Engineering Senior Jacob Andreas Wins Churchill Scholarship

Columbia Engineering senior Jacob Andreas has won the Churchill Scholarship, the first student from the School to receive the prestigious award. Andreas, a computer science major, is one of 14 students nationwide to receive the Churchill scholarship, which gives exemplary students the opportunity to study for one year at the University of Cambridge with all tuition and fees paid, including a living allowance and travel and research expenses.
 
Andreas was surprised when he got the call in early January that he had won the scholarship from the Winston Churchill Foundation. Having misread an earlier email announcing the date on which finalists would be notified, he actually assumed he was already out of the running. The winners were announced on February 6.
 
“So for the last month or so I’ve been smiling at inappropriate moments without being able to explain why,” said Andreas, 21, from Piedmont, Calif. “It’s a relief to finally be able to talk about it!”
 
Andreas, who began programming when he was just in elementary school, said he feels “honored and humbled” to be a part of this year’s group. “Everyone has a really extraordinary record of research and study.”
 
But so does Andreas, who is busy this semester working on his senior thesis on a model of machine translation driven by meaning, and as a researcher in the Natural Language Processing Group, under the guidance of his professors Kathleen McKeown and Michael Collins.
 
“I tell people I’ve been interested in natural language processing since the fifth grade,” said Andreas. The first computer program Andreas ever wrote was a Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blank game.
 
“Language has always excited me,” added Andreas, who studied Spanish in high school and Mandarin here. “Computational linguistics really gets to the heart of some of the most interesting problems in artificial intelligence and machine learning that exists today.”
 
Andreas began working in McKeown’s lab as a sophomore. He is interested in semantic parsing and generation—transforming text into language-independent representations of meaning and back again. When he attends Cambridge this fall, he plans to build a better semantic parser under the supervision of Professor Stephen Clark.
 
"Jacob is one of those amazing students who knew since he arrived what he wanted to work on," said McKeown. "He has published two papers with my group and just had a third accepted. That's in addition to another paper on machine translation that came out of his course work. This is absolutely amazing for an undergraduate. Not only is Jacob creative and thoughtful, he's also a great communicator and a nice guy."
 
As if there is more that can be squeezed into his day, Andreas also teaches; he has taught as a T.A. in the computer science department’s Emerging Scholars Program and for Computer Science Theory, as a tutor, and as a coach on the robotics team at the Engineering School. He held a software engineering internship at Google’s New York offices last year, and in 2010, at Microsoft in Bellevue, Wash., where he developed several Windows Phone 7 applications using Live Labs technologies.
 
Thinking ahead to life after Cambridge, Andreas said he definitely wants to return to the U.S. for a Ph.D., and after that, intends to pursue a professorship.

Indeed, Andreas’ parents were very pleased to hear of the Churchill news; and perhaps even more so since they both attended Cambridge. Said Andreas, “Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of our discussion so far has taken the form of dating advice.”

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