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Four WPI Computer Science Faculty Members Receive Federal Education Award

Three-Year Grant to Fund Graduate Fellowships in Areas of National Need

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/May 31. 2006
Contact: WPI Media Relations, +1-508-831-5609

WORCESTER, Mass., - Four computer science faculty members at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have received Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) awards from the U.S. Department of Education. The fiscal year 2006 grant of $211,000, renewable for three years, will provide five annual graduate fellowships at the university for students in computer science.

Assistant Professors Neil Heffernan and Emmanuel Agu, Associate Professor George Heineman, and Professor Matthew Ward recently received the news from the office of Senator John Kerry (D-MA).

The awards will enable WPI to provide support to PhD candidates in areas of national need, including learning science, visual analytics, and computer and network security, and advance current computer science research at the university that have applications in such critical fields as homeland security, health care, and education. The awards will also enhance the university's prominence as a leading center for research and education in computer science, notes Michael A. Gennert, head of the Computer Science Department.

"This award, and these graduate fellowships, will contribute to strengthening our PhD program over the next three years," Gennert says. "We are currently recognized for the excellence of our computer science programs and faculty, and this award will build on these strengths as we tackle vital national problems."

Professor Ward, the principal investigator for the GAANN award, said the Department of Education's investment in WPI's computer science graduate program will also help raise the profile of the discipline of computer science and help reverse a significant decline in interest in the field among high school students. "Nationwide, there was a 60 percent decline in first-year college students who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science between 2000 and 2004," Ward said. "To maintain a competitive advantage in the global economy, the United States must continue to invest in computer science and information technology, and providing support to exceptional graduate students is a critical element of that investment."

Administered through the Teacher and Student Development Programs Service (TSDS) of the U.S. Department of Education, GAANN awards support graduate education in "areas of national need," which include biology, chemistry, computer and information sciences, engineering, geological and related sciences, mathematics, nursing, and physics. Graduate students with excellent records who demonstrate financial need and plan to pursue the highest degree available in one of these fields may apply to their departments for GAANN fellowship support.

WPI has previously received GAANN awards in biomedical engineering and physics. The number of fellowships awarded per institution can range from three to ten. This year's federal appropriation for GAANN awards was $30,067,290.

Neil Heffernan's research focuses on developing computer simulations of student thinking and learning and the design of intelligent tutoring systems. Emmanuel Agu conducts research on mobile graphics, photorealistic computer graphics, mobile computing, and wireless and sensor networks.

George Heineman's research is in the areas of adaptation of software components, component-based systems, distributed computing, component models, and software engineering. Matt Ward's work focuses on the interactive visual exploration of large data and information repositories.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865 in Worcester, Mass., WPI was one of the first engineering and technology universities in the nation. WPI's 18 academic departments offer more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts, leading to the BS, MS, ME, MBA and PhD. WPI's world-class faculty work with students in a number of cutting-edge research areas, leading to breakthroughs and innovations in such fields as biotechnology, fuel cells, nanotechnology, and information security. Students also have the opportunity to make a difference to communities and organizations around the world through our innovative Global Perspectives program. There are over 20 WPI project centers throughout North America and Central America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.