USF Computer Science and Engineering Students Awarded Graduate Fellowships

June 6, 2019

The USF Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) recognizes the following students, presented with fellowships for their outstanding academic achievements and dedication in the pursuit of their graduate degrees.

Derek Caprio

Derek Caprio, an incoming doctoral student, received the University Graduate Fellowship. This award consists of a $9,142 stipend and tuition waiver for two semesters. Caprio was first introduced to research as an undergraduate, during his independent study course. He assisted in the Neuro-Machine Interaction Lab, and went on to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program under Assistant Professor Marvin Andujar at USF. Caprio worked on “a mobile application, which interfaces with a brain-computer interface device to track the user's attention levels while studying.”

Caprio is currently working on a project that classifies affective states using Electroencephalogram (EEG) data and is interested in brain-computer interfaces, human-drone interaction and virtual reality. The fellowship will give Caprio financial assistance as well as strengthen his reputation as a researcher, allowing him to network with experts and improve his opportunities for research. “I am very grateful to have been selected for this fellowship. I intend to make full use of it to benefit my research career and the scientific community while working on my Ph.D.,” Caprio said.

The University Graduate Fellowship is awarded, through the Office of Graduate Studies, to new students who will be enrolling in Fall 2019, with an emphasis placed on domestic, doctoral students. The department reviews the incoming graduate students and recommends a candidate based on grade point average, test scores and research experience.

Hailey Baez

Hailey Baez, an incoming doctoral student, received the McKnight Doctoral Fellowship, an award consisting of a $12,000 stipend and full tuition/fees, renewable for five years. Baez’s first research experience was participating in the REU in Ubiquitous Sensing at USF, which gave her a better understanding of the fundamentals of research, and inspired her to pursue a career in applied research and academia. Her current research interests are machine learning and applied robotics, specifically “to use multimodal sensing with machine learning to aid in the automatization of some activities for robotic cooking.”

The financial assistance from the fellowship will allow Baez to fully focus on her research and studies as well as receive comprehensive Ph.D. support (professional development conferences, research writing assistance and travel grant awards) and networking opportunities within the McKnight community of fellows, graduates and faculty mentors, which will contribute to her success as a future educator. “I am grateful for being a recipient of the FEF’s (Florida Education Fund) McKnight Doctoral Fellowship and joining its mission to increase the representation of minorities in academia. I know what it is like to have had an opportunity that completely changes one’s outlook in life, and because of this, I will always be an advocate for diversity and inclusion in my field,” Baez said. 

The McKnight Doctoral Fellowship has awarded more than 1,200 fellowships since it was established in 1984. Over 700 fellows have completed their doctoral degrees, taking an average of 5.5 years. Applicants must be African American or Hispanic and must be seeking their doctorate at one of the nine participating universities. The purpose of the fellowship is to add diversity to the national pool of applicants who are eligible to receive faculty positions at universities in the state of Florida and elsewhere, by increasing the number of African American and Hispanic doctoral graduates. As of Fall 2019, five McKnight fellows and affiliates will be enrolled as Ph.D. students within the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Jean-Luc Hayes

Jean-Luc Hayes, an incoming doctoral student, received the USF Graduate Student Success (GSS) Fellowship, an award consisting of an $18,000 stipend and tuition waiver, renewable for three years. Hayes also started his research in the REU program, working with Associate Professor Yu Sun in the Robot Perception and Action Lab at USF. Hayes said that his current research interest is robotic manipulation, including “developing more efficient algorithms for localization and mapping.” As a graduate student, he hopes to work more with the tactile functions of grasping and appendage movement. “Working with image detection and then acting on what is seen, is one of the most exciting applications of robotics,” Hayes said.

The stipend that comes with the fellowship will allow Hayes to focus on his research. He is excited to gain the experience necessary to receive doctoral training in the robotics field, as his experience up until now has been more IT focused. “This Ph.D. program should close that gap, as well as provide me with other highly sought-after skills,” said Hayes.

The Office of Graduate Studies awards the USF GSS Fellowship to new, first-generation doctoral students. This competitive award requires department nomination. There are only 12 fellowships awarded each year to students who have sought their doctoral degree despite life challenges and financial hardships. 

Qua'on Thomas

Qua’on Thomas is an Accelerated BS/MS Program student, majoring in computer science. He has received the GEM Consortium Full Fellowship, an award consisting of a $20,000 stipend, tuition waiver and two paid summer internships. The accelerated program gives students a chance to earn two degrees in five years, by allowing them to take two master level classes, and count them toward both the master’s and bachelor’s degrees, allowing them to graduate in a shorter amount of time.

Thomas was always interested in a graduate program, but was questioning if he should enter the workforce after completing his bachelor’s degree, and continue his education at a later date. However, when he found out about the accelerated program, it became clear this was the best path for him. Thomas said his major focuses “have been in software engineering and cybersecurity, specifically in the healthcare and energy fields.” Thomas’ fellowship and internships are supported by Idaho National Laboratory, one of the 17 national laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The National GEM Consortium is a partnership of participating universities, national laboratories, federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), and Fortune 500 employers to recruit underrepresented minorities into graduate programs within science and engineering. The fellowship to Thomas represents the fifth GEM award to a USF CSE graduate student (M.S. and Ph.D.) within the past five years. “Ultimately, I am passionate about learning, connecting with people and doing work that has a positive impact on the world around me. The most amazing part about this award is that it allows me to continue on a path of doing all three,” Thomas said.