Winners of Nick Cercone Graduate Scholarship

Winner of 2022:  Benno Krojer

Benno Krojer is currently in the second year of his PhD at the Mila Quebec AI Institute & McGill University and graduated top-of-class in his BSc Computational Linguistics at LMU Munich.
He is interested in fundamental problems in language grounding, interactive multi-modal NLP and more specific phenomena such as pragmatics, compositionality or text-to-image generation.
He contributed to the field of vision-and-language with a top-reviewed ACL paper that introduced the challenging ImageCoDe dataset. It exposes shortcomings of all state-of-the-art models in terms of fine-grained visual and linguistic representations, pragmatics or temporal dynamics. During his BSc, Benno was a shared-first author on two papers at NLP conferences that focused on symbolic reasoning and coreference in machine translation. On top of that, he worked at several companies in NLP, vision and robotics. Next to pursuing fundamental questions of language understanding, Benno’s PhD studies will also address ethical and safety concerns of large multi-modal models motivated by the increasingly unpredictable progress and applications in the AI space. Throughout his academic path Benno has been passionate about bringing people together in thriving communities. Most notably, he has founded a large philosophy society in Munich and a reading group at Mila.

Winner of 2020:  Amna Liaqat

Ms. Amna Liaqat is entering her third year in the Ph.D. program in Computer Science at the University of Toronto. She is also a researcher at the Technologies for Aging Gracefully lab (TAGlab). Her supervisor is Professor Cosmin Munteanu. Amna has co-authored eight papers and book chapters, on three of which she is the lead author. Amna’s research lies at the intersection of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and education and draws on areas like natural language processing and data analytics.  She designs tools for real-world learning, particularly for supporting creative processes. The key motivator informing her work is the complex challenge of developing computer-supported assistance for learning skills and preserving tacit knowledge. Some of her projects include building tools for fostering culture-sharing in immigrant families, designing a peer-to-peer feedback network for immigrants learning English, and developing adaptive support tools for new writers. Her interest in real-world applications is evident in other projects in which she is involved.   She is a leader on the interdisciplinary team behind “How’s My Flattening,” a collaborative COVID Collaborative Data and Analytics Hub. She also serves on the steering committee for the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. In short, Amna’s research accomplishments and community service are precisely ones that this award is intended to recognize and foster, in Nick Cercone’s memory.

Inaugural Winner (2018):  Ehsan Sherkat

Ehsan Sherkat was born and grew up in the historical city of Isfahan, Iran. He received his B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in computer software engineering from University of Isfahan and University of Tehran, respectively. Ehsan started his PhD degree in the faculty of computer science at Dalhousie University in  2015. His research area is at the intersection of Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, and Interactive Visualization, aiming to make the algorithmic results of mining large text corpora accessible to experts in the application domain, such as medicine and law. An outcome of his collaborative research is a software system to allow emergency room physicians to efficiently consult radiology reports in a high stress context and help decide whether immediate action is required. Ehsan’s academic research is of the highest calibre, evidenced by getting the best student paper award from the ACM Intelligent User Interfaces 2018 conference, which is an A-rank international conference in his area of research. Moreover, Ehsan has been an active volunteer both within and outside the University. He provided his time and expertise to other students in his lab, took initiatives that help the common good, served as a PhD student representative for Dalhousie Computer Science Graduate Society (CSGS), helped plan and organize several CSGS events,  volunteered in the Halifax Film and Jazz Festivals,  and the top international conferences SIGKDD 2017 and ACM IUI 2018.