Feature Stories

On the Rise

Rising Researcher Award Honors Outstanding Undergraduates
  • The four Rising Researcher winners.

The Rising Researcher program acknowledges the excellent work of UMass Amherst undergraduate students.

Undergraduate research does not go unnoticed at UMass Amherst. The Rising Researcher Award was launched last year as a way to bring to the forefront outstanding young researchers—undergraduate students who have demonstrated leadership and impact in their chosen area of study.

Mathematics major and Commonwealth Honors College student Morgan Opie ’14 is a shining example of the caliber of undergraduate the university seeks to honor. She recently completed an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) in Algebraic Geometry. Her project entailed the creation of a database for effective divisors on the “moduli space of stable rational curves”—an important collection sought by the mathematical community. Opie quickly finished the database, then tackled a complicated mathematical conjecture to boot. In the time it would have taken other students to fully understand the general conjecture itself, she found a series of counterexamples, shedding new light on the basis for the theory.

“Morgan rapidly achieved truly impressive and remarkable progress in her studies,” says her advisor, Jenia Tevelev. “Her drive and stamina became legendary in my department, where she is known as a true force of nature.”

Renée Barouxis ’14, a Political Science major and student of the Commonwealth Honors College, was born to lead. When she saw that UMass Amherst students weren't fairly represented on Amherst Town Meeting, the town’s legislative body, she ran for a seat and rallied her peers to do the same. When Barouxis first got involved with UMass student government she learned that her mentor, Tina Kennedy, was one of only two women in the 50-seat Student Senate. To address that disparity, Kennedy started an informal women’s caucus. Barouxis has been very active in expanding Kennedy's vision to spur female participation in the Student Senate.

“Renée demonstrates exceptional promise as a researcher who will one day wield enormous policy influence,” says her advisor, Maryann Barakso. “She has been named a Truman Scholarship finalist, largely on the basis of her clear interest in improving the representation of women in elected office.”

Barouxis’s presence can be felt across campus and beyond. She recently won an award through the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences that enabled her to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, where she observed the national parliament in action. She is a recent winner of the Sheldon E. and Joan S. Smith Scholarship for Public Service, awarded through the Department of Political Science.

Daniel Stubbs ’14, a Computer Science major and Commonwealth Honors College student, is working on big data problems. His research focuses on the design and analysis of “data stream” algorithms that allow massive amounts of data to be processed quickly and efficiently. Over the last two years he has been working on multiple problems and has yielded new results with algorithms summarizing streams of numerical data, estimating the “earth-mover distance” used to measure how geometric data changes over time, and analyzing graphs and networks where links decay over time. Stubbs explains that streaming algorithms are critically important to the future of technology, which is what inspired him to get involved at a young age.

"Dan is an exceptional researcher who is already making significant contributions in theoretical computer science,” says Stubbs’ advisor, Andrew McGregor. “His uncanny knack of finding the right approach to a problem and his impressive mathematical skills have already led to two publications at international conferences, and I'm confident that more are on the way.”

Civil Engineering major and Commonwealth Honors College student Jessica Boakye ’14, whose research focuses on the seismic response of skewed bridges, is already making big infrastructural waves. Boakye works with advisor Behrouz Shafei to model bridges and measure their responses to varying levels of seismic activity. Her work recently won her a spot as one of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “New Faces of Civil Engineering-College Edition,” which honors ten students annually throughout the United States. Boakye has been a member of the Computational Structural Simulation (CSS) research group since 2012 and serves as the co-leader of the UMass Seismic Design Team. Her work with the CSS group enabled her to secure a competitive REU position in summer 2013 at the NSF-funded National Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) facilities in the University of California San Diego.

These four outstanding young researchers will be honored during a reception with Chancellor Subbaswamy in the spring.

Amanda Drane '12