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Illinois College of Engineering Announces Siebel Scholars Class of 2013

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

September 10th 2012

Five accomplished computer science graduate students—Arpit Agarwal, Harshit Kharbanda, Manoj Krishnan, Jonathan Tedesco, and Ali Vakilian—have been selected to the Siebel Scholars Class of 2013 for their leadership and academic excellence.


The 2013 Siebel Scholars: (l to r) Jonathan Tedesco, Ali Vakilian, Harshit Kharbanda, Manoj Krishnan, and Arpit Agarwal


“The Siebel Scholars Program recognizes students who have demonstrated academic and leadership excellence at the world’s leading graduate schools of business, bioengineering, and computer science,” stated Michael Bragg, interim dean of the College of Engineering.“We are very proud to be part of the Siebel Scholars Program in our efforts to create informed scholars and leaders, and we are proud to be considered among the top institutions in providing this interdisciplinary training.”


Arpit Agarwal


As an undergraduate team leader, Arpit Agarwal learned that leadership is “the creation of conditions that cause a group of people to resonate their positive energies, to get work done.” Today, his research area concentrates on bridging the gap between humans and machines.

“Human-emotion analysis has been an active research area for the past few years, and I strongly believe that its importance would grow as machines become more human-like,” Agarwal explained. “With the advent of social networks, a whole new set of possibilities for recommendation algorithm have risen.” He is presently working with Wai-Tat Fu, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science (CS), pursuing techniques to better understand human emotions from online social footprints.

Agarwal is also a co-founder of VTouch, a mobile application development company. He has three patents filed under his name and has previously worked on technologies to aid disabled individuals in communicating their thoughts. The Driver Drowsiness Detection System that he worked on won the Innovation Award by General Electric, in 2010. In 2011, he was part of the team that represented the University of Illinois at the Facebook Hackathon national finals. As an active volunteer, Agarwal worked with SG Cares in Singapore, doing home repairs for the elderly. As an undergraduate at the Birla Institute of Technology & Science Pilani, India, he had the opportunity to teach underprivileged children with Nirmaan, a non-governmental, non-profit organization there.


Harshit Kharbanda


Harshit Kharbanda’s research focuses on low power and high performance computing systems. In particular, he is working with Roy Campbell, the Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Professor in Computer Science, on edit-distance algorithms that allow for faster and cheaper gene alignment. This work has resulted in a patent application and has the potential to help solve problems like hereditary disease detection. He is also exploring methods to reduce the power consumption of a chip by designing software architectures for low-power hardware.

A leader by example, Kharbanda was awarded the scholarship for excellent academic performance twice during his undergraduate studies. He founded and led several computer science clubs in high school and college to teach junior students beyond the classroom. To teach people he could not personally reach, Kharbanda designed AVIS and Cellinux. AVIS (Artificial Virtual Intelligence Simulator) is an information bot that makes knowledge and information ubiquitous, acting as a link between the mobile network and the Internet. Cellinux is a Linux-based mobile operating system which can be used by any mobile user irrespective of the mobile phone; it achieves this via hardware virtualization. In countries where smart phones with powerful operating systems (like Android) are uncommon, Cellinux provides every mobile user, an opportunity to leverage the capability of a full-fledged operating system. Kharbanda won awards in few of the top universities in India for Cellinux and its contribution to the society.


Manoj Krishnan


For Manoj Krishnan, mediocrity is not an option. His research endeavors began as a college junior, when he helped build one of the world’s first and few tangible liquid interfaces. His current research with CS Associate Professor Karrie Karahalios spans social networks, visualization and sentiment analysis. He is also launching his first start-up with a fellow student at Illinois—a social networking and broadcasting product for local businesses.

Krishnan is also a violinist and a keyboardist with over a decade of training in eastern and western styles of music. While still in high school, he taught music to other high school and middle school students. Today, he uses many of those skills as a teaching assistant for advanced computer science courses at Illinois. In 2011, he was part of a team that made it to the national finals of the Facebook Hackathon, and this past summer worked as an intern at Qualcomm’s Corporate Research and Development Center helping develop a visualization framework to monitor performance metrics of communication protocols.


Jonathan Tedesco


Jonathan (Jon) Tedesco began his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois in 2008, recently completing the fourth year of the 5-year BS/MS program. He became involved with research as a sophomore under Kevin Chang, an associate professor of computer science, first studying vertical web search, then completing a senior thesis on entity search. As a junior, Tedesco joined the Collaboration Modeling Toolkit (CoMoTo) project, which monitors and studies collaboration of students in undergraduate classes to help to deter plagiarism. He is extending his work with CoMoTo to his master’s thesis, which will focus on mining the heterogeneous temporal graph of CoMoTo.

Since his sophomore year, Tedesco has maintained a central role in PURE, a student-run organization that encourages early undergraduate involvement with research, spearheading its expansion into the Department of Computer Science. He has taught several computer science classes, held internships in both the finance and technology industries, and received several awards for his interest in finance, outstanding academic record, and leadership.


Ali Valkilian


Ali Vakilian’s main field of interest is theoretical computer science. As an undergraduate, he organized a study group on algorithmic graph theory, and taught a 10-session workshop series to enhance the algorithmic thinking and programming ability of the high school students. At Illinois, his primary research interest is algorithm design and analysis, in particular, approximation algorithms and combinatorial optimization. Working under CS Associate Professor Chandra Chekuri, Vakilian’s thesis is on the Survivable Network Design Problem, a well-studied problem in combinatorial optimization. As an undergraduate, Vakilian served an internship at ADSC, the joint research center between UIUC and A*STAR in Singapore. He was involved in a computer vision project, pill identification, that has received attention in Singapore and will be commercialized soon. He continues to work with ADSC director Marianne Winslett as a research assistant on the structured search evaluation. In his spare time, his interests include traditional Persian art, music, and poetry.

These new Siebel Scholars join an elite group chosen on the basis of outstanding academic performance and demonstrated qualities of leadership. Each receives a $35,000 prize award established by the Siebel Foundation to recognize the most talented students at the world’s leading schools of business, computer science, and bioengineering.

About Siebel Scholars

The Siebel Scholars program was established by the Siebel Foundation in 2000 to recognize the most talented students at the world’s leading graduate schools of business, computer science, and bioengineering. Each year, 85 exceptional students receive a $35,000 award during their final year of studies based on outstanding academic performance and leadership. Today, an active community of nearly 800 Siebel Scholars serves as advisors to the Siebel Foundation and works collaboratively to find solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

This exceptional group has the unique opportunity to directly influence the technologies, policies, and economic and social decisions that shape the future. Siebel Scholars serve as key advisors to the Siebel Foundation, guiding the development of innovative programs the Foundation initiates. The Siebel Scholars community is also integral to a highly outcome-driven Siebel Scholars conference held each year to explore critical social issues.

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