Zach Pardos, PhD Candidate

Denver, CO

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
WPI was attractive to me for two reasons: a combination of having a beautiful campus and being recommended by a college counselor for my interest in robotics and artificial intelligence. I had also happened upon WPI inadvertently while visiting the northeast and was impressed. When the name came up again with a college counselor, I took that as a good sign.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, been beneficial to you during your time at WPI?
My dissertation work has been significantly enriched by cognitive theory, which has a palpable presence in the tutoring research conducted at WPI in the computer science and social sciences departments. There is great intellectual merit in theory alone, but part of my goal, and the goal of WPI, is to have a positive real world impact. That philosophy, I believe, has attracted people like Neil Heffernan, my adviser, who runs a tutoring system here that offers direct benefits from the blend of theoretical and empirical work I have been doing.

What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
WPI attracts a number of special students across all majors who have the ability to do brilliant things. I am also proud of a shared culture at WPI that is hard to put your finger on but, without a question, exists.

How have the professors in your department impacted your studies and your life?
In addition to being a computer science PhD at WPI, I was also a computer science undergrad. My high school did not provide advance calculus, so I took the longer Calc I course with Professor Bill Far. He was more than accommodating every time I visited during his office hours. I took three total math courses with him, including Calc 4, which thanks to his help in previous courses, was a breeze. I personally appreciated getting to take these courses with him and having the opportunity to work with him; after deciding to continue with a PhD, he enthusiastically agreed to write one of my two PhD recommendation letters.

What are your research projects?
I’m involved with the ASSISTments Platform tutoring research project, primarily run by Dr. Neil T. Heffernan.

What do you hope to do when you graduate? What would be your ideal job?
I hope to continue to participate in the academic community and apply my methodological and statistical knowledge to promising new technologies.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:

  • Judge for the 2012 GRAD event.
  • Participant in the computer science department’s coffee house: played classical guitar and sang.
  • Member of UPE Computer Honors Society
  • Member of Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
  • Appointed graduate student representative of the Campus Judicial Hearing Board
  • Appointed position on Provost’s Campus Space Planning Committee

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • 1st place prize at GRAD 2011 in the category of science which included physics, math and computer science
  • 2nd place prize at GRAD2010 in the category of science
  • 1st place prize in the computer science department's separate GRAD2011 judging (first authored by Shubhendu Trivedi)
  • 2nd place student prize in the 2010 KDD Cup competition
  • 4th place in the 2010 UCSD Data Mining Competition
  • Best student paper award at the 2009 Educational Data Mining Conference
  • Fellowship award #1 Department of Education's Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN)
  • Fellowship award #2 National Science Foundation's Graduates in K-12 Education (GK-12)
  • Trustee’s award for outstanding teaching committee

Additional comments:
The motto of combining theory and practice at WPI is real and the faculty here, and their projects, give you an opportunity to make a meaningful impact in both.

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