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K-State Today

April 20, 2018

Computer science, mathematics major earns university's top honor for undergraduate research

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Maria Fernanda De La Torre Romo

A Kansas State University undergraduate student involved in transdisciplinary research in computer science, mathematics and psychology is this year's recipient of the University Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Research.

A senior in computer science and mathematics, Maria Fernanda De La Torre Romo is being recognized for excellence in research. De La Torre Romo has been an active undergraduate researcher since coming to K-State in fall 2015 and has several published papers and awards to her credit.

De La Torre Romo is currently working on projects with William Hsu, professor of computer science, and Mary Cain, professor of psychological sciences. As a member of Hsu's research team, her main research interests are in data science, particularly network science and machine learning, and in computational neuroscience. With Cain, De La Torre Romo is developing an automated tool for behavioral neuroscience researchers to analyze video data of their animal models and a smart pet sitter using a long short-term memory recurrent neural network.

Her current project in Hsu's lab uses deep hierarchical neural network approaches for information extraction. She is planning to submit this research to a peer-reviewed data mining conference or workshop. She is the co-author of a paper that was accepted to the IEEE International Conference on Machine Learning and Data Science and published in December 2017. She also is working on papers for at least two other national conferences in the field.

"Fernanda is a very impressive student and researcher," said Scott DeLoach, professor and head of the computer science department. "Her breadth and depth of interests and knowledge, coupled with her passion, have helped her to excel in practically everything she has done here at K-State. Being a co-author of a paper accepted to an internationally prestigious research conference as an undergraduate is quite remarkable and speaks to her ability. Fernanda will definitely be in high demand when she graduates from here."

Hsu rates De La Torre Romo's accomplishments as a researcher, as well as her general abilities and capacity to learn, as among the top five of the more than 250 undergraduate and graduate students with whom he has worked with in his career.

"Dr. Hsu has always done an excellent job integrating undergraduate students into his cutting-edge research, and Fernanda is great example of how that exposure can really open up doors to a great career," DeLoach said.

A member Kansas State University's Developing Scholars Program, De La Torre Romo's work in Hsu's lab helped her earn the program's 2017 Frank Cortez Memorial Award, which is presented to a student who passionately pursues excellence in many different interests, from the arts to the sciences. She also received the Developing Scholars Program's 2016 Promise Award for her work in Lester Loschky's visual cognition lab.

During summer 2016, De La Torre Romo took part in a research experience for undergraduates program at the University of Missouri where she conducted a global analysis on autism spectrum disorders' gene candidates. She was invited to present her poster at the annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in November 2017.

De La Torre Romo has helped launch an artificial neural networks and computational brain theory journal group at the university and a research group with the philosophy department for racial bias reduction in court-ruling algorithms. She has served as events chair and is the current philanthropy chair of the university's chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence.

Accepted in the university's concurrent bachelor's/master's program in computer science, De La Torre Romo's ultimate goal is to earn a doctorate in a discipline related to computational neuroscience.

De La Torre Romo is a 2015 graduate of East High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and the daughter of Sehila Romo Gomez and Gabriel De La Torre.