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K-State Today

May 5, 2023

Kevin Duong and Cassandra Jones receive K-State research and mentoring awards

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Kansas State University is recognizing Kevin Duong, senior in computer science, for excellence in research, and Cassandra Jones, professor of animal sciences and industry, for being an outstanding mentor to undergraduate researchers.

Duong, from Scott City, is the recipient of the University Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Student in Research. Jones is the recipient of the University Distinguished Faculty Award for Mentoring of Undergraduate Students in Research. Both will be honored at the All-University Awards Ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, May 11, in the Ballroom at the K-State Alumni Center. 

Duong works as an undergraduate research assistant in the K-State Laboratory for Knowledge Discovery in Databases and has been an integral part of the lab's research efforts in the domains of autonomous agents and reinforcement learning. He holds a cumulative GPA of 4.0 and has published two peer-reviewed papers as co-author. Duong's research explores hyperbolic discounting functions and learning over multiple horizons, while training reinforcement learning agents that can learn new behaviors from past actions by interacting with the environment. As part of his research experience, Duong has contributed to research ideas, implemented code, set up code repositories, conducted experiments on high-performance clusters, and collected and analyzed results. A key aspect of Duong's personality has been teamwork and his willingness to help newer undergraduate research students transition into research. 

"Being recognized with this award is a not only a testament to my own work, but also to the support and encouragement I have received from the K-State community," Duong said. "I am proud to be a part of a university that values research and academic achievements, and I am especially thankful for the sense of belonging that K-State has provided. The culture here has allowed me to thrive academically and personally, and I've met some people here that have been a huge influence in my life, whether it be faculty or peers." 

Duong will graduate summa cum laude in May 2023 with a bachelor's degree in computer science. After graduation, he will work at Garmin as a software engineer and continue his work part-time for K-State as a research consultant. 

Shortly after her arrival in the animal sciences and industry department, Jones assumed a role as coordinator of undergraduate research in 2017. She recognized the need to provide more research opportunities and established a course-based, hands-on undergraduate research experience. Jones also serves as the animal science and industry department's teaching coordinator where she continually looks at approaches to improve the department's academic programs while guiding the program in its endeavors. Jones leads scholarship of teaching efforts in the department, having generated more than $700,000 in grants and gifts and publishing four peer-reviewed manuscripts. 

"It is a privilege to work at an institution where commitment to teaching and student mentorship is recognized," Jones said. "The true credit for this award belongs to the entire animal sciences and industry department for their investment and support of undergraduate research as researchers, advisors, and staff. Mentoring undergraduate research is rarely an easy task, so I sincerely thank my colleagues who continue to help us provide learning opportunities in our animal laboratories and farms so that students can gain hands-on experience and learn to use data to make science-based decisions." 

Jones is the recipient of the 2022 U.S. Department of Agriculture Excellence in College and University Regional Teaching Award for Food and Agriculture Sciences and the 2021 Mortar Board Outstanding Faculty Award.