Leena Mathur, a USC senior pursuing a triple major in computer science, cognitive science, and linguistics, recently received the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) 2022 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award. The award recognizes top undergraduate students from colleges across North America who demonstrate excellence and outstanding potential in an area of computing research.
Mathur’s research interests center on leveraging artificial intelligence to improve people’s lives.
“I find it really motivating to work on AI research projects that have the potential to enhance human health and well-being,” Mathur said. “It’s an honor to have my work in research be recognized alongside other inspiring undergraduate researchers,”
The CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award is sponsored by Microsoft Research and Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL). Mathur is one of four recipients who received this prestigious award in 2022. As part of this award, each recipient will receive financial assistance of up to $1,500 to attend a research conference of their choice. Mathur plans to use this funding to attend a machine learning conference later this year.
At USC, Mathur has worked on multiple, interdisciplinary human-centered AI research projects. She’s conducted research on socially assistive robots that aid children with autism in USC’s Interaction Lab; developed algorithms for preserving endangered languages for USC’s Linguistics Department; and, for her senior thesis under the direction of USC Viterbi Professor Maja Matarić, Mathur heads a research project to create machine learning models that can detect human behaviors and emotions.
“Leena is a tremendously deserving recipient of this award,” said Matarić, the Chan Soon-Shiong Chair and Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics. “Her extensive undergraduate research experience has purposefully focused on projects that have the potential for real impact in the world. Numerous students do numerous research projects, but very few have such clarity of purpose aimed at the greater good.”
In the future, Mathur said she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. related to advancing human-centered artificial intelligence to benefit society.
Mathur’s research has been published in seven papers, six of which credited her as the lead author or co-lead author. One of them was nominated for the Best Paper Award at the 2020 ACM International Conference on Multimodal Interaction. Mathur is a USC Presidential Scholar and a recipient of the USC Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship. She’s also received two national research awards: the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and the Astronaut Scholarship.
In addition to her research at USC, Mathur also conducted research at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland over the summer of 2019. There, she worked to develop machine learning approaches to detect and recognize faces in low-quality videos. This past summer, she conducted research on machine perception of human emotion at the California Institute of Technology.
Mathur, who grew up in Northern California, first developed an interest in AI during her time on a robotics team in high school.
“I was attracted to USC for its strong engineering program and its Engineering + X philosophy that encourages students to pursue interdisciplinary interests,” Mathur said. “When I entered USC as a computer science major with an interest in AI, I soon realized that cognitive science was a natural ‘X’ to complement my study of computer science with an enhanced understanding of cognition and behavior.”
She added: “After taking a few linguistics classes, I determined that I would also major in linguistics for a deeper academic grounding in the human ability to acquire, interpret, and produce language,”
At USC, Mathur is a member of CAIS++, the student branch of USC’s Center for AI in Society (CAIS). CAIS++ undergraduates work in teams on project collaborations with faculty and industry clients to tackle pressing societal problems in a range of domains. She served as the president of the organization for the 2020-2021 term.
She’s also worked as a resident assistant in USC’s freshman residential colleges and as an undergraduate teaching assistant in USC Viterbi’s Department of Computer Science.
Outreach and mentorship are important to Mathur. She’s served as a mentor for freshmen in USC’s Women in Engineering (WIE) mentorship program, and designed and led AI workshops for WIE and SC’s Women in Computing club. In 2019, she taught an eight-week programming class for third-graders at a Los Angeles public school through USC’s JEP Program.
Mathur credits USC Viterbi’s supportive and inspiring environment, as well as the university’s wide range of resources and programs, for helping her reach her potential.
“USC Viterbi really encourages and challenges students to pursue a holistic engineering education,” Mathur said. “My research pursuits have really benefited by the school’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and Engineering+ philosophy, as well as the exceptional faculty support of undergraduate research.”
Published on March 15th, 2022
Last updated on March 15th, 2022