Zachary Pardos, PhD

Hometown: Denver, CO

Degree earned at WPI: BS, MS, and PhD, Computer Science

For my 2012 PhD in Computer Science, I studied Bayesian networks and developed adaptive models of learning that balance the desire for optimal assessment and assistance. I competed in the 2010 International KDD Cup Challenge on Educational Data, applying my learning analytics models to win a $3,000 prize for accurate prediction of student knowledge among a field of top machine learning practitioners. My models have also earned numerous academic accolades. We as a nation need software that can more accurately model what students know and adapt material to them in smarter ways.

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
I chose to continue into the PhD program after my undergraduate work at WPI because of a passion, shared with the faculty, of continuing to develop learning analytics to improve the effectiveness of educational technology, as well as pedagogy in general. The professors at WPI were among the most established and visionary in the field, and encouraged independence and innovation.

Present job title and employer:
Visiting scholar, MIT

How do you feel your experiences at WPI prepared you for working in your field?
As a visiting scholar at MIT, I work on improving online higher education technology through adaptive models of student learning that can be applied to multiple domains of material. The student modeling skills and broader knowledge of the issues in learning sciences that I gained while at WPI have applied directly to the goals of this position.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, prepared you for facing real-world challenges in the workplace or graduate school?
The PhD program valued an understanding of the cognitive theory behind the approaches we were using, and supported hypothesizing about the way in which students learn. At the same time, the practical and measurable goal of improving student learning was always a yardstick for success. This allowed deep inquiry into how to model students while keeping in mind the value of pragmatism.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participated in at WPI:

  • Judge for the 2012 Graduate Research Achievement Day (GRAD) event
  • Participant in the Computer Science department’s coffeehouse: classical guitar and vocals
  • Member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon 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
  • Appointed graduate student representative of the Trustee’s Award for Outstanding Teaching Committee

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • 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)
  • [WPI] 1st place prize at the 2012 Graduate Research Day in the category of Science (first authored by S. Trivedi)
  • [WPI] 1st place prize at the 2011 Graduate Research Day in the category of Science
  • [WPI] 1st place prize in the Computer Science department's 2011 Internal Research Day (first authored by S. Trivedi)
  • 2nd place student prize in the 2010 Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining Cup competition
  • 4th place in the 2010 UCSD Data Mining Competition
  • [WPI] 2nd place prize at the 2010 Graduate Research Day in the category of Science
  • Best Student Paper Award at the 2009 Educational Data Mining Conference
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