Shyam Agarwal Receives 2024 M.S. Ghausi Medal

The University of California, Davis, College of Engineering has announced Shyam Agarwal, who will graduate one year early with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science in June, as the recipient of the 2024 M.S. Ghausi Medal. The award is the college's highest honor given to one outstanding graduating senior. 

 Shyam Agarwal
Shyam Agarwal (Cody Duty/UC Davis)

The award is named after the College of Engineering's third dean, Mohammed S. Ghausi. During his term as dean, Ghausi championed the expansion of the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement, or MESA, Schools Program, designed to serve educationally disadvantaged and minority students. In 1991, he created the Women in Engineering program, the first of its kind in the UC system. 

"Getting the medal is definitely a validation for me," Agarwal said. "I honestly feel very humbled and blessed to be given the medal. Ghausi has done so much for [the College of Engineering] and for the computer science program, so I am very grateful both for his work and to be compared to someone like him."

At UC Davis, Agarwal has exemplified Ghausi's legacy of leadership and service to others through his dedication to connecting his peers with computer science in his concurrent roles as president of the Google Developers Student Club, vice president of operations of CodeLab and vice president of SacHacks

"I am glad that my and my team's efforts are able to create an impact in the lives of others," he said. "Every living species in this world, including animals, work for themselves. What makes us different is our ability to work for the betterment of others. There is no better feeling than to be the reason for someone else's smile and happiness." 

A firm believer in education, Agarwal used to teach elementary English, Hindi and math to underprivileged youths in Lucknow, India as part of the initiative Each One, Teach At Least One. During the fall of 2023, Agarwal founded and instructed an upper-division undergraduate course on algorithms that covered technical interview preparation, competitive programming, and both randomized and approximation algorithms. 

On campus, Agarwal is a University Honors Program student and is working with Ali Moghimi, an assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, on finishing his honors thesis on automated feedback generation. For this project, Agarwal is developing AI technology to automatically give students feedback on short answer questions, significantly conserving time, resources and computing power, and giving students a better learning experience. 

He has also worked extensively with Seth Frey, an associate professor of communication, on research into the role of numeracy-enhanced architectures in social inference. In other words, Agarwal is investigating how and why AI is or isn't able to understand or detect certain numerical data, like when someone says, sarcastically, that they have two dollars and that's "a lot" versus when someone says, genuinely, they have $2 million and that's a lot. 

Additionally, Agarwal's work on improving accessibility in communication via automated speech recognition systems, titled "'Allot?' is 'A Lot!' Towards Developing More Generalized Speech Recognition System for Accessible Communication," was recently published at the 38th Association of the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference on AI. 

Although fielding job offers, Agarwal has decided to stay the course of research and entrepreneurship. Upon graduation, Agarwal will work at an AI startup as an engineer in the founding team and will continue at UC Davis as a visiting researcher. 

He also plans to pursue graduate school in the future and continue to serve his community through teaching and research. 

"I wanted to get into research because it is the creation of knowledge. I find value in the fact that I am finding things and creating knowledge that did not exist before me, and I can use that knowledge to serve the people and the community around me. It's in line with my parents' teachings and the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: the Earth is but one family."

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