Engineering Departments

Computer Science

Dan Tra, 2014 Virginia/Washington, D.C., educator award winner; and Akila Prayaga, Lillian Xu, Alexandra Hsain, Annabelle Marsh, Jennifer Louie, Mary Susannah Jones, Alexis Melio, K.C. Cowan, Tianna Woodson, Alayna Fortuck, Sreya Atluri, Maddie Zug, Cassadie Civil, Natalie Oldenburg, Monica Karas, and Megan Charity, all 2014 regional student award winners.
Blacksburg, VA , April 04, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

The Virginia/Washington, D.C., affiliate of the National Center for Women in Information Technology held its 3rd annual Award for Aspirations in Computing ceremony during the recent Capital Area Professional Women in Computing Conference.

The event, held at Virginia Commonwealth University, honored a high school teacher and 18 high school students for their efforts to, respectively, teach and learn computer science.

The affiliate includes founding members George Mason University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia, as well as members James Madison University, Norfolk State University, University of Richmond, and Virginia State University. Barbara Ryder, head of Virginia Tech’s computer science department, is a member of the center’s Pacesetters program, dedicated to increasing the number of women in computer science. 

Organizing the event was Mary Lou Soffa of the University of Virginia. Ryder served on the organizing committee, as did Libby Bradford, director of external relations and undergraduate studies for the computer science department.

Dan Tra of West Falls Church, Va., a teacher at Falls Church High School, received the 2014 Outstanding Educator award from the affiliate. 

Student winners were:

  • Sreya Atluri and Maddie Zug, both of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria; 
  • Megan Charity and Cassidie Civil, both of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen;
  • K.C. Cowan of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford;
  • Alayna Fortuck of Midlothian High School in Midlothian;
  • Alexandra Hsain of Colonial Heights High School in Colonial Heights;
  • Mary Susannah Jones of Buckingham County High in Buckingham;
  • Monica Karas and Silu Tang, both of Battlefield High School in Haymarket;
  • Jennifer Louie of Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg;
  • Annabelle Marsh of Westfield High School in Chantilly;
  • Alexis Melio of Norview High School in Norview;
  • Natalie Oldenburg of Bishop O’Connell Catholic High School in Arlington;
  • Akila Prayaga of Langley High School in McLean;
  • Michelle Vaccaro of McLean High School in McLean;
  • Tianna Woodson of Manassas Park High in Manassas Park;
  • Lillian Xu of Western Albemarle High School in Crozet;

Student runners-up were:

  • Cindy Bang and Michelle Lynskey, both of Falls Church High School in Falls Church;
  • Amanda Barkan of South Lakes High School in Reston;
  • Emily Bertrand of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford;
  • Corinne Brodowski of Semper Doctrina in Purcellville;
  • Mia Brunal of Albemarle High School in Charlottesville;
  • Niara-Maysa Chambers and Elizabeth Gohmert, both of Powhatan High School in Powhatan;
  • Jiwon Choi, Satvika Kumar, and Haley Stumvoll, all of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria;
  • Peyton Cooper, Katiya Goodman, and Amanda Husak , all of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen;
  • Catherine Cura of Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn;
  • Morgan Davis of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Suffolk;
  • Angela Li of Western Albemarle High in Crozet;
  • Piper Sigrest of Osbourn Park High School in Manassas;
  • Arshiya Singh of Henrico High School in Richmond;
  • Ksenia Sokolova of Oakton High School in Vienna;
  • Brook Vess of Rockbridge County High School in Lexington;
  • Karen Xu of Manassas Park High in Manassas Park.

The event was funded with $500 in seed money from the national organization, with additional support and gifts for winners provided by Bank of America, Genworth Financial, Google, Heyo, Northrop Grumman, and SWIFT.

Winners received prizes from multiple companies, as well as gift cards for Amazon and Google. Each winner received two trophies: one for the winner and one to be displayed at her high school.

At the ceremony, the honorees heard from three previous national winners, including two Virginia Tech computer science students, Allison Collier of Fredricksburg, and Kara Vaillancourt of Hamilton.

The award honors young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and information technology aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education.

On the national level, the award is part of the center’s talent development program that encourages young women to succeed in a field where they are underrepresented. It provides winners with visibility, community, leadership opportunities, support, research experiences, scholarships, and internships.

Winners of the Virginia/Washington, D.C., regional Award for Aspirations in Computing are offered a $1,000 renewable scholarship if they choose to study at Virginia Tech’s computer science department, said Ryder. Virginia Tech is the only university in Virginia to offer this type of scholarship.

Doug Bowman
Blacksburg, VA , April 01, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Doug A. Bowman, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has received the 2014 Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee technical achievement award in virtual reality from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

The international award recognizes Bowman for his research and design achievements that have significantly advanced knowledge in the fields of three-dimensional user interfaces and virtual reality systems.

Bowman’s work in these fields has resulted in both important interaction technique designs and a deep understanding of principles and guidelines for designing effective three-dimensional spatial interfaces.

He has also contributed significantly to the theory and practice of virtual reality through his research on the effects of fidelity on the effectiveness of these systems.

The institute’s award announcement stated Bowman’s “work has profoundly influenced the way that three-dimensional user interfaces and virtual reality systems are characterized and designed.”

A 2003 National Science Foundation CAREER award recipient for his work in three-dimensional interaction, Bowman’s research group focuses on the topics of three-dimensional user interface design and the benefits of working in virtual environments.

For three consecutive years, 2010, 2011, and 2012, Bowman advised teams of doctoral students to first place finishes in the international 3-D User Interfaces contest, also part of an Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ conference.

Bowman received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from Georgia Tech in 1997 and in 1999, respectively. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science in 1994 from Emory University. He started his career at Virginia Tech in 1999.

VGTC is a technical committee of the Institute’s Computer Society that is responsible for the annual conferences and journals in visualization, virtual reality, and computer graphics. Each year it gives out a technical achievement award and a career award in both virtual reality and visualization, selecting from researchers worldwide.

Barbara Ryder
Blacksburg, VA , March 01, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Barbara Ryder,  the J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering and head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Computer Science, will receive the biennial Woman of Achievement award from the American Association of University Women of Virginia (AAUW) at its state conference at the Skelton Center on Smith Mt. Lake on April 5, 2014.

“This award is given to a Virginia woman who has made outstanding educational, civic, and cultural contributions; demonstrated excellent leadership skills; and contributed to the advancement of women with positive impact in our state and nation. Additionally, this year we are focusing on women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. It is a priority of AAUW of Virginia to encourage and support women and girls’ interest and entrance into STEM careers. By all measures, Dr. Ryder surpasses this criteria,” said Caroline Pickens, AAUW state president.

Ryder is a founding member of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Pacesetters program that strives to increase the number of women in computer science. She continues working with Pacesetters, holding the position of Virginia Tech’s executive champion for the program.

She has worked to increase the number of women graduating from college with technical degrees by targeting outreach efforts to high schools. She has organized visits to numerous high schools, providing the teenagers with interactions with mentors and with currently enrolled women in computer science. “Our goal here is to connect with about 100 high school girls each year,” Ryder said.

“We applaud Dr. Ryder’s work with female high school students, and we plan to invite local students to the dinner,” Pickens added.

As a member of Pacesetters, Virginia Tech is among some two dozen industrial and academic organizations working to recruit previously untapped talent pools of technical women and retain women who are at risk of leaving, resulting in the capturing of a higher number of new women for the computing and the information technology workforce.

“Women are our competitive advantage in building a workforce that reflects our customer base and creating innovative, technology-driven products and services,” Ryder said. “We’re excited to see a growing number of women take interest in our highly ranked computer science program.”

In 2011, Ryder was a founding member of the NCWIT VA/DC Aspirations in Computing Awards, directed at recognizing high school women for their strong interest and achievement in computing. In the 2013-2014 competition, there are 18 winners out of about 100 applications from Virginia and Washington DC high schools. The department offers modest scholarships to each Aspirations award winner who comes to Virginia Tech and majors in computer science. “We are very fortunate to have six national or regional Aspirations winners among our majors”, Ryder remarked. “These students are an asset in recruiting and outreach activities of the department.”

Ryder is a Fellow of the ACM since 1998, received the ACM President's Award in 2008, and its SIGPLAN Distinguished Service Award in 2001. She is an active leader in ACM, serving in multiple leadership capacities. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Computer Research Association from 1998 until 2001. At Rutgers where she was on the faculty before coming to Virginia Tech in 2008, she received the Graduate School Teaching Award in 2007, the Leader in Diversity Award in 2006, and the Professor of the Year Award in computer science in 2003.

She received her A.B. degree in applied mathematics from Brown University in 1969, her master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University in 1971, and her Ph.D. degree in computer science from Rutgers University in 1982.

AAUW’s mission promotes equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. Virginia’s 1300 members in 28 branches share your commitment to the importance of women’s participation in non-traditional fields.

Raj Suri
Blacksburg, VA , February 06, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science alumnus Raj Suri (1997, Bachelor’s Degree) had a spectacular Super Bowl Sunday. No, he did not bet on the Seahawks decimating the Broncos. He couldn’t have cared less about the game. The part-time actor/producer made a Doritos commercial that aired during the game, America’s most-watched annual TV event.

He won $1 million for his efforts, too.

The commercial – titled “Time Machine” – featured a precocious boy using a cardboard time machine and a few sleight-of-hand tricks to dupe an adult passerby out of his bag of Doritos. The spot – shot during one day and costing roughly $300, with much labor donated by friends and family – was one of five fan-made ads featured in the snack brand’s annual contest to produce a Super Bowl advertisement. Fans of the snack chip voted online, picking the commercial that would air.

(Suri’s ad can be watched at

Having an ad appear during the Super Bowl is a big deal. News reports had Fox charging up to $4 million for a 30-second spot. The prices seems worthy: Suri’s ad was seen by an estimated 111 million Americans, the most-watched TV program ever according to Nielsen ratings, topping previous Super Bowl games and the storied 1983 finale of “M*A*S*H.”

The ad also played alongside Super Bowl-advertising stalwarts Budweiser and Coca-Cola, in addition to movie trailers for 2014 superhero films and sure-fire blockbusters “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” More so, “USA Today” ranked the commercial as No. 4 in its annual “Best of…” Ad Meter, voted on by fans. 

Based in Phoenix, Ariz., Suri landed a job as a systems analyst at Intel right out of college in 1997. On the side, in what Suri describes as a hobby, he works as a professional actor – he has a bit part in the 2009 James Caan drama “The Middle Men” – and also has been a producer for the past three years, the latter mostly local commercials. A glance at his Doritos ad makes one think of the “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strip, but Suri says the inspiration is older, mainly a certain Michael J. Fox time-travel comedy classic.

(Pop over to to see some of his work and credits.)

The day after the Super Bowl, Suri and his team behind the commercial appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning, America” and learned they won the $1 million grand prize from Doritos, as voted on by online users. The commercial also went viral online, both on the Doritos website and in various YouTube videos.

Before the game and the day after, we talked to Suri – he attended a Doritos-hosted Super Bowl party in New York featuring such guests as comic book legend Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man – via email. His responses have been edited for clarity and length.

On the inspiration:
“Our director, Ryan Thomas Andersen, was watching ‘Back to the Future’ with his son, who happens to be the little boy in our commercial. His name is Gavin Andersen. Gavin asked his father to make a time machine. Ryan figured he’d make it out of cardboard and that was the beginning of the concept.”

On creating the $300 commercial:
“Digital cameras these days are so accessible and tremendously reduce the barrier to entry. We shot with a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Despite that, everyone worked for free, including our sound guy, who had at least a couple thousand dollars’ worth of equipment on set. If everyone on set had been paid up front, I probably could have made the commercial for about $2,000.”

On the commercial airing:
“I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that our commercial was seen by 111 million people and came in 4th in the ‘USA Today’ Ad Meter. I cannot understand how that happens for $300. It shouldn't happen but it did. I'm extremely proud.”

On the future:
“Both Ryan and I have been approached with some opportunities but I think we just want a few days to soak this all in.”

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