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MAS students receive 2021 OGE Fellowships

David Silverman Photography

Congratulations to the recipients of this year's competitive fellowships administered by the MIT Office of Graduate Education (OGE), including Media Lab students Neil Gaikwad, Cathy Fang, and Alexandra Rieger! 

Neil Gaikwad: William Asbjornsen Albert Memorial Fellowship

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Neil Gaikwad

Neil Gaikwad, a PhD student in the Space Enabled research group, has been awarded MIT's William Asbjornsen Albert Memorial Fellowship.  This competitive fellowship is awarded to one graduate student at MIT conducting research in the field of science and engineering who has demonstrated both excellent academic prowess and involvement in the greater MIT community.

Neil specializes in human-compatible AI and public policy for sustainable systems. His research focuses on the design, implementation, and governance of human-compatible AI and social computations to inform equitable public policy decisions in low-resource environments to create a sustainable world. He leads the development of Data-driven Humanitarian Mapping, a human-centered data science research initiative that aims to increase equity in global development policymaking and climate resilience planning. Neil’s scholarship has resulted in academic research papers at leading AI and HCI conferences, open-source systems, environmental art exhibitions, and technical talks at global policymaking forums of the United Nations and European Union.  

Neil's research, teaching, and professional service have been widely recognized with the Facebook PhD Fellowship, Rising Stars in Aerospace, MIT GSC Graduate Teaching Award, and the Karl Taylor Compton Prize, MIT's highest student award presented in recognition of excellent achievement in citizenship and devotion to the welfare of MIT. He has founded institute-wide initiatives that have helped MIT students navigate student life, broaden their perspectives, and find opportunities through several pathways. His sustained contributions have strengthened the sense of community and have led to an inclusive environment that fosters free speech, diversity, belonging, and cultural sensitivity. He is also a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at the MIT Media Lab. Neil has mentored over 20 students, who have gone on to win prestigious awards, pursue careers in research, and publish influential scholarships that have shifted the discourse on AI fairness. 

Neil is an MIT arts scholar, and his environmental art exhibitions fuse computations, remote sensing, and landscape photography to facilitate public discourse on climate justice. For more information about Neil’s work, visit his webpage and arts portfolio.

Cathy Fang: Ida M. Green Fellowship

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Courtesy of Cathy Fang

Cathy Fang has been awarded the Ida M. Green Fellowship, which is awarded to a woman who will be entering a graduate program and who has demonstrated both academic excellence and involvement within her community. 

Cathy will be joining the Tangible Media research group in the Fall 2021 semester. She is a dedicated and inquisitive researcher driven by a desire to use human-computer interaction to enable people to profoundly connect with each other. 

As an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, Cathy has worked on numerous research projects, constantly pushing herself and growing her skills. In 2020, her project Wireality, which is a device which lets a user feel objects and surfaces in virtual reality, received the Best Paper Award at the ACM CHI conference. This device was also covered in several media outlets.

​Alexandra Rieger: Hugh Hampton Young Graduate Fellowship

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Courtesy of Alexandra Rieger

Alexandra Rieger, a PhD student in the Opera of the Future research group, has been chosen by the Office of Graduate Education and by an external committee for the highly selective Hugh Hampton Young Graduate Fellowship.

Alexandra’s research is exceptionally innovative and interdisciplinary, even by Media Lab standards. Her research draws on her extensive experience and deep knowledge of fields traversing the sciences, arts, engineering, and the senses. Her expertise in neuroscience, electrical engineering, and affective computing, combined with being a multi-instrumentalist with instrument-building abilities, converged to create first-of-their-kind MediMusical Instruments. These devices serve simultaneously as tools for medical diagnostics, rehabilitation, and creative expression, thus empowering therapeutic agency. These instruments are a significant foray into a new field Alexandra is creating, Omnisensory Cognition, which engages the human sensory spectrum to ensure more effective and equitable cognitive and biological healing. 

Her research into scaling experimental mouse model treatments of Alzheimer’s disease to the human domain won her a research award from the MIT Picower Institute, and she demonstrated these effects in her master’s thesis. Her broader research goal is to leverage a deeper understanding of these connections to provide diagnosticians with powerful tools, physicians with data-driven, efficacious devices, and patients with more effective and rewarding treatments.

Alexandra’s drive to improve other people’s lives extends through and beyond her leadership at MIT. Her passion for helping humanity was fomented during her childhood experiences in the healthcare system which encouraged her to explore ways to make hospital stays more tolerable for young patients through creative interaction. In her teens, she launched an organization to bring accessible music and the arts to hospitals for individuals of all ages. She has also served as an honorary UN youth ambassador and an activist for over 30 charities and NPOs. In addition, she has played a pivotal role in the MIT-wide MindHandHeart initiative, including its Innovation Fund and COVID relief Student Support Program. As a CAST selection committee member and part of the Lab’s new Diversity and Leadership Program, Alexandra seeks to support causes that improve the human experience by bridging science, art, technology, and social service in synergistic ways.

The Hugh Hampton Young fellowship is distinguished in that it is awarded on the combined basis of research accomplishments; integrity and character; leadership skills; and broad, interdisciplinary interests. Furthermore, the fellowship states that the recipient’s work should have a positive impact on humanity.

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