May 25, 2023
By Patricia Waldron
The Merrill Presidential Scholars Program honors the university's most outstanding seniors each graduation season, and this year that list includes eight scholars from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.
Merrill Presidential Scholars are Cornell's best and brightest – students who have excelled academically, demonstrated strong leadership skills, and shown a strong drive to create positive change in the world. Professors nominate worthy students, and the deans of the 10 undergraduate colleges and schools choose the final list. The program also recognizes impactful educators who have played significant roles in students' success. The scholars, along with their high school teachers and Cornell professors, were recognized at a convocation on May 23.
The 2023 Merrill Scholars from Cornell Bowers CIS are:
Somil Aggarwal is an honors computer science major with a business minor. During his time at Cornell, he founded Agcess, a company that seeks to provide data management tools via smartphone to rural farmers in areas with poor internet connectivity. One of Aggarwal's three nominators, Immanuel Trummer, assistant professor of computer science, said he possesses technical skills, good business intuition, and a deep desire to have a positive impact. In 2022, he received a Dream Grant to present his research on digital agricultural startups in Kenya at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Science and Innovation Forum in Rome. Aggarwal graduated in December 2022. Currently, he is an investor at Armory Square Ventures and an incoming associate product manager with Schmidt Futures, a program where cohorts of recent college graduates apply their technical degrees for public benefit.
Tiṣe Alatise is a computer science major who has demonstrated exemplary leadership abilities, having served as a co-president for the Women in Computing at Cornell (WICC), leader of the Underrepresented Minorities in Computing (URMC), and product designer and co-instructor for Introduction to Digital Product Design in Cornell AppDev. Eva Tardos, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Computer Science and department chair, and LeeAnn Roberts, director of Cornell Bowers CIS' Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), nominated Alatise for this award, citing her remarkable efforts to support the recruitment, retention, and persistence of marginalized populations in Cornell Bowers CIS. She also received the Zellman Warhaft Undergraduate Commitment to Diversity Award from Cornell Engineering and the Most Impactful Student Award from the Cornell Bowers CIS' Office of DEI. After graduation, Alatise will be a product design intern at Figma Inc.
Luis Hoderlein is a double major in statistical science and math. One of his nominators, Marten Wegkamp, professor of mathematics, describes Hoderlein as an exceptional student, excellent programmer, and a pleasant and motivated colleague. Hoderlein served as a teaching assistant and was a technical project manager on a Cornell Design and Tech Initiative subteam that created CUReviews, a course review website. He has extensive undergraduate research experience, working with Wegkamp, Francesca Molinari, the H. T. Warshow and Robert Irving Warshow Professor in the Department of Economics, and collaborators at other universities. Hoderlein will begin a Ph.D. program at the Yale Department of Economics in the fall.
Kaya Ito Alpturer is a double major in computer science and math. He has served as a teaching assistant for four courses and conducted research with his nominator, Joseph Halpern, professor of computer science. Halpern said Ito Alpturer has not only demonstrated the ability to conduct impressive research, but even solved a 30-year-old open problem in mathematics. Ito Alpturer grew up in Turkey, where, as a high school student, he and three friends founded CodeFest, which is now an annual event featuring a programming contest and workshops in fields related to computer science. After Cornell, Ito Alpturer plans to pursue a Ph.D. at Princeton in theoretical computer science.
Anya Ji is a double major in computer science and psychology and completed an M.Eng in computer science. According to her nominator, Yoav Artzi, assistant professor of computer science at Cornell Tech, Ji is an outstanding undergraduate researcher. Her work with Artzi to develop new methods for studying linguistic reference and abstraction for use in improving state-of-the-art machine learning models was accepted to the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, where it received the Best Long Paper Award. A co-advisor described her as "a rising star in NLP." Ji was a teaching assistant for three semesters and a developer on the Cornell Engineering World Health project team, a multidisciplinary group that designs and implements health solutions for underprivileged communities. She plans to work as a software engineer after graduation.
Sahar Sami is a computer science major who has excelled as a teaching assistant in Introduction to Machine Learning (CS 4780) and other courses. Her nominators, Anil Damle, assistant professor of computer science, and Killian Weinberger, professor of computer science, described her as the "class CEO," noting that she organized project grading, held extra help sessions, created a module on matrix algebra to help students who were falling behind, and advised the professors on how the course could be improved. Sami was also a member of the Cornell Cup Robotics project team, where she led the C1C0 Chatbot project for two years, and is a member of Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society. Next, Sami will be working full-time as a systems and infrastructure engineer at LinkedIn.
Adele Smolansky is a double major in computer science and electrical and computer engineering. In addition to her excellent academic performance, she founded the company AI-Learners, a free learning platform with more than 70 games designed to teach math topics to pre-K to second grade students with physical and cognitive disabilities. As the CEO of her company, she leads a team of student developers, maintains a network of parents and educators, and has secured funding from multiple entrepreneurship competitions. In 2022, she received a Dream Grant to support her work. Smolansky also conducted additional research projects with Shiri Azenkot, associate professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and the Technion, and René Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science, who both nominated her. She is an incoming Ph.D student in learning sciences at Stanford University.
Fangcong Yin is an information science, systems, and technology major. Yin was nominated by Claire Cardie, professor of computer science, for being a talented, enthusiastic, and driven researcher who has developed novel approaches to summarizing long-form narratives. Yin also conducted research in the Department of Linguistics on computational psycholinguistics and has been a dedicated teaching assistant for multiple courses. He received an honorable mention for the 2023 CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. After graduation, Yin will begin a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Merrill Presidential Scholars Program was created by the late Philip Merrill ’55 in 1988 and continues through the generous support of the Merrill Family Foundation. This is the second year that students from Cornell Bowers CIS have been recognized by the program.
Patricia Waldron is a science writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.