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McKeown, Vunjak-Novakovic Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Apr 18 2019 | By Holly Evarts | McKeown and Vunjak-Novakovic Photo Credit: Eileen Barroso | Zhang Photo Courtesy Committee of 100

Two Columbia Engineering professors and a member of the School’s Board of Visitors are among the newly elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Kathleen McKeown, the Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science, and Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, University Professor and The Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Medical Sciences,  and Ya-Qin Zhang, a member of the Columbia Engineering Board of Visitors and President of Baidu, Inc. were named to the 2019 class. Election recognizes outstanding achievements in academia, the arts, business, government, and public affairs and induction will occur at a ceremony in October.

“We are delighted to see the transformative work by these two outstanding faculty members honored in this way,” said Mary C. Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “They have made pioneering contributions to their respective fields and the Columbia community. We are honored to count both of these extraordinary faculty and Dr. Zhang as our colleagues and friends.”

Kathleen McKeown

Kathleen McKeown is the founding director of the Data Science Institute (DSI) at Columbia, and served as its director from 2012 to 2017, when the DSI became a University-wide research institute.  McKeown also currently is an Amazon Scholar. Her research interests lie in the areas of natural language processing, summarization, natural language generation, and analysis of social media. Currently, her group is working in three main areas: text summarization of news and personal narrative, personalized messaging to help reduce energy use, and identifying sentiment and emotion in social media posts.

McKeown’s work on summarization is focusing on methods for improving fluency and accuracy of summaries, particularly when summarizing online narratives and multilingual sources, both of which can be informal or ungrammatical. Her work on sentiment is also in a multilingual setting; her group is working on methods for identifying sentiment in multiple languages without using machine translation. She is currently working with faculty from the School of Social Work to develop systems that can identify aggression and loss in the social media posts of gang-involved youth.

McKeown joined Columbia Engineering in 1982, immediately after earning her PhD from University of Pennsylvania. In 1989, she became the first woman professor in Columbia Engineering to receive tenure, and in 1998, the first woman to serve as a department chair. McKeown has received numerous honors and awards for her research and teaching. She received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1985, and also is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women, was selected as an AAAI Fellow, a Founding Fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics and an ACM Fellow. In 2010, she won both the Columbia Great Teacher Award—an honor bestowed by the Society of Columbia Graduates—and the Anita Borg Woman of Vision Award for Innovation.

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic is a pioneer in the engineering of functional human tissue for use in regenerative medicine and studies of disease. Her research has led to the development of growing bone grafts for facial reconstruction, the creation of electromechanically functional cardiac tissue, the recovery of donor lungs for transplant, the design and use of “organs on a chip” for precision medicine, and other innovations. Recently, her team grew the first human heart muscle from stem cells that showed critical hallmarks of adult human heart function, in just four weeks. Her lab also was the first to build a functional vascularized lung scaffold, which could pave the way for improved care of patients with lung disease.

Vunjak-Novakovic directs the Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, where her group investigates innovative technologies for engineering human tissues—including bone, heart, and lung—through the integrated use of stem cells, biomaterial scaffolds, and bioreactors. Extensively published and highly cited, she has more than 100 licensed, issued, and pending patents. Her lab has launched four biotech companies: epiBone, Tara Biosystems, Xylyx Bio and Immplacate all based in New York City.

A frequent advisor to government and industry, Vunjak-Novakovic, who earned her PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Belgrade, Serbia, has received many honors. She is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the New York Academy of Science, Academia Europaea, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. In 2012, she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, becoming the first female professor at Columbia University ever to receive this distinction, and, in 2014, was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. She was elevated to University Professor in 2017, as the first engineer at Columbia to receive this distinction.

Ya-Qin Zhang

Ya-Qin Zhang is the President of Baidu Inc., a Chinese multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products, and artificial intelligence. In his role, Zhang oversees the Intelligent Driving Group, Emerging Business Unit and Technology Group. Prior to joining Baidu in 2014, he was Microsoft Corporation’s corporate vice president and the chairman of Microsoft Asia-Pacific R&D Group for a decade, leading Microsoft’s overall research and development efforts in the Asia-Pacific region. Before joining Microsoft in 1999, Zhang was the director of Multimedia Technology Laboratory at Sarnoff Corp. He has been a member of the Columbia Engineering Board of Visitors since 2018.

With the election of McKeown and Vunjak-Novakovic, Columbia Engineering faculty elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences now numbers 11. The others are Christos Papadimitriou (2001), Mark Cane (2002), Alfred Aho (2003), Mary Boyce (2004), Aron Pinczuk (2009), Jeannette Wing (2010), Shree Nayar (2011), Renata Wentzcovitch (2013), and Julia Hirschberg (2018).

The Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. The Academy’s dual mission remains essentially the same 239 years later with honorees from increasingly diverse fields and with the work focused on the arts, democracy, education, global affairs, and science.

View a complete list of the 239th AAAS class of new members.