Women’s History Month: Women Computer Science Faculty are Making History


At Stony Brook University’s Department of Computer Science (CS) women comprise nearly 20% of the core faculty, which is twice the national average. Women CS faculty members are conducting cutting-edge research and creating learning environments filled with opportunity and diversity. Common threads that have led to their success appear throughout the lives of these women faculty members; encouraging mentors, passionate family members, and an interest in mathematics and problem solving. “This month we salute the women of Computer Science with gratitude and admiration for not only their contribution to our department, but their commitment to the global advancement of technology”, says Dr. Arie E. Kaufman, Distinguished Professor and Department Chairman.

Leman Akoglu, Assistant Professor 
Dr. Akoglu’s research focuses on data mining with a particular interest in algorithmic problems arising from graph mining and anomaly detection. Akoglu leads the DATA Lab at Stony Brook University and is the recent recipient of the Young Investigator Award from the U.S. Army Research Office. “Data mining is an exciting field filled with algorithmically interesting and socially relevant real-world problems”, says Akoglu, “Finding patterns can help summarize and make sense of massive datasets. Spotting outliers in large volumes of data can reveal surprising insight."  

Akoglu holds a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University, and was ranked second among 150 students at Bilkent University in Turkey, where she graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science.  She is a recipient of the IBM First Patent Application Invention Achievement Award and the Facebook Grace Hopper Scholarship. Before joining Stony Brook University, Akoglu conducted research at IBM T. J. Watson Research Labs and Microsoft Research. "I was blessed to have many people mentor me in my development as a researcher. Each of them taught me something extremely useful about how to approach problems wearing a researcher's hat." 

Jing Chen, Assistant Professor 
After obtaining her PhD in Computer Science from MIT, Dr. Chen came to the Department of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, where she is also affiliated with the Economics Department, to pursue her passion for teaching and research. The interaction between computation and economics sparks Chen’s curiosity. Such interaction occurs almost everywhere in today’s world, from social networks, online auctions, to the design of healthcare policies, and is all about understanding, managing, and optimizing based on people’s incentives in maximizing their own benefits. “What I love about theory work is that it can be done anywhere,” says Chen, “You just need to think.”

Arriving in the United States from China in 2007, Chen’s dad was a teacher and an early influence on her decision to join education. Working with her students to achieve success is both exciting and demanding, and Chen is prepared. “My mind never turns off,” she says.

Yejin Choi, Assistant Professor 
“Through teaching, I now know what the word rewarding means,” says Dr. Choi. A leading researcher in the study of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Computational Linguistics, Choi explains that all of our daily life experiences are filled with NLP, e.g., autocorrect, search engines, and language translation systems. With the help of NLP systems, people enrich their information access capabilities and interaction with computers. Recent research interests include building computer algorithms to detect “the intent and the identity of the author" through statistical analysis of the writing style of written text. 

Teachers in high school, college, and graduate school encouraged Choi’s studies which resulted in a PhD in Computer Science from Cornell. While she agrees that it is easy to be overwhelmed, the encouragement she received from her mentors made her push forward. From a more traditional and conservative family, Choi describes herself as the more adventurous one in the family. While “research is full of adventure and too much fun to stop sometimes”, when she does have time off, Choi takes adventure to the next level as a scuba diver.

Jie Gao, Associate Professor
Algorithms, sensor networks, and computational geometry are only some of the research areas that motivate Dr. Gao to commute three hours each way to Stony Brook University. The process of finding an elegant solution is what she likes about research and she is well versed in researching distributed algorithms in the implementation of large scale sensor networks.

While working toward her PhD at Stanford University, Gao was fortunate to have great teachers as mentors. Prior to completing her PhD, Gao received a B.S. in Computer Science as part of a special class for the gifted at the University of Science and Technology in China. Her parents, her Mom is a playwright and her Dad is in administration, encouraged her interest early on in math and technology. Her younger sister is following in her footsteps, working toward a PhD in Computer Vision.

“Balancing life and work all comes down to scheduling”, says Gao who completely dedicates weekends to family time.  Gao is a recipient of the Department’s 2012 Research Excellence Award, National Science Foundation Early Career Award, and an IBM PhD Fellowship.

Phillipa Gill, Assistant Professor 
Dr. Gill´s computer network research focuses on measurement and characterization. Gill uses novel network measurement techniques and data analysis, to improve security and reliability of networks. As a post-doctoral researcher in Canada, Gill became involved with the political science department by applying her network measurement skills to the challenge of measuring global Internet censorship. She is currently working on a project funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a system to enable robust and repeatable measurements of Internet censorship.  Her NSF research involves deploying measurement software around the world to determine if websites or components of a site are being blocked from public view. About this research, Gill says, “Internet measurement research doesn’t judge what is right and what is wrong. It provides transparency.”

Gill credits sneaking into a friend’s computer science class at a community college during a high school teachers' strike with influencing her decision to pursue computer science. As a college student, she targeted a career with “good job prospects” that combined her love of Math and interest in computers. Gill was a postdoctoral fellow at The Citizen Lab in the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and she completed her PhD at the University of Toronto. During her doctoral studies, she was a visiting researcher at AT&T Labs–Research, Boston University, and Microsoft Research.

Annie Liu, Professor 
Having taught over 20 computer science courses at Stony Brook University, including programming languages, algorithms, databases, and distributed systems, Dr. Liu is quick to point out that her favorite programming language (Python) is "neat" and fun to teach. In fact, she studies the best programming languages for both research and teaching, especially to develop systematic methods for algorithm design and program optimization.  “Programming languages are very rich, very diverse”, says Liu.  Learning styles are just as diverse in Liu’s courses where the biggest challenge is teaching students who have different levels of preparation.  Liu explains, “Students quickly change as technology changes.”

Liu finds herself fortunate to have many great mentors who influenced her career.  Her mentors include a mathematics professor at Cornell University, where she received her PhD, who continues to be an “extraordinary” advisor.  She believes that knowing all of the theory and confronting real-world problems make a phenomenal mentor.  Liu’s parents, a mathematician and an engineer, are the mentors who she credits with raising her in an environment where gender difference did not exist when it came to learning and opportunity.  Author of the recent book Systematic Programming Design, Liu beams with pride as she mentions her 12 year old daughter reviewed her book in its entirety before publication.

Ellen Liu, Research Assistant Professor 
“Work makes you feel good,” says Dr. Ellen Liu. It is her teaching and research in the field of Computer Science at Stony Brook University that makes Liu feel good. Maintaining discipline is challenging for Liu and her students in today’s Internet age. Grueling work as well as distractions is often par for the course. Liu says she is rewarded by mentoring students and seeing them become successful in their careers. “Active learners, those who reason a problem or present alternative thinking, are the best because they can enjoy deeper understanding of a subject as well as greater joy exploring the subject.”

Winning a prize in computer drawing at early teen’s spurred her interest to computers. Celebrating 20 years in North America, Ellen smiles when she talks about her mother who was a double major in mathematics and mechanical engineering. Ellen, who received her PhD from the University of Waterloo in Canada, believes that exposing girls to fun mathematics puzzles at an early age might encourage critical thinking and their interest to the field of computer science.

Liu’s research interest is in computer networks resource management. She works on software defined networking for security applications and teaches computer networks, system administrations, scripting languages, technical communications, as well as several other courses at Stony Brook.

Jennifer Wong, Research Assistant Professor 
According to Dr. Wong, “Nothing is better than to teach a student and see them have that ‘aha’ moment when they completely understand a concept and its ramifications.”  Wong joined Stony Brook University in 2006 in the area of computer architecture and embedded systems. Over the years her research has explored the impact and interactions of computer hardware design decisions with software systems. As a teacher she strives to educate through the principles, concepts, and foundations of computers and programming, providing the students the tools to create their own “aha”.

Wong was raised around computing early in her life, but did not consider it as a career until college. As a sophomore in college, she was offered a university summer internship performing research, which at the time she knew nothing about. It was over that summer that Wong developed a love for computing and research which lead to a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Currently, Wong balances PhD and undergraduate advising, teaching several courses, leading the student-developed SBU Smart Transit project, and embedded mobile device research projects with her family life, which includes two children under the age of five.  “Balancing work and children is a dance”, she says, “But both are equally rewarding experiences.”

Anita Wasilewska, Associate Professor 
As we sit in Dr. Wasilewska’s office, with pride she shows off photographs of her family, friends, and evidence of her life in academe. “Everything in this office defines me,” she says, “I carry my friends and my life with me wherever I go.”  Wasilewska came to the United States in 1980 after having received her PhD in Mathematics from Warsaw University in Poland, where she taught for 13 years. She attributes her self-discipline and work ethic to 15 years of competitive ice dancing as a young child in Poland. 

Wasilewska started her new life in the U.S. as a visiting professor at Wesleyan and Yale universities. Her research interests transitioned to computer science and in 1986 she joined the Stony Brook University Department of Computer Science. “I became involved in computer science out of curiosity”, says Wasilewska. Today she is teaching and conducting research in machine learning, knowledge discovery, bioinformatics, mobile computing, and foundations of data mining.


Photo and video credits: Majority of the photographs by Jeanne Neville of Media Services and video created by Jan Diskin-Zimmerman.