N.C. A&T Computer Science Student Interviews 2019 Abel Prize Winner at 8th Heidelberg Laureate Forum

By Alexander Saunders / 10/16/2020 College of Engineering

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Oct. 16, 2020) – Janelle C. Mason, a North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University computer science Ph.D. candidate, recently interviewed 2019 Abel Prize winner, Karen Uhlenbeck, Ph.D., as part of the eighth Heidelberg Laureate Forum. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which Mason shared with Jacqueline Godoy Mesquita, Ph.D., a professor of mathematics at the University of Brasília in Brazil, resulted in a humbling and well-deserved experience.

“I am truly blessed and thankful to the Lord to have had the opportunity to attend both the seventh and eighth Heidelberg Laureate Forums,” said Mason.

Mason joined nearly 200 young researchers in 2019 for the seventh Heidelberg Laureate Forum. This year was quite different, as 700 attendees from over 60 countries participated virtually to collaborate and discuss global issues such as health, technology and data, and to have in-depth discussions about mathematics and computer science with laureates and leading industry researchers.

“In response to the current pandemic, the Heidelberg Laureate Forum 2020 was held virtually and provided a more diverse and inclusive environment. I’m grateful for the fulfilling conversations and inspiring discussions about mathematics and computer science that were afforded to the attendees,” said Mason.

Mason, inspired by Uhlenbeck’s leadership in a field traditionally dominated by men, applied to interview the Abel Prize winner. Uhlenbeck is the first woman to win the Abel Prize, an award that was founded in 2003 to model the Nobel Prize.

“To know that Dr. Karen Uhlenbeck could persevere despite the gender gap in mathematics was pretty extraordinary to me,” said Mason.

Having the opportunity to meet and have a discussion with Uhlenbeck gives Mason a pathway to see the gender and racial challenges in her own field, inspiring her to persevere and tackle new research challenges, while serving as a role model.

During the interview with Uhlenbeck, Mason asked a series of questions to the distinguished American mathematician, including prompting Uhlenbeck to share one important lesson from her life. Uhlenbeck responded with a quote from author, civil rights leader and minister Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

In many ways, Mason embodies the spirit of this quote. Working at N.C. A&T with her research advisor, Albert Esterline, Ph.D., Mason’s cybersecurity research is focused on ensuring that future computer science applications in interdisciplinary fields embed the importance of security.

“Janelle is developing a comprehensive and revolutionary computational framework for identity for which she collaborates with the Department of Criminal Justice at N.C. A&T and draws from fields as varied as mathematics and philosophy,” said Esterline, associate professor of computer science. “It is appropriate that she should interview a role model as she herself becomes a role model for those following her.”

Mason noted that products are often built in silos without attention paid to the bigger picture.

“After graduation, one thing that is valuable, especially now in the cyberspace environment, is having an interdisciplinary space – software engineering, cyber security and criminal justice–to ensure that the solution we’re creating is secure,” said Mason.

By interacting with young researchers across the globe at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum and interacting with influential researchers in the field, Mason has earned a deeper appreciation for how these interdisciplinary spaces can be created, and new ways to place a global context on her work.

Media Contact Information: uncomm@ncat.edu

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