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Success for Stephen: Undergraduate CS Student earns Provost Award for Academic Excellence and Undergraduate Recognition Award

 

When Stephen Tschudi joined Stony Brook University, he was only majoring in physics. Computer science was just a side interest that he decided to pick up. Now, in a little over a month, he will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in not only physics, but computer science and has a current GPA of 3.92. And, he already has a job waiting for him with Google.

Before Tschudi walks across the stage in May though, he received an Undergraduate Recognition Award for Academic Excellence at the 35th Undergraduate Recognition Awards Ceremony and Reception on April 17, 2017 in the Student Activities Center Auditorium.

Then, at the May 18th Baccalaureate Honors Ceremony, Stephen will received the Provost’s Award for Academic Excellence given to a very select number of graduating seniors who show true academic excellence in and out of the classroom.

Assistant professors Rezaul Chowdhury (Computer Science) and Matthew Reuter (Applied Mathematics and Statistics) nominated Tschudi because of his achievements over the eighteen-month period from Summer 2015 to the end of Fall 2016.  During this time Tschudi performed extremely well in competitive programming, excelled in an advanced graduate level theory course that had been taught by Chowdhury, and conducted high-quality independent research with Reuter and with Chowdhury's NSF CAREER Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) supplement.

Chowdhury first met Tschudi on September 15, 2015 at a local selection programming competition hosted by the Department of Computer Science and Stony Brook Computing Society. Approximately 100 students entered and greater than half of these students were graduate students. The task at hand was to solve seven challenging algorithmic and mathematical problems by writing efficient programs in less than two and a half hours, according to Chowdhury. Tschudi, an undergraduate student, placed first among all undergrads. He placed sixth overall. The top 18 students were all graduate levels except for Tschudi.

Due to this success, Tschudi was selected to be a member of SBU’s regional competition ACM ICPC teams. His team finished 15th out of 49 and ahead of multiple teams from Columbia University, Cornell University, NYU, and a team from Yale University.

Tschudi continued in competitive programming and once again entered the location selection programing competition a year later. He still placed first among all undergraduates, but placed second overall. At the regional competition, his team ranked 15th out of 48 ahead of teams from NYU, Cornell University, Princeton University, Columbia University, and Yale University.

Competitive programming led Tschudi to securing a job for after graduation. When Google held a competition on campus in September 2016, Tschudi was invited to participate as one of the members of the regional competition teams. Google wanted to test out an experimental interview system and participants had to work through a series of challenging questions created by Google engineers. According to Chowdhury, “There were 18 problems to be solved in an hour. Some problems required coding and some required only pen and paper to solve. A couple of Google engineers also participated. Guess what? Stephen top scored by solving 9 questions! No one else (including the Google engineers) solved more than 5!”

This led to an invitation for an onsite interview at Google and Tschudi got the job.

Tschudi not only excelled in competitive programming, but in the classroom as well. In Fall 2016, Chowdhury taught “Analysis of Algorithms” (CSE548/AMS542), which is a graduate-level core theory course. Out of 163 students, only three were undergraduate students and Tschudi was one of them.

On the two exams given in the course, Tschudi received 2nd highest marks on both. Rather than do the four homework assignments in groups as they were designed, Tschudi opted to work alone and have the 4th highest overall homework score. He received an A in the course, outperforming 98% of 160 graduate students, according to Chowdhury’s nomination letter. 

His achievements did not end there as he was an important member of research groups. Chowdhury hired Tschudi in Summer 2016 to aid a graduate student in the research group Theoretical and Experimental Algorithmic Lab. Yet Tschudi did more than just provide support, but rather contributed to two projects – “(1) AutoGen: a system that automatically generates nontrivial efficient parallel recursive algorithms for solving matrix problems (e.g., dynamic programming problems), and (2) AutoGen-FracTile: a framework for designing efficient out-of-core (i.e., when data is too large to fit in the computer memory/RAM) GPU algorithms for matrix computations.”

Chowdhury says, “In recognition of his contributions, we made Stephen a co-author of the journal version of our PPoPP’16 AutoGen paper and a conference paper describing our AutoGen-FracTile framework.”

Tschudi also worked as an undergraduate research intern for Reuter. Reuter says, “Stephen is one of the strongest undergraduates I've worked with on research projects. He was very quick to understand the problem we were tackling and develop a plan to solve it.”

The work that Tschudi did with Reuter was published in Nanotechnology (2015 impact factor: 3.573) in 2016, and a poster on that work won the “Outstanding Poster Award” at 2016 Gordon Research Conference on Electron Donor-Acceptor Interactions, according to Chowdhury.  

Tschudi continues to make “substantial contributions to our open-source MolStat code that enables the community to better interpret the underlying chemical physics of single-molecule experiments,” Reuter goes on to say.

While Tschudi has already won awards for outstanding academic achievement in Spring 2016 and in Fall 2016 for receiving 4.00/4.00 GPA in the preceding semester and has been on the Dean’s List every semester during his time at SBU; the Undergraduate Recognition Award for Academic Excellence recognizes him for the research he has contributed to the computer science community. Similarly, the Provost’s Award recognizes his true academic excellence and work within the research community.

“His Award for Academic Excellence reflects these research efforts, and is well earned,” Reuter says, “He's leaving big shoes to fill in my research group.”

All of Tschudi’s success came with hard work. “I'm pretty flattered to have received this award,” Tschudi says, “I can't say it was easy to graduate with my GPA and a double major in CS and physics and there were many sleepless nights along the way. I really cannot complain [about the hard work] since it all paid off as I am starting at Google in June as a Software Engineer, and I'm really glad that I was able to get through college in 4 years.” 

 

By: Katherine Kurre