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Ken Kennedy Institute announces winners of annual fellowship awards

November 29, 2016

The Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology has awarded $65,000 to nine Rice University graduate students as part of its annual graduate fellowship program.

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Pictured ( front row ) are Luqing Wang, Ali Mousavi, Xin Huang and Dingqiao Wen . Pictured (back row) are Yen Sun, Kim Raath, Michael Weylandt and Yabin Zhang. (Not pictured: Maurice Fabien.)

The 2016 award recipients include Maurice Fabien and Yabin Zhang (computational and applied math), Xin Huang and Dingqiao Wen (computer science), Ali Mousavi (electrical and computer engineering), Kim Raath and Michael Weylandt (statistics), Yen Sun (Earth science) and Luqing Wang (materials science and nanoengineering). They were selected on the basis of various criteria, including research proposals from a variety of disciplines, such as applied math, Earth science, high-performance computing and computer science.

Xin Huang, K2I Fellow Huang, one of the recipients, said the real-world insights gained from collaborating with companies and organizations will provide "incredibly useful guidance" for her research. "Working mostly within the research community, connecting to the industry is essential to ensuring my project has a larger impact beyond the world of academia," she said.

Having one of the largest fellowship programs at Rice, the Ken Kennedy Institute supports students studying computational science, engineering and high-performance computing. While a majority of the program's fellowship awards are funded by energy industry players, including BP, ExxonMobil, Schlumberger and Shell, support is also provided from the Ken Kennedy Cray Graduate Fellowship, the Andrew Ladd Memorial Excellence Fund in Computer Science Fellowship and funding from the annual Rice Oil and Gas High Performance Computing Conference (OG-HPC).

"The submitted research proposals this year covered a range of topics - from looking at hard-core algorithms to working on a specific problem for the domain," said Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute. "They all share a common theme in that they contribute to computing and data issues the oil and gas industry currently faces."

Each fellowship recipient is asked to present a poster at the OG-HPC, a meeting place for networking and discussion between students and employers focused on computing and information technology challenges and needs in the oil and gas industry.

"The conference was born in 2008 as an experiment to gather players in these historically competitive industries and learn from one another by sharing experiences, tools and algorithms," said Odegard, who was part of the team that spearheaded the gathering and continues to run the annual conference with partners in the oil and gas industry. "We quickly realized we were meeting a unique need as an event that strikes a balance between intellectual gathering and trade-show conference."

The upcoming two-day event in March marks the 10th anniversary of the conference, which has grown from 160 attendees in 2008 to more than 500 participants in 2016.

"When we launched the conference, we were seeing the oil and gas industry losing considerable talent to Silicon Valley's technology industry," Odegard said. "The fellowship program and conference aim to help students understand the range of IT career opportunities available within the oil and gas industry right here in Rice's own backyard."

The conference includes tutorials, keynote speakers, talks, breakout sessions, a vendor exhibit hall and ample networking events.

"As these industries have drastically changed over the years, so have the topics and discussions at our conference," Odegard said. "Our program committee is a combination of academic and industry partners to ensure our focus is aligned with the latest challenges and opportunities."

While the oil and gas industry has seen significant changes recently, the IT community still views the industry as a strong customer, according to Odegard.

"Now more than ever, the oil and gas industry needs to share its challenges with the IT community," Odegard said. "Creating a strong workforce pipeline will help us prepare for an unpredictable future."

-- Kendall Schoemann, Rice University Public Affairs