Alumni Spotlight: ‘Timely Rejections’ Propel Aylwin Villanueva ’10 to Blockbuster Success

October 12, 2021

Aylwin Villanueva

After graduating from UCI in 2010 with a double major in informatics and studio art, Aylwin Villanueva joined Lucasfilm and eventually became a technical director at its visual effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic. He has since left his mark on blockbuster movies ranging from Star Wars Episode VII: Force Awakens to Avengers: Endgame. At first glance, his road to success seems straightforward, but when asked about his career path, he stresses that “it’s been a path of interesting and timely rejections … every rejection led to where I am today.”

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ICS Welcomes 3 New Faculty for 2021

October 5, 2021

The Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences is pleased to introduce the following three faculty who joined ICS in academic year 2021-22. These outstanding researchers and educators advance our school’s strategic priorities in the areas of computer vision, health informatics, information sciences, machine learning, operating systems, and security. With these new hires, ICS has more than 100 tenure-track faculty, reflecting the unprecedented growth in our enrollments and research activity.

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Child-Centered Technology at Heart of $11 Million Award from the Jacobs Foundation

September 30, 2021

Much of children’s education and social lives moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while many students have since returned to classrooms, digital learning and play environments remain. How might we better design digital technologies to support youth education beyond the pandemic? This question is at the heart of a nearly $11 million grant awarded to UCI from the Jacobs Foundation, a global leader in the field of child and youth development.

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Adriana Meza Soria Receives Latino Excellence and Achievement Award for Graduate Student Excellence

September 29, 2021

UCI held its inaugural Latino Excellence and Achievement Dinner (LEAD) in 2018, bringing together the campus community in celebration of student success and research excellence in Hispanic and Latinx communities. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the event online in 2020 and 2021, and this year’s 4th annual celebration recognized the additional hardships brought on by COVID-19. LEAD Co-Chair Adelí Durón, director of the UCI Latinx Resource Center, spoke of the “disparate impact of COVID-19 on Hispanic and Latinx communities.” Yet as the recipients of the LEAD Award for Graduate Student Excellence reveal, students persevered, including the awardee from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) — software engineering Ph.D. candidate Adriana Meza Soria.

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UCI News: “UCI informatics professors relaunch center on computer games, learning and society”

September 22, 2021

The intersection of computer games, education and social activism is to be the focal point of a joint center being newly relaunched this fall at the University of California, Irvine by interactive media research and development experts Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler.

The two professors in UCI’s Department of Informatics founded Games + Learning + Society in 2005 while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now they have reimagined it to explore game development and research in a new context dominated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, political upheaval and change in the United States and abroad, and reignited movements supporting racial justice and women’s rights.

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UCI News: “UCI’s Stacy Branham highlighted on Popular Science Brilliant 10 list”

September 21, 2021

Popular Science magazine has named Stacy Branham, UCI assistant professor of informatics, as one of its Brilliant 10 for 2021. The annual feature recognizes the most innovative and up-and-coming American scientists, engineers, academic researchers and inventors. Branham was singled out for her work in adapting commonly-used technologies for people with disabilities. The magazine highlighted Branham’s project, code named Jamie, that helps older adults and disabled to navigate airport corridors, customer service counters and security lines using voice assistance and a geolocation system that relies on Bluetooth and WiFi signals. For another project, Branham is working to create a text-to-speech app that helps blind people read with their children. The article points out that a lot of Branham’s innovations on behalf of the disabled can also be used in other contexts; non-native English speakers may also find the text-to-speech app to be helpful. “I am thankful this recognition highlights the importance of engaging people with disabilities in technology innovation from the earliest stages,” said Branham. “I couldn’t imagine a more supportive environment than UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences to carry out our work.”

Originally posted at UCI News.

Popular Science: “The Brilliant 10: The Most Innovative Up-and-Coming Minds in Science” (Stacy Branham mentioned)

To Stacy Branham, people with disabilities are the original life hackers—and that’s a bad thing. The University of California, Irvine computer scientist doesn’t think anyone should have to be a MacGyver just to get through life. Marginalized groups often adapt apps and gadgets to suit their needs. In the 1950s, for instance, visually impaired people manipulated record players to run at higher speed, allowing them to “skim” audio books for school or work; today, browser extensions that hasten videos have the same effect. Branham wants to use similar insights to design better products from the start. “Innovation is having the right people in the room,” she says.

Read the full story on Popular Science

ADL’s Center for Technology and Society Names Constance Steinkuehler a Belfer Fellow

September 15, 2021

On Sept. 1, 2021, the Center for Technology and Society (CTS) of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced its fourth class of Belfer Fellows, noting that they will “focus on research bridging the intersection of tech and civil rights.” The Belfer Fellowship, started in 2018 with the support of the Robert Belfer Family, builds awareness around online hate and digital citizenship, supporting the ADL vision of “a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.”

Informatics Professor Constance Steinkuehler of UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) is one of three new Belfer Fellows, selected for her research into the cognitive and social aspects of online multiplayer videogames and esports. “The Belfer Fellowship is a big honor,” she says. “ADL is the leading organization working at the forefront of anti-extremist efforts.”

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