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Shah with award with right side borderMubarak Shah, a computer science professor and founding director of the UCF Center for Research in Computer Vision (CRCV), has received the Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentoring Award from the Computing Research Association Committee on Education (CRA-E). The honor recognizes outstanding mentorship and exceptional undergraduate research experiences that encourage students to pursue graduate programs in computing.

Shah has mentored hundreds of undergraduate students over nearly four decades through UCF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in computer vision.

“I am honored to receive this award and want to thank our dean, Michael Georgiopoulos, for nominating me, and Damla Turgut, Alvaro Velasquez and Ruben Villegas for providing support letters,” Shah says. “The REU is a team effort. Most of the work is done by my co-PI, Professor Niels Lobo, and many graduate students.”

The REU in Computer Vision, established in 1987, was the first proposal Shah wrote as an assistant professor and was one of just three REUs funded that year by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Computer and Information Science and Engineering. Now the longest-running REU in the country, the program has grown and changed with the times to reflect best practices, morphing from a year-long program to the summer program it is today. The REU recently received another grant to continue for the next three years.

The 10-week immersive experience includes the opportunity for students to train in computer vision techniques and machine learning for two weeks before joining an established CRCV research group of their choosing. Participants spend the remaining weeks contributing to that project, honing their research skills and collaborating with their peers and more established graduate researchers.

“In mentoring undergraduates, my aim has been to expose them to the excitement of a research career and provide a real-world experience of working in a research lab with graduate students, postdocs and faculty,” Shah says.

The program also offers a number of activities to help attendees become well-rounded researchers, including a site visit to local industry organizations, opportunities to present their work, attend social activities, and establish a mentoring relationship with faculty researchers and graduate students.

Turgut, chair of the UCF Department of Computer Science, adds that in addition to providing a rigorous research environment, the program also offers many beneficial professional development workshops, including a graduate school preparation workshop led by Shah. The workshop includes a presentation on the graduate school application process and includes tips on how to prepare a competitive application from students who have received NSF graduate fellowships.

“Many of Shah’s mentees have achieved notable successes, including publishing in top-tier conferences, pursuing STEM graduate programs at UCF and other institutions, holding faculty positions and leading technical positions in the industry,” Turgut says.

Joseph Fioresi, a CRCV lab member pursuing his Ph.D. in computer science, attended the REU as an undergraduate in 2020. He says he had little intention of pursuing a career in research back then, but Shah’s guidance and the high-caliber research conducted at the lab completely altered his perspective.

“I was captivated by the diverse range of exciting problems his team tackled and the level of dedication and passion he brought to each project,” Fioresi says. “The intellectually stimulating environment he built at CRCV inspired me to pursue my own Ph.D. within the lab. Since then, I have been continually impressed by the vast resources available to us, not only in terms of technology and computational power, but also the depth of knowledge within the team and the network of collaborators we work with.”

Fioresi adds that what sets Shah apart as a mentor is his individualized focus on the growth and development of the students under his guidance, devoting time and energy to each one.

“Throughout my academic journey, from my undergraduate years to my Ph.D., working with Shah has been an incredibly positive experience,” he says. “Under his mentorship, I have witnessed significant personal growth and have consistently found my passion for the field reinvigorated by his unwavering enthusiasm for his work. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from and work alongside such an exceptional mentor.”

Shah earned his doctorate from Wayne State University and joined UCF in 1986. He established the Master of Science in Computer Vision and is the founding director of the Center for Research in Computer Vision. He was honored as a Pegasus Professor in 2006, the highest award given at UCF, and has been named a Trustee Chair of computer science. With more than 90,000 citations and h-index of more than 100, he is among the Top 100 cited authors in computer science.

Story by Bel Huston, UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science