Graduate student team receives grant as part of competition

Two UC Berkeley graduate students were awarded a $100,000 grant that will be used to sponsor further research as part of the 2011 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship competition.

The competition, started by Qualcomm Inc. in 2009, gives electrical engineering and computer science students an opportunity to pursue cutting-edge technology projects. This year, the competition expanded to include 11 schools and a total of 146 applications.

Mohit Bansal and Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick were among eight teams of two that were selected as winners of the fellowship this year and were awarded the grant May 20. Their project, “Automatic Summarization of Mobile Search,” focuses on creating a system that can automatically summarize large amounts of text.

“The idea is to take thousands of documents on any current news topic and create an informative summary of all the documents,” Bansal said. “People don’t have time to read ten thousand documents from different news sources.”

Working on the project proposal for the competition took around six months and combined Bansal’s research regarding large-scale information processing and Berg-Kirpatrick’s research in automatic summarization. Both students published their findings in June through the Association for Computational Linguistics.

Bansal said he believes the project is “very useful to the community as we are moving toward small screen mobile phones” because it “helps people cope with today’s trend of increasing information.”

“(Our system) works in the way that it connects important information from different sources, removes redundant information and maximizes concept coverage,” Bansal said. “Plus, it saves you a lot of time, and you can read news on your mobile phone.”

UC Berkeley students have participated in the competition since its inauguration in 2009. At the time, the competition was limited to graduate students at UC Berkeley and Stanford University, and only two winning teams were selected.

Rajarshi Gupta, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 2005 and is currently a senior staff engineer at Qualcomm, said the competition was created to encourage innovative thinking and creativity in graduate students.

“We wanted to spark a kind of contest that would get students involved in doing innovative research,” Gupta said. “We have a lot of respect for interesting ideas and proposals carried out at great schools.”

Graduate student Bryan Catanzaro, a winner of the 2010 competition, said the two main differences between this fellowship and other technology fellowships are that students work in teams of two and that Qualcomm is “much more involved in administrating the fellowship than most fellowships.”

Maryam Tabesh, also a 2010 fellowship winner, said the Qualcomm mentors “gave us great feedback from a unique point of view often not accessible from academia. Their feedback was both on technical aspects as well as commercial soundness.”

Tabesh said she believes the fellowship gives graduate students an opportunity to explore the boundaries of technology and also opens up a collaboration path with Qualcomm.

“I think (the competition) is a great opportunity for Berkeley students to think about new and exciting projects in a way to verify that with the experts from industry,” she said. “The mentor part of the program is truly outstanding.”

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