Carnegie Mellon University senior Eric Zhu technically majors in computer science, but he's a true Renaissance man. He's served two years on CMU's Student Senate, spent a year as a resident assistant, made an effort to take at least one humanities course each semester, participated in CMU Mock Trial and has never abandoned his love of classical piano.
For those reasons and more, he's received this year's Mark Stehlik SCS Alumni Undergraduate Impact Scholarship.
Now in its third year, the Stehlik Scholarship recognizes undergraduate students near the end of their Carnegie Mellon careers whose reach for excellence extends beyond the classroom. Awardees are working to make a difference in SCS, the field of computer science and the world around them.
"Eric embodies what is best about Carnegie Mellon students. He is sharp intellectually and technically, but is also caring and concerned about his fellow students," said Assistant Dean for Outreach Mark Stehlik. "It's wonderful that this scholarship can allow him to continue the good work he has been doing. Thanks to all the SCS alumni who have generously donated to make that possible!"
Within SCS, Zhu has not only excelled in his courses, but has also undertaken a senior research project with Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick, assistant professor in the Language Technologies Institute, and Matt Gormley, assistant teaching professor in the Machine Learning Department. Together, they're investigating how natural language processing techniques can be applied to music — effectively uniting Zhu's two primary interests.
"Right now, if you use long short-term memory networks (LSTMs) to generate music, it sounds like someone who used to know how to play piano really well forgot how to play good music," Zhu said. "We're trying to see if we can adapt models to create a song from MIDI files that sounds coherent."
Zhu's also spent the past two summers interning at Google — working in the Ads group the first year and the Knowledge Engine project this past summer.
In addition to his academic work, Zhu has also played an important role in the larger CMU community. While on Student Senate, he spearheaded the Faculty Student Lunch program, which brings students and faculty members together outside the classroom to discuss issues beyond academics. He's served on the Provost's Working Group for Health and Well-Being Services, and belongs to CMU's student alumni association, the Highland Ambassadors.
He also tirelessly encourages his peers — because they've done the same for him.
"At the end of freshman year, someone I really admired pulled me aside and told me she was part of a tradition where a sophomore identifies a first-year student they think is most likely to change the world. And that student was me," Zhu said. "In that moment, I went from being someone who was unsure of myself at CMU to someone with the confidence to pursue my dreams. And I've passed on that tradition."
He said receiving the Stehlik Scholarship provided the same kind of confidence boost, but that it's also a reminder of how important it is to remember why you chose to study computer science at CMU in the first place.
"I want to thank the supporters of this scholarship for having the foresight to invest in what this scholarship means — to support people who think about the bigger picture while they're at CMU and share that message."
Zhu joins Rachel Holladay (CS 2017), Ananya Kumar (CS 2017) and Gillian Rosen (CS 2016) as Stehlik Scholarship recipients.
Read more about the Stehlik Scholarship on the award's webpage.