Carnegie Mellon University
January 25, 2018

Mathematical Sciences Senior Wins National Undergraduate Researcher Award

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has awarded mathematical sciences senior Joshua Brakensiek a 2018 CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. These awards recognize undergraduate students in North American universities who show outstanding research potential in an area of computing research.

Brakensiek was one of four awardees and will receive financial assistance of up to $1,500 to attend a research conference of his choice, of which he has a few in mind.

“I would like to use the award for attending a conference or workshop in theoretical computer science so that I could make connections with other researchers,” he said. “Options include the Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC), one of the premier theoretical computer science venues, or Schloss Dagstuhl, a renovated castle in rural Germany that is dedicated to hosting computer science workshops.”

Brakensiek is part of Carnegie Mellon’s Knaster-McWilliams Scholars program, which is one of only a few scholarship-supported programs in the United States that pairs an honors program with increased access to faculty and early research opportunities.

Throughout his undergraduate career, Brakensiek has conducted research in a number of areas in computer science, statistics and cosmology. Much of his work has been focused on theoretical computer science, which seamlessly connects his interests in mathematics and computer science. He has worked closely with Professor of Computer Science Venkatesan Guruswami, who nominated Brakensiek for the award, on several projects in coding theory, computational complexity theory, including new results in constraint satisfaction, and approximation algorithms. His work has resulted in several publications, manuscripts and presentations at major mathematics and computer science conferences and symposia, including the Symposium on Discrete Algorithms, APPROX and RANDOM. 

He is also a Goldwater Scholar, a two-time Gold Medalist in the International Olympiad in Informatics, and a Putnam Fellow and a member of the Carnegie Mellon Putnam Team that placed first in 2016.

Brakensiek is pursuing a joint bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematical sciences through the Department of Mathematical Sciences’ Honors Program. After graduating in May, Brakensiek plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science. His goal is to enter into a research career in academia or industry following his doctoral studies.