Undergraduate named outstanding researcher

Feb 06, 2003, vol. 26, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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SFU computing science student Bistra Dilkina (left) has been named outstanding female research undergraduate by the Computing Research Association.

The annual award recognizes undergraduate students who show outstanding research potential in an area of computing science.

The competition has previously produced winners from such institutions as MIT, Stanford and the University of California, Irvine. This year's male recipient is from Cornell University. More than 70 students received honourable mentions.

Winning students receive a $1,000 prize. “This is a little like winning the Stanley Cup for undergraduate students in applied science,” Brian Lewis, SFU's dean of applied sciences, says. “She is an extremely bright young researcher.”

Dilkina, who is from Bulgaria, completed an international baccalaureate program in Italy and came to SFU after receiving a Shrum international scholarship.

A research assistant in the school of computing science intelligent systems lab, she did an eight month co-op term with computing science professor Bill Havens, working on an artificial intelligence project involving the development of a programming system for solving difficult scheduling programs.

“We are building a library of algorithms for solving hard scheduling, planning and configuration problems,” explains Dilkina, whose contributions helped lead to the development of a spinoff company, Constraint Works.

The company was recently involved with a project for the National Football League to help the 32-team organization better manage its exceedingly complex game schedule for next season. Constraint Works was one of three companies asked to develop a prototype schedule in just three months.

“We've never before attempted to solve a problem of this size,” says Dilkina. “Compared with the others, we are just a very small academic group. But after putting in 10-hour days, we were successful.”

Havens and Dilkina presented the work, which led to the development of new algorithms, at the third international workshop on constraint programming and belief revision in Sydney, Australia in December.

Dilkina, who will graduate next fall, is also cited for her extensive record of public service including work for the St. James community service society, which provides help and shelter to people with mental illness.

The CRA's aim is to strengthen research and education in the computing fields, expand opportunities for women and minorities, and improve public and policymaker understanding of the importance of computing and computing research.

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