Meet the Columbia Engineering 2019 Valedictorian and Salutatorian

May 09 2019 | By Jesse Adams | Lamy photo courtesy of Alex Lamy | Chung photo courtesy of Janice Juho Chung

As valedictorian and salutatorian of the Class of 2019, seniors Alexandre Lamy and Janice Juho Chung will receive Columbia Engineering’s highest academic honors. As the valedictorian, Lamy will also be awarded the School’s Illig Medal and speak at Engineering Class Day on May 20. We caught up with the busy seniors to find out what’s next, what they’ve learned so far, and more.

Alexandre Lamy

Alexandre Lamy, Valedictorian

Major: 
Computer Science

Hometown: 
Difficult question… I was born in France (in Reims) but then moved to Paris, Minneapolis (Minnesota), Warren (New Jersey), and Westchester (New York) before coming to Columbia. My family has since moved to Long Island. We used to spend two or three months in Normandy (in France) each summer, so the places that feel most like home to me are probably Normandy and Columbia! 

Plans after graduation: 
I am staying at Columbia for one more year to get an MS in Computer Science. After that I will likely go work for a few years before perhaps returning for a PhD.

Why computer science?
I actually had very little computer science exposure before I came to Columbia, and I had a hard time deciding between three majors: applied mathematics, operations research, and computer science. In the end CS had more or less everything I was looking for. I loved (and still love) math, and the kind of logical thinking and problem-solving approach that you need in math are also key in computer science. At the same time, learning CS means learning to solve real-world problems with solutions that affect people’s lives. Those two aspects make CS a unique and fascinating field to study, in my view. 

Dream job:
I’m not sure what exactly my ideal job would be, but it has to be something where my work has an impact, where I am constantly talking and interacting with people, and where every day brings interesting new problems!

The most important thing Columbia Engineering taught you:
Probably the most important lesson is how to work in groups and with others. From our very first semester in Art of Engineering to all kinds of difficult CS classes (Operating Systems, Programming Languages and Translators, Machine Learning, Computational Learning theory, and others) Columbia Engineering shows you all kinds of problems that can’t be solved by a single person, no matter how good they are. Learning how to approach such a difficult problem, how to break it down, and how to slowly and collaboratively approach a solution is a skill that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It is also one of the key aspects of an engineer, I think.

Favorite course and professor:
My favorite class was Machine Learning and my favorite professor was Nakul Verma, who taught it. I have since been a teaching assistant for the class three times, and have done research with Professor Verma, who became an important mentor and advisor, ever since. I think the class simultaneously gives you a deep understanding of the foundations of machine learning and teaches you most of the advanced mathematics necessary in subsequent more difficult classes. The homework is also notoriously difficult and done with groups. Also, while most CS group-based classes are implementation-heavy (you code together), this one is more theory-heavy, meaning that you often end up trying to solve difficult math-like problems with your peers; it’s an interesting aspect of learning to work together.

Hobbies:
Exploring the many restaurants of New York City with my girlfriend is a pretty big one. Otherwise I enjoy taking long walks (Central Park is so very nice in the spring) and spending time with friends. Of course, there are also some TV shows that I follow very closely (Sunday nights are currently occupied by Game of Thrones-watching parties) and some great movies that I enjoy watching with friends.  

Most inspirational people in your life:
I don’t really have one or two people that I can easily name. I think everyone you meet is incredible, and if you take the time to listen to their stories and see how they’ve surmounted the difficulties that they have faced it’s almost always inspirational. In my four years here, I think I have learned more from my fellow classmates than from anything else.

Words to live by:
Avoid regrets and try enjoy each and every day. I love this quote (attributed to Einstein): "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow."

What Engineering for Humanity means to you:
To me it means trying to use everything we have learned to improve the lives of those around us. The most wonderful part is that there are so many ways to do that.

Janice Juho Chung

Janice Juho Chung, Salutatorian

Hometown:
Many places, including northern New Jersey, Minneapolis, Seoul, and Exeter

Plans after graduation:
I will be studying medicine at Harvard Medical School

Why biomedical engineering?
I chose biomedical engineering because I wanted to apply problem solving to medicine. During my time as an undergrad, I have had many opportunities to delve into researching and innovating medical treatments and devices. In Professor Sam Sia’s lab, I have worked on several translational research projects. The most exciting aspect of these projects has been the prospect of bringing bench-side research to the bedside, enabling time-sensitive individualized cancer care and advancing treatment of diseases like diabetes and critical limb ischemia. I believe that, throughout my career, the principles and applications I have learned will enable me to advance medical care.

Dream job:
In my dream job, I see myself as a physician-scientist leading medical innovation through translational research in the field of my specialty, and envision contributing to the integration of precision health and medicine in patient care.

The most important thing Columbia Engineering taught you:
That making meaningful connections, both within and outside of engineering, is an important aspect of being an engineer. Working towards a shared vision with my peers and integrating our different skills, experience, and knowledge have been key to the success of new initiatives and projects alike.

Favorite course and professor:
It’s difficult to pick a single favorite as there have been many courses I have enjoyed. Professor Sia has been a great influence—each project I have worked on in the Sia Lab has opened my eyes to another facet of biomedical engineering. Professors like Adam Cannon, Deborah Mowshowitz, and Lance Kam, to name just a few, have inspired continued passion for fields both new and old.

Senior Design Project:
We designed a multi-modal solution to prevent incidences of ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP). VAP is an infection of the lungs that occurs 48 to 72 hours after intubation and accounts for 60% of all deaths due to hospital-related infections. There are two main causes of VAP: the formation of biofilm on the inner surface of the endotracheal tube and the leakage of subglottic secretions into the lungs. Our proposed solution strives to directly address these two pathological causes of VAP.

Hobbies:
I enjoy golfing, skiing, experimenting with cooking, playing violin, dabbling in visual arts like photography and oil painting, and enjoying time with close friends and family.

The most inspirational people in your life:
My parents always have and always will continue to inspire me. While I may be walking down a career path different from that of my parents, my parents’ compassion and generosity of heart, unyielding resilience, and passion have shaped the foundation of who I am.

Words to live by:
If you set your mind to it, you can and you will make it a reality. And, do what you love so you can cherish the beauty of each day. 

What Engineering for Humanity means to you:
Engineering for Humanity means going out into our world, as large or small as it is; understanding the unmet needs that speak to the communities we are a part of; and working with a team motivated by the need to design and implement solutions. And these needs and solutions are not limited to engineering in the traditional sense.