Ken Kennedy Institute awards $87,500 to 12 graduate students

The Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology’s annual graduate fellowship program has awarded $87,500 to a dozen Rice University graduate students this year.

The 2018 award recipients include Manav Bhati (chemical engineering), Ao Cai (earth science), Carly Fagnant (statistics), Jaeho Lee (computer science), Eleni Litsa (computer science), Mae Markowski (computational & applied math), Alana Semple (earth science), Jordan Shivers (chemical engineering), Wenya Shu (civil engineering), Philip Taffet (computer science), Christopher Thiele (computational & applied math) and Yicheng Wu (applied physics and electrical engineering).

Back row: Christopher Thiel, Manav Bhati, Jordan Shivers, Wenya Shu, Yicheng Wu; Second row: Phillip Taffett, Ao Cai, Eleni Litsa; Front row: Alana Semple, Mae Markowski, Carly Fagnant, Jaeho Lee

“Recognizing such an impressive set of students continues to be an honor, but is always a challenge because we continue to receive such a large number of high-caliber nominations,” said Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute and associate vice president for research computing. “Industry support this year enabled the Ken Kennedy Institute to award a total of 12 fellowships from a combination of funding sources. We truly appreciate our sponsors, and given the caliber and quantity of students, we would welcome others to join in supporting future cohorts.”

Recipients typically use their fellowship awards to help them further research pursuits, attend conferences, travel and develop networking relationships. They will also present their research in March at the annual Oil and Gas High Performance Computing Conference (OG-HPC), a meeting place for networking and discussion focused on computing and information technology challenges and needs in the oil and gas industry.

“Ken Kennedy was a luminary in the field of computer science, and it’s a great honor to receive a fellowship bearing his name,” said Taffet, who studies network congestion in supercomputers. “We’re working to produce something akin to Google Maps’ traffic view, but for specialized computer networks instead of highways. Knowing when, where and why there is congestion on the network will help developers optimize their programs to avoid or reduce the congestion so they can solve their scientific problems faster.”

Building nationally and internationally renowned graduate programs through extraordinary research opportunities and the best educational programs is one of the goals of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, part two. In support of this goal, the Ken Kennedy Institute continues to work in collaboration with industry leaders in order to help Rice deepen its engagement with industry through research and talent development.

“This award encourages me to continue exploring new ideas to solve imaging problems using computational methods,” Wu said. “It will allow me to attend top conferences in computer vision and computational imaging to present my research progress and make professional connections with researchers and engineers from all over the world.”

Bhati uses high-performance computational resources to study the electrochemistry and material properties of Si-anodes in Li-ion batteries. He will use the award to further understand and optimize Si-anode materials to improve the performance of the next generation Li-ion batteries.

Alana Semple will use her award to bolster research, conducted with the aid of computer simulations, on how the motion of the Earth’s mantle interacts with the tectonic plates we live on. She is currently working on a range of projects, from figuring out the main forces driving plate motions to investigating where and by how much mantle flows beneath the tectonic plates can lift the surface into mountain ranges. “Receiving this award is a step toward my independence as a researcher as well as a reminder that my work is very much cross-discipline,” Semple said. “What I do is not possible without both large computing resources and geologic observations, and blending the two has inspired most, if not all, of my Ph.D. work.”

With the support of industry and the annual OG-HPC conference, the Ken Kennedy Institute has awarded more than $1 million supporting more than 100 students since 2001.


About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.