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Distinguished Alumni Panel CS Alumni Award Winners

Distinguished Alumni Panel and Lunch

Event Type
Social/Informal Event
Department of Computer Science
2405 Siebel Center for Computer Science
May 3, 2024   12:00 - 1:30 pm  
CS Awards Team
Originating Calendar
Computer Science Department Events Calendar

Please join us on Friday, May 3rd at 12:00 PM in 2405 Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science for the Distinguished Alumni Panel! Joining us will be many of this year's CS Alumni Award winners - Abhinav Bhatele, Brett Jones, Kevin Karsch, Raj Sodhi, Matthew Dierker, Nathan Handler, Marrissa Hellesen, Cole Gleason, and Robert M. Pieta - who will engage in a Q&A panel led by CS student leadership. Lunch from Papa Del's Pizza will be provided.

Meet our panel:

Abhinav Bhatele is an associate professor in the department of computer science, and director of the Parallel Software and Systems Group at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research interests are broadly in systems and AI, with a focus on parallel computing and distributed AI. He has published research in parallel programming models and runtimes, network design and simulation, applications of machine learning to parallel systems, parallel deep learning, and on analyzing/visualizing, modeling and optimizing the performance of parallel software and systems. Abhinav has received best paper awards at Euro-Par 2009, IPDPS 2013 and IPDPS 2016, and a best poster award at SC 2023. He was selected as a recipient of the IEEE TCSC Award for Excellence in Scalable Computing (Early Career) in 2014, the LLNL Early and Mid-Career Recognition award in 2018, the NSF CAREER award in 2021, and the IEEE TCSC Award for Excellence in Scalable Computing (Middle Career) in 2023. Abhinav received a B.Tech. degree in Computer Science and Engineering from I.I.T. Kanpur, India in May 2005, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007 and 2010 respectively. He was a post-doc and later computer scientist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 2011-2019. Abhinav is an associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems (TPDS). He was one of the General Chairs of IEEE Cluster 2022, and Research Papers Chair of ISC 2023.

Brett Jones is an expert in turning advanced technologies into innovative products. Brett was the co-founder and CEO of Lightform, a startup that made projection mapping easy using 3D scanning and generative effects. Lightform made hardware and software so any designer could quickly add magical effects and information to spaces and experiences. Over 7 years, Lightform shipped 12,000 devices and raised $18 million in venture capital. In 2021, Lightform joined Amazon Devices, and Brett is now the Head of Product for a new device, leading a team owning Product Management, User Experience, and Design Technology. Brett has a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where his research focused on computer vision and human computer interaction. Prior to graduating, he was a serial research intern at Walt Disney Imagineering and Microsoft Research.

Kevin Karsch is Head of Software & Applied Science at Amazon's New Initiatives division. Previously, Kevin co-founded Lightform, an ambient computing startup building projected AR products. Kevin served as CTO, leading the engineering teams to ship three hardware products and a new software platform. Kevin and the team joined Amazon in an acquisition of Lightform in 2021. Kevin holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and has previously worked at Adobe and Microsoft. With over 30 patents and peer-reviewed publications, his work has been cited several thousand times.

Raj Sodhi has been designing new AR/VR experiences for over 17 years. He co-founded Lightform to revolutionize the way we interact with our physical environments using projected light. Previously, he was at Microsoft Research and Walt Disney Imagineering building spatial computing technologies like Aireal and RoomAlive. Raj received his PhD from University of Illinois in 2014 in the intersection of design and computer vision, advised by David Forsyth & Brian Bailey. 

Matthew Dierker attended Illinois as a CS major, B.S. 2015. As a freshman, Matthew proudly convinced IEEE to buy 1500ft of Christmas lights for Engineering Open House 2011. The project only partially worked, but it kickstarted his drive for extracurriculars. While a student, Matthew and friends founded HackIllinois and CS Sail, two student-led events that still persist today. Matthew graduated in 2015 and joined Google as an engineer in Mountain View, CA. He spent several years working on Gmail before switching to Waymo, where he is happily coding away on self driving cars.

Marrissa Hellesen serves as a Software Engineering Manager at Microsoft, leading the charge in crafting the user experience for the Office Programmability Platform, and enabling developers to innovate in widely-used Office applications. Her ascent into the tech industry from a non-traditional educational path is a source of inspiration. After pausing her formal education after 8th grade, her relentless love of learning led her back to academia and she graduated from the University of Illinois with a Computer Science degree. Her journey to technology serves as a reminder that everyone's path to tech is different and there is power in diverse experiences. In her professional life, Marrissa is deeply committed to fostering mentorship, equity, and inclusion within the engineering sectors of Microsoft, advocating for change at every organizational level. At home, she can be found chasing 2 preschoolers, and enjoys reading books and playing video games when in her cherished moments of downtime.

Cole Gleason is a Senior Research Scientist in Apple AI/ML where he focuses on designing and implementing innovative solutions to make digital and physical environments more inclusive. At Apple, Cole conducts user research to refine products tailored for blind and low vision users, including computer-vision solutions to describe on-device images and real-world environments via smartphone cameras. While pursuing a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University, Cole's research centered on making social media platforms more accessible, with a specific focus on describing highly-visual media like photos, memes, and GIFs. By employing user-centered research methodologies and leveraging technologies like crowdsourcing and machine learning, Cole develops and evaluates systems that empower people with vision impairments to navigate visual content. In addition to academic conferences such as ASSETS, CHI, and UbiComp, Cole's work has been featured in TIME and the Wall Street Journal. Cole holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he served as the chair of the local Association Computer for Machinery chapter and the Reflections | Projections conference.

Robert M. Pieta is the founder of Hyper Scale Logic, a Chicago-based agency that develops process optimization and automation software for rapidly growing companies. Hyper Scale Logic builds custom rule-engine and AI systems, deployed on-premise or in the cloud, enabling companies like FountainTRT and Marathon Digital Holdings to scale operations with improved unit economics and margins. Before founding Hyper Scale Logic, Robert worked as a software consultant. He was responsible for leading a remote team of engineers and designers building mobile apps and cloud infrastructure for companies like Airbnb, Intelligent Medical Objects, ME Suite, and Streaks. In 2020 Robert started, a blog about Swift programming now reaching hundreds of thousands of Swift developers. Robert took the 5 semester speedrun route to earn his bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was chair of ACM@UIUC, constantly hacked on project ideas, and built apps for HackIllinois, Engineering Open House, and Reflections | Projections.

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