR project at the Media Lab, and I'm now part of an augmented reality startup. I'm also interested in low-level system design and operating systems. Outside the lab and classroom, I'm a member of the UAV Team, the Model UN team, and spend time reading, hanging out with friends, and playing League of Legends.

As a member of USAGE, I hope to focus on curriculum changes, and especially making the 6-3 track a little more flexible.

Marcus Boorstin

Uttara Chakraborty

I’m Uttara, a sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri in Course 6-1. I love studying electrical engineering and am greatly interested in the fields of materials, devices and nanotechnology. I have been UROPing in the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT. Over the summer, I got my first taste of device fabrication when I worked in the IC Fabrication Centre of Jadavpur University in Calcutta, India. My hobbies include reading classical literature, playing badminton, stamp collecting, listening to classical music, and playing the violin.

This is my first year on USAGE and I am excited to work on ways to enhance the Course 6 experience for students in electrical engineering. I hope to serve as a voice for Course 6-1 students, and make sure we have more opportunities for UROPs, internships, etc. I also hope to contribute new ideas towards designing new courses to enhance the electrical engineering curriculum.

Uttara Chakraborty

Kenny Friedman

My real name is Kenneth Friedman, but you can call me Kenny. I grew up five and half hours due west of Cambridge in a town called Manlius, NY. I love all things EECS: from robotics to human computer interaction. This summer at the Media Lab, I helped create an augmented reality system in the Fluid Interfaces Group. When I’m not attempting to find bugs in my code, I chase down balls on the tennis court and wreak havoc on the drum set.

As a member of USAGE, I hope to explore ways to reach a balance between a focus on research, entrepreneurship, and corporate life as possible career paths. I also hope to investigate how technology and digital learning can enhance students' EECS education here at MIT.

Kenny Friedman

Jonathan Garcia-Mallen

I am a sophomore in 6-2 interested seeing how intelligent machines can make life less laborious for people. I helped a team with an autonomous boat on the Charles this past summer, and hope to explore more of cognition and artificial intelligence in the future.

As a part of USAGE, I want to see our department's curriculum better serve its students as it continues to change. (After all, there's always room for improvement.)

Jonathan Garcia-Mallen

Caelan Garrett

Hi! My name is Caelan. I am a dual Masters Student and Senior majoring in 6-2 and 18. I've been an undergraduate and now graduate researcher in CSAIL's Learning and Intelligent Systems Group since my Freshman year. My research involves combining planning techniques from AI with control from robotics. I’ve also had several summer internships at organizations including Google, Twitter, Lockheed Martin, and the Naval Research Laboratory. Outside of academics, I sing in and am president of the MIT Chorallaries, MIT’s first coed A Cappella singing group.

I’ve taken advantage of many of the special opportunities EECS offers its students, and through USAGE, I hope to provide my ideas and feedback. I am particularly interested in expanding on programs like SuperUROP that encourage undergraduate research because I’ve had such a rewarding research experience.

Megan Gebhard

My name is Megan Gebhard and I am a sophomore from Michigan majoring in Computer Science (6-3). Here at MIT, I play varsity volleyball, I am a SWE department liaison-representative, and a Google Student Ambassador. Last summer I interned on the Google Voice Search team.

I am very passionate about Course 6, and as a member of USAGE, I would love to help shape the curriculum and incorporate more entrepreneurial opportunities within the EECS department.

Megan Gebhard

Ameesh K. Goyal

I'm Ameesh, a 6-3 MEng from Dallas, Texas. I'm currently working with Network and Mobile Systems group in CSAIL on improving web performance, and I've done a number of internships in the industry. I have a growing interest in finance, but I'm still deciding on a post-graduation career.

Through USAGE, I hope to contribute to any curriculum changes the department is planning and enhance the entrepreneurial experience for EECS students.

Ameesh Goyal

Ankush Gupta

I am a 6-3 junior from Louisville, Kentucky and I'm really interested in making a positive impact to the world through computer science. I'm a co-director of TechX, which is the student group responsible for HackMIT, Techfair, MakeMIT and Blueprint (a coding workshop for highschool students). I've also worked at Quizlet and Twitter.

My experiences make me particularly interested in shaping how the EECS department encourages innovation (within industry and entrepreneurship as well as research) and plans to integrate digital learning into the curriculum, and I hope to impact these areas through USAGE.

Ankush Gupta

Bianca Homberg

I'm a senior in courses 6-2 and 18. I am currently working in the Distributed Robotics Lab. Last year I worked on the modular M-Blocks robots; this semester I am starting work on the development of a soft robotic hand for the Baxter system as 6.UAP and continuing on as my MEng starting over IAP. This fall, I co-directed the Fall Career Fair with 380 companies and over 4,000 students. Throughout muy time at MIT, I've been involved with the Educational Studies Program, both teaching classes and organizing behind the scenes. As the Women's Outreach Chair for HKN, I run events from technical interview panels to negotiation workshops to help prepare all underclassmen for industry with skills not taught in classes.

As a member of USAGE, I am interested in curriculum development and I am serving on the subcommittee for women in course 6.

Bianca Homberg

Shantanu Jain

I an Shantanu Jain, a current Junior from Naperville, IL, studying Course 6-2. I came to MIT knowing I would major in course 6. I have loved electronics and computers since I was a young child, and I have long aspired to go to school here. I am an entrepreneur -- I have pitched my start ups in the MIT 100K and Y-Combinator, and want to make sure entrepreneurship resources are available to students here. Outside of school, I have worked on improving Wi-Fi performance via big data at Google Fiber, developing an omnipresent computing interface for the CityHome Project at the Media Lab's Changing Places group, developing data visualizations at Appian, and designing a particle beam transfer line at Fermilab.

I joined USAGE because I wanted to bring the faculty and students closer together, because I believe that the best learning is done outside the classroom. The people are the best resources at MIT -- let's better utilize them. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in the department so far and look forward to the next few years here.

Shantanu Jain

Lars Johnson

I am a senior from Minnesota majoring in 6-2 and 18 who plays the oboe and enjoys spending time outdoors. Since coming to MIT, I've had a UROP with music21, a python toolkit for computer-aided musicology, published and presented a paper about it at a Digital Humanities conference in Germany, received department recognition for my work as a teaching assistant for 6.01, and enjoyed summer internships at Thomson Reuters, Google. and Dropbox.

I'm interested in taking a more active role in shaping the department's future, particularly in the area of curriculum development.

Lars Johnson

Ciara L. Kamahele-Sanfratello

I am a senior in course 6-3 from San Diego, California. I worked at Google in Zurich and Sydney last summer on a research project to help virtualize the distributed cluster management system. This year, I am working on my M.Eng. thesis with the Learning and Intelligent Systems group in CSAIL.

I understand how hard it can be to enter the world of computer science without prior experience, and I want to help the department make the right decisions for students who are new to the field.

Ciara Kamahele-Sanfratello

Keertan R. Kini

I am a junior in 6-2, and I have a wide variety of interests both in and out of Course 6. I have previously interned at Akamai Technologies and Microsoft, and I am currently on a year abroad at Cambridge University.

I would like to help ensure that Course 6 remains a community of opportunity and possibility for its members. More pragmatically I wish to see it appropriately scale the quality of its offerings to its increasingly large student base. Additionally, I would like to help shape the curriculum that will shape future Course 6ers. I would most like to give back to the department which has given me much already.

Keertan Kini

Veronica Lane

I am a senior in Course 6-2 with a minor in Course 2 and I'm from San Jose, California. My primary interest is robotics and I am currently doing research in the Robot Locomotion Group on LittleDog, a quadruped robot. I have interned over the summer at Boeing, the Aerospace Corporation, and NASA. Outside of academics, I am involved in several Latino student groups on campus including LUChA, Latinos in Science and Engineering (MAES), and Spanish House.

My goal as a member of USAGE is to help improve Course 6 advising and the transition into course 6 for underclassmen.

Veronica Lane

Manting Natalie Lao

My name is Manting (I also go by Natalie) and I am a junior studying 6-2. I am currently Co-President for the MIT IEEE/ACM Club (ieee.scripts.mit.edu), which hosts social and academic events for the Course 6 community such as study breaks, startup field trips, conference funding, and course panels. I am also in the SuperUROP program, doing research on portable medical sensors that interface with mobile technology for use in rural communities. My other hobbies include traveling and piano.

This is my second year on USAGE and I am very excited for another opportunity to contribute to the MIT EECS program by sculpting our future classes, programs, and policies. Although Course 6 is already a fantastic major, I want to help make our community more tight-knit, give students more entrepreneurial opportunities, provide more exciting classes, and make sure our students have all the support that they may need.

Manting Natalie Lao

Gilwoo Lee

I’m an M.Eng. student in 6-3. I took a break after getting my B.S. in 2010; I worked at Dreamworks as a Technical Director, at a venture capital where I invested in movies and entertainment contents, and co-founded a startup in the Bay Area. I’m currently researching in the Learning and Intelligent Systems group.

Upon coming back to MIT, I noticed many positive changes, both in curriculum and in extra-curricular opportunities. I would like to utilize my experience in helping the department make better decisions in curriculum changes and opening more entrepreneurial opportunities for EECS students.

Gilwoo Lee

Taibo Li

I am a Course 6-2 senior from Beijing, China. In my sophomore year, I came to MIT as a transfer student from the University of Hong Kong (with one-year preparatory studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing), and I spent my junior year in the other Cambridge (CME program). This diverse experience provided me with a valuable perspective about different styles of teaching and learning. I have been UROPing in the Broad Institute working on protein interaction networks, and last summer I developed a new algorithm to classify colon cancer patients in the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge. I also enjoy teaching, both as a Python instructor at the Ashesi University in Accra, Ghana, and as an online course developer for MITx.

As a USAGE member, I wish to create a more personalized peer advising system, promote international awareness within our community, and further explore the possibility of integrating MITx into traditional EECS education.

Taibo Li

WeiHua James Li

I am WeiHua Li and I am a first year MEng student. I was born and raised in China and spent about three years in New York City for high school. I love coding, investing, and any idea that aims to combine these two together. I am working on building the next generation of platform that focuses on collecting and applying personal data to improve daily experience, especially in the area of on-campus teaching and learning. The ultimate goal of this platform is to transform how we live, work, and think through data.

As a member of USAGE, I want to bridge any gap between the students and the department, improve course 6 experience, and help to define the direction that the department heads for the coming years.

WeiHua James Li

Wei W. Low

I am a sophomore in Course 6-2 interested in robots, space, and robots in space. I'm part of the UA Events Committee, Community Lead for the MIT Robotics Team and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. I currently hold a UROP in the Model-Based Embedded and Robotic Systems Group (MERS) in CSAIL.

As a member of USAGE, I hope to help shape the future of EECS at MIT!

Wei W. Low

Colin McDonnell

Hi! I'm Colin, 6-2 major, Air Force brat, first of my name. I have very wide interests, including embedded systems, microfluidics, machine learning, economics and behavioral psychology. I love learning, especially outside of the classroom through projects, conversations, and Wikipedia.

I'm involved in online education and the use of edX in classes around MIT through the UA. Rethinking these tools and identifying the situations in which they are most helpful is a place where Course 6 is naturally set up to lead, which is something I hope to see addresses in USAGE.

Colin McDonnell

Merry Mou

I am a 6-3 junior from California, and I'm interested in systems in all senses of the word - from computer systems to social systems. I have previously participated in 6.470 IAP Web Programming Competition, and have interned at Twitter and Nextdoor.

As a part of USAGE this year, I am interested in how students can be better supported through advising and curriculum development.

 

Merry Mou

Pratheek B. Nagaraj

I am a junior in course 6-2 originally from South Florida. Previous to my MIT experience I was involved in research in my high school. Now here at MIT, I continue my research endeavours currently working on cryptography in CSAIL and having worked on an interdisciplinary computer science and genetics project in the past. I have also held internships with Facebook, Amazon, and NASA.

As a member of USAGE, I hope to bolster the undergraduate research environment in Course 6 as well as improve the curriculum and assistance provided to students.

 Pratheek Nagaraj

Deepak Narayanan

I am a senior / MEng student majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics from Bangalore, India. I currently work in CSAIL on Natural Language Processing-related problems with Prof. Regina Barzilay. I also enjoy teaching in the department a whole lot, having been a Lab Assistant for both 6.01 and 6.005, and a Teaching Assistant for 6.006, in the past. Over the last couple of summers, I have interned at Microsoft, Pinterest and MSR, India.

Prior to coming to MIT, I didn't have much exposure to Programming, so I know how intimidating Course 6 can be for the uninitiated. As a member of USAGE, I hope to make the transition to Course 6 a lot easier for underclassmen. I would also like to make a number of the core Course 6 undergraduate classes more effective, both from an academic and industry standpoint.

Deepak Narayanan

Maria Stoica

I am currently a sophomore in 6-3 and 14 with an interest in computational finance. My home state is Kansas, but my family is originally from Romania. On campus, I am a Department Liaison for the Society of Women Engineers, an active member of the sorority Pi Beta Phi, and one of the career fair directors for this past fall career fair. Besides my interest in computer science and economics, I love political science and art history. I also have a passion for travel that I hope to pursue while at MIT. span>

Through USAGE I hope to help find ways course 6 can work to bridge the gender gap and I would love to contribute to the changing curriculum.

Maria Stoica

Lisette Tellez

My name is Lisette, and I am a freshman from Florida planning to major in course 6-3.  I am especially interested in entrepreneurship and in computer science applied to biology and cognitive science.  I am a Society of Women Engineers representative for campus engagement, am on the events team for StartLabs, and play varsity volleyball.

As a member of USAGE, I plan to promote entrepreneurship in EECS and to get other freshmen excited about the opportunities of Course 6.

Lisette Tellez

Pratiksha Thaker

I'm an MEng student working on intelligent protocols for computer networks. This is my second year as a member of USAGE. This year, I'm interested in finding ways to help make course 6 a more supportive and inclusive environment for all its members.

Pratiksha Thaker

David Ye

My name is David Ye, and I'm a senior in 6-2. I'm currently doing robotics research as part of the the Learning and Intelligent Systems group in CSAIL, and I hope to continue pursuing my interests in machine learning, AI, and robotics for years to come. I've also previously worked in industry at Twitter and VMware.

I hope to contribute to USAGE to build new initiatives that will best help students prepare for and choose between careers in academia and industry.

 

David Ye

Amanda Zhou

Hi! I'm currently a 6-2 junior from Lake Forest, IL (a northern suburb of Chicago). I spent my past summer at Google, doing Android development for the Zagat team. On campus, I am the Vice President of Communications for Sigma Kappa, the Vice President of Education for Smart Woman Securities, and a member of StartLabs.

I'm really thrilled to have the opportunity to serve on USAGE and become a part of the conversations that affect our time at MIT as Course 6 students. I'm excited to continue efforts to integrate Course 6 and entrepreneurship. Additionally, I hope to help publicize all the resources Course 6 has to offer - so many students don't realize they exist.

Amanda Zhou