Duncan Award goes to Computer Science’s Kavraki

Award goes to Computer Science’s Kavraki


Rice News staff

This year’s

Charles W. Duncan Jr. Achievement Award for Outstanding Faculty

was awarded to Lydia Kavraki, associate professor of computer
science and bioengineering.

The award, which
recognizes outstanding performances in both scholarship
and teaching, includes a $5,000 prize.

research interests are in robotics and bioinformatics with
emphasis on the development of innovative tools for computer-assisted
drug discovery. She works in the broader area of physical
computing and seeks efficient solutions to problems arising
in the physical world.

discussed the award and teaching in an interview with the
Rice News (RN):

RN: What
is your reaction to winning the Duncan Award?

I am extremely happy about it. It is a great honor, and
I know that there are many faculty on this campus who are
equally deserving of this award.

RN: Your
nomination mentioned that your undergraduate research students
produce a “wealth of research papers” and are
admitted to graduate school at a high rate. Do you have
any advice for other faculty about how to best help undergraduates
achieve success in research?

I think Rice has exceptional undergraduate students with
very strong work ethics. I just gave the students the opportunity
to develop their interests and exploit their tremendous
potential. My only advice is to match undergraduate students
with projects that really spark their interest as early
as possible.

RN: You
are one of the few women on faculty in computer science.
What can faculty within and outside the discipline do to
encourage more women to enter this field?

Faculty can help expose female students to the diversity
of the discipline. Here at Rice we are also very fortunate
to have pioneering programs, led by professors Richard Tapia
and Keith Cooper, that try to reach out to high-schools
and educate both female students and teachers about computer
science. Such efforts clearly make a difference.

I would advise
women interested in computer science to get involved in
a research project as soon as possible. Faculty inside and
outside computer science can help in encouraging women to
get involved and in providing matching opportunities. I
must add that I believe that Rice’s computer science
department — through exceptional leadership from past
chair Moshe Vardi and current chair Keith Cooper —
has taken many steps to encourage, mentor and retain female
students and to create an excellent environment for female
students and female faculty.

RN: What
methods do you use to try to make your classes more interesting
to students?

A variety of methods. I bring examples from my own research
to the class. For example, I describe an algorithm that
helps move a robot from one position to another. Then, I
talk about the difficulties of developing such an algorithm,
and I discuss how to analyze it based on the methodology
we just learned.

I always try
to show applications that motivate the material taught in
the course. I have used many suggestions and help from the
Cain Project, which is a wonderful resource and which also
helped many of our students develop excellent communication
and leadership skills.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.