Hajim Spotlights

Marah Abdin

Class year: 2020
Major: electrical and computer engineering
Minor: statistics
Challenge: reverse engineering the brain

“As an enthusiast for learning, I am always looking for opportunities,” Marah says.

Marah, who is Palestinian, has pursued multiple opportunities as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester. In addition to her participation in the Grand Challenges Scholars program, Marah has been:

  • An engineering intern at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem (2017). This involved management training and conducting computer science courses.
  • A Xerox Engineering Research Fellow in the lab of Stephen Wu, assistant professor of ECE, with a focus on research in manufacturing transistors from 2D materials (2018).
  • An exchange student at the University of Sydney, Australia (Fall 2018).
  • An AI research intern at Microsoft (2019).
  • A teaching assistant for ECE 114 (intro to C and C++).
  • A tutor for mathematics and statistics at the University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.
  • A member of Colleges Against Cancer (now Cancer Awareness Club)

Here’s a Q&A with Marah about her participation in the Grand Challenges Scholars program.

Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges program?

I was fascinated by the idea of innovation behind it and given the work I have done in the past in research and AI, and still continue to do, I found that it would be a good fit for me.

Which of the five competencies did you most enjoy completing? Why?

I mostly enjoyed the research competency, simply because research has been a big part of my career so far and it will continue to be after graduation. Research is kind of a detective game, which is why I enjoy the process of bringing something new to the world rather than working on something that's already there.

Are there things you learned while completing the competencies that you would not have learned in a classroom or lab? For example?

I think completing the service competency introduced an aspect I haven't found in any of the classes I have taken. It was nice to engage with the community and use my experience to help others through the program.

After you graduate, do you think you will want to continue to work or pursue graduate studies in the same field as the challenge you tackled? How will you do that?

I definitely will continue working in reverse engineering the brain given that I have a passion for machine learning and I will be working in machine learning research with Microsoft after I graduate.

How did being at the UR help you complete this program?

Being at a place with multiple resources, programs, and just an open environment where seeking advice and help is easy, benefited me a lot through my engineering career so far, such as the Xerox Engineering Fellowship, which satisfies the research requirement for this program.

What is the value of the Grand Challenges program for a student?

There's a lot a student can get out of this program, but the most valuable part in my opinion is the opportunity to explore different aspects of your current and future career, from engaging through it with the community to expanding it into an international experience.

Click here to see Marah's poster.