Top Prospects: Leading innovators from the Class of 2019

First row: Christina Chung (Gustavo Tolevo), Ashna Misra (Clare Kiernan), Laura Machado (Ahmed El-Zein). Second row: Jiakai Li, Vasundhara Gautam. Third row: Yuqing Du (Clare Kienan), Shweta Mogalapalli (Vivek Mogalapalli), Cole Powers. Fourth row: Jude Arokiam, Alyssia Jovellanos.

Last year, The Logic asked some of Canada’s top engineering and computer science universities to share the stories of some of the rising stars set to shape the country’s future.

Based on this year’s most recent rankings of Canada’s best engineering and computer science schools, The Logic has put together a list of the top undergraduate students finishing school this year. Some in this group have found work in their disciplines—from up-and-coming startups to the world’s largest tech companies—while others have chosen to pursue their own dreams.

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In alphabetical order, meet 10 of Canada’s leading innovators from the Class of 2019.

Alyssia Jovellanos

  • School: McMaster University
  • Program: Computer science
  • Employment status: Drafted by Microsoft

Jovellanos will work at Microsoft as a program manager on the Microsoft Edge web browser team after spending the summer in the AI for Good Lab at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms. She was an intern on Google’s Gmail intelligence team in May 2018, working on its Smart Compose feature that completes sentences for users as they draft emails. She was chosen as a 2019 delegate for the Young Diplomats of Canada, a non-profit that trains young Canadians in diplomatic leadership; those selected attend political summits to speak with officials in government and in organizations like the World Bank. As a delegate, Jovellanos attended the 2019 OECD Forum in Paris. In September 2018, she accepted the Women in Engineering Ambassador Award from the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation, an organization that encourages women to pursue careers in engineering.

Ashna Misra

  • School: University of British Columbia
  • Program: Chemical and biological engineering
  • Employment status: Drafted by Greenlane Biogas

Misra took a junior process engineer role at Greenlane Biogas, which builds equipment that turns organic waste into renewable gas. During her undergrad, she worked with organizations to encourage on-campus sustainability practices. She worked with Melt Collective, a campus group that melts plastic waste from the university’s research labs into new products, like keychains and houseware. In her final year, she co-founded a course at the university looking at how the engineering field has responded to climate-change issues.

Christina Chung

  • School: University of Toronto
  • Program: Computer science
  • Employment status: Undrafted

Chung is the co-author of six peer-reviewed computer-science publications, topics which range from visualizing health care research to a conference paper proposing “Thor’s Hammer,’ a new haptic device for virtual reality that can exert force in any direction, regardless of its orientation. In one study, Chung helped create an interactive web application visualizing similarities between drugs, helping researchers better predict how unknown drugs can affect the body. She received an Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Honorable Mention Award in 2017 from the Computing Research Association, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that includes more than 200 North American departments of computer science and related fields. Chung is the founder and president of Toronto Undergraduate Research in Computer Science, a student group that engages students in undergraduate research. For two years, she was the co-president of the University of Toronto’s Women in Computer Science group, which aims to create a supportive environment for women students through meetups and guest lectures. Chung plans to apply for graduate studies in human-computer interaction in the fall.

Cole Powers

  • School: University of Waterloo
  • Program: Mechanical engineering
  • Employment status: Co-founder of IntelliCulture

Powers is the co-founder of IntelliCulture, which makes data analytics tools to optimize farming methods, including finding the most efficient tractor routes and decreasing idle times. The company has 15 devices deployed in farms across Ontario, covering 6,000 acres. Previously, Powers interned at Tesla, ensuring that the safety requirements for teams working on the automobile models X and 3 were met and worked during testing. As a control specialist at General Motors’ Oshawa office in 2016, he worked on the software that would help the fuel systems within vehicles run smoothly, ensuring actions like engines running in response to the gas pedal actually worked. Powers will continue building IntelliCulture, which is part of the University of Waterloo’s Velocity incubator.

Jiakai Li

  • School: McGill University
  • Program: Mathematics and statistics
  • Employment status: Drafted by Harvard University

Li will attend Harvard University for mathematics in the fall after doing extensive mathematics research as an undergraduate at McGill. He wrote a paper on geometric group theory—which measures the growth rate of cube complexes, or spaces created from cubes of different dimensions—with professor Daniel Wise. Li was one of two undergraduate members of the McGill Geometric Group Theory Research Group, which is otherwise comprised of professors, postdoctoral researchers, and master’s and PhD students. His specific interests lie in topology—the study of the properties of space that are preserved when a shape undergoes continuous changes—and geometry. His professors commended his ability to quickly learn complex concepts. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” said Axel Hundemer, associate dean for McGill’s Faculty of Science.

Jude Arokiam

  • School: Ontario Tech University
  • Program: Computer science
  • Employment status: Drafted by CIBC

Arokiam is an application developer for CIBC, where he is working on a tool to automate application testing and review. Before that, he created an algorithm meant to save developers hours of manual work. Arokiam completed his honours thesis with associate professor Jeremy Bradbury. The two used a dataset of publicly available NASA bug reports to train an algorithm that could automatically sort reports in order of importance, from a critical bug that could take down the software to smaller incidents, like randomly-changing fonts. Arokiam said their technology could process several thousand bug reports in just five minutes. He and Bradbury are preparing to submit their findings to an international conference. In his third year, Arokiam studied computer science abroad at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He speaks four languages: English, Tamil, Mandarin and Japanese.

Laura Machado

  • School: Carleton University
  • Program: Software engineering
  • Employment status: Drafted by Klipfolio

Machado works on front- and back-end development for the data-visualization team at Ottawa-based Klipfolio, which builds dashboards and reports for companies to track metrics like revenue. She has completed multiple co-op terms with the company since 2017. A year before that, she worked for one term at Innovation, Science and Economic Development as an application developer. From May 2016 to April 2018, Machado was the Women in Engineering chair for the Carleton chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional organization with over 423,000 members worldwide. She organized three annual women-in-engineering events that each attracted about 175 students and industry professionals for networking opportunities.

Shweta Mogalapalli

  • School: University of Toronto
  • Program: Computer science
  • Employment status: Drafted by Microsoft

In September, Mogalapalli will work full time as a software engineer at Microsoft’s Seattle office on its Azure Internet of Things product, which allows businesses to create connected devices and collect data. Mogalapalli had two Microsoft internships between the firm’s Washington offices in Redmond and Seattle from May 2017 and August 2018. During one co-op term, she developed a tool that takes snapshots of an email’s journey, from being sent to landing in a recipient’s inbox, to detect bugs. She said her work reduced the snapshots’ development time from nearly two days to four hours, allowing customer-service teams to better serve clients who reported issues. In 2016—Mogalapalli’s second year—she was part of the organizing committee for UofTHacks, the school’s 36-hour hackathon that attracts 500 creators, designers and developers. By the final year of her undergrad, she was president of the organization.

Vasundhara Gautam

  • School: Simon Fraser University
  • Program: Computer science and linguistics
  • Employment status: Drafted by University of Edinburgh

Gautam is working as a computational linguist at the Vancouver office of San Francisco-based Dialpad, which builds products like teleconferencing software for businesses to communicate with customers. She’s helping the company improve its transcription service, allowing customers to get a list of action items based on conversations in real time. In 2020, she will pursue a master’s degree in speech and language processing at the University of Edinburgh. Since January, Gautam has worked on the Gender Gap Tracker, a tool that tracks the number of women and men quoted in major news platforms in Canada, highlighting the disparity between them. She’s been leading the development of the French-language side of the tracker, helping the team test its accuracy. In 2018, she completed a co-op internship with GE Digital, General Electric’s software subsidiary, where she helped with tasks like creating installation guides for the company’s complex industrial IoT software.  

Yuqing Du

  • School: University of British Columbia
  • Program: Engineering physics
  • Employment status: Drafted by the University of California, Berkeley

Yuqing Du will be travelling throughout the summer before she begins computer science PhD studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she’ll be joining the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research Lab to continue her work helping robots understand human social cues. Last year, Du worked as a research intern at UBC’s Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems Lab, which researches human-robot interaction. There, she helped develop a delivery robot that successfully picked up on social norms, like which side of the sidewalk to walk on. As an undergraduate student in May 2017, she interned at Google, where she created an algorithm that analyzed hard drives in the firm’s data centres, troubleshooting problems through pattern recognition. Later, during an internship at Tesla, she worked on the Model 3 hardware that allows drivers to control functions like car heating before the vehicle’s release.