Myra Cheng and Saehui Hwang, two graduating Caltech seniors, have been selected as Knight-Hennessy Scholars at Stanford University.
The program, which was established in 2016, provides up to three years of funding as well as additional leadership training, workshops, lectures, projects, and travel opportunities for graduate students in order to prepare them for leadership roles in addressing global challenges.
Cheng, a senior double majoring in computer science and history, worked at Caltech with Yisong Yue, professor of computing and mathematical sciences, and Joel Burdick, the Richard L. and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering, on optimization algorithms that can learn individual preferences based on real-time interaction with people. For example, these algorithms can be used in wearable exoskeletons that help mobility-impaired individuals walk. She also is exploring the intersection between computing and society. Her senior thesis, advised by history professor Maura Dykstra, is focused on female inventors and narratives of innovation in computer science. With the guidance of Claire Ralph, she co-founded TechReach, a campus initiative to explore the human and societal impacts of technology, and is currently teaching a class about algorithmic justice and fairness.
"I applied to the KHS program because it seemed to offer a community of interesting people who are passionate about different issues, and I can get to know people beyond the computer science PhD cohort," Cheng says. "I'm excited to have the freedom and flexibility to pursue my academic interests without worrying about funding tied to specific projects, so I can perhaps take more risks in my research. I'm very grateful to the mentors and professors who have helped me grow as a researcher and a person throughout my time at Caltech and encouraged me to pursue my interest in studying the intersections between society and computing."
Hwang, an electrical engineering student whose research has focused on wearable technology and how it can serve overlooked populations, plans to work on developing educational curriculums for K-12 students in developing countries, with the help from fellow Knight-Hennessey Scholars. "I am excited to participate in their global leadership development programs, which encourage scholars to travel to various parts of the world to develop leadership techniques," Hwang says.
"The support I receive from the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship will offer me the academic flexibility to pursue daring research and the resources to develop projects that address the world's problems," she says.
Hwang was recently selected to receive a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that offers graduating seniors the opportunity to spend a year abroad working on a series of projects. For her Watson year—which she will delay until after her first year as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar—she plans to travel to Togo, China, and Switzerland to study how wearables could provide benefits to a broader swath of the population. She will also continue her work as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar during that year.
Both Cheng and Hwang will graduate from Caltech in June. More information about the Knight-Hennessey Scholars Program can be found on the Stanford website.