George Li Named Goldwater Scholar

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George Li, a sophomore computer science and mathematics double-degree student, is one of the three UMD students to have been awarded 2022 scholarships by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.

Over the last decade, UMD’s nominations yielded 35 scholarships—the second-most in the nation behind Stanford University. The Goldwater Foundation has honored 76 UMD winners and five honorable mentions since the program’s first award was given in 1989.

“Our Goldwater Scholars are conducting research on the leading edge of their disciplines—engineering new clean energy solutions, using algorithms to optimize the distribution of limited resources in contact tracing or access to vaccines, and designing new gene-based diagnostics and therapies against aggressive cancers. Each of them is on a trajectory to make major research contributions that have societal impact,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Infantino has led UMD’s Goldwater Scholarship nominating process since 2001.

Li arrived at UMD in Fall 2020, when most classes were being taught online, and jumped into research his first semester. In fact, the pandemic offered him unique research opportunities. Working with Aravind Srinivasan, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science at UMD, and collaborators at the University of Virginia, Li developed an algorithm for efficient contact tracing that has been recommended for implementation to the Virginia Department of Health. Li also developed an approximation algorithm to improve accessibility to vaccine distribution sites.

“George is the first author on two papers accepted in a well-known artificial intelligence conference, AAMAS 2022, on contact tracing and mobile vaccination for diseases like COVID-19,” Srinivasan said. “He came up with new mathematical and algorithmic ideas and very fast software development for these submissions. He has a strong career ahead combining math, computer science and data science."

Li also worked with UMD Assistant Professor of Computer Science Furong Huang on using a powerful algebraic tool called tensor decompositions to develop learning algorithms that make nondiscriminatory decisions.

In addition to earning an International Collegiate Programming Contest Regionals bronze medal, Li is a member of UMD’s table tennis club and a teaching assistant for the course “Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms.” While at UMD, Li was awarded a President’s Scholarship, Michael Antonov Endowed Scholarship and Edgar Krahn Scholarship.

After graduation, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, with a focus on theoretical computer science in the areas of learning theory, algorithms and combinatorial optimization, and differential privacy.

Goldwater Scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

Original story by Abby Robinson:

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