fbpx 2024 Capstone Award Winners | UT iSchool | The University of Texas at Austin

2024 Capstone Award Winners

2024 Capstone Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2024 Dean’s Choice Award winners and Honorable Mentions!

The School of Information’s annual spring poster sessions showcase graduating student’s research and professional experience projects. This was the largest poster session in our school's history and the first time that undergraduates and graduates proudly presented their capstone projects together.

View spring 2024 capstone projects. 

Undergraduate Dean’s Choice Award Winner & Honorable Mention

Dean Eric T. Meyer is pleased to present the Dean’s Choice Award to undergraduate student Michael Chen and Honorable Mention to Courtenay-Dee O'Brien!

“One of the things that really stood out about both undergraduate award winners was their ability to explain not only the details of their projects, which was evident in many of the students I spoke with, but also to help others understand the big picture questions of why the topics were important to them and to the world,” Dean Meyer said. “Whether it is a vision for saving significant amounts of energy using technology tools, or using data to protect elephant populations, the projects tackled big and important issues, and did so in creative ways using the knowledge and skills developed in the iSchool.”

Winner: “Design of Intuitive Visualizations for Residential Heating and Cooling Demands”

Michael Chen worked with the School of Information's Dr. James Howison to design new interpretable ways of visualizing the different temperature and comfort conditions a home faces throughout the year. He simulated hourly data for mock houses in Austin before generating a variety of visualizations, including calendar-shaped heatmaps and time series charts that highlighted the most extreme weather conditions. Used in tandem, this project's visualizations aim to help the viewer intuitively understand what their home would feel like throughout the year, potentially aiding homeowners in their HVAC sizing decisions.

“I really enjoyed combining the data skills and the focus on human-centered design that the iSchool teaches in this project,” Michael said. “It was an engaging challenge to think about how to visualize data that isn't normally communicated - like what a temperature difference actually feels like. I feel that utilizing interdisciplinary approaches, along with an emphasis on how data is conveyed, aligns with the spirit of the Informatics program.”

Michael’s project supervisor, James Howison said, “Michael jumped right in and drove this project from a vague idea to an innovative visualization. Capstones are great opportunities to throw a fun idea up in the air and see what happens; the idea for this one was conceived when we had our HVAC system swapped out. I didn’t even have the data in hand, but Michael found the simulation software and got it up and running. Our iSchool students do a great job with capstones, Michael certainly did!”

Congratulations on this recognition of your research, Michael!

Honorable Mention: “From Data to Defense: Mapping Elephant Poaching Trends for Targeted Conservation”

Courtenay-Dee O'Brien’s capstone project addressed the multifaceted challenges of illegal elephant poaching, driven by factors such as ivory demand, corruption, poverty, and criminal syndicates. By integrating data engineering, AI/ML, and geospatial analysis, the project analyzed historical and real-time data to uncover trends and risk factors in poaching incidents. Key findings indicated a strong inverse correlation between illegal carcass counts and both political stability and economic conditions, highlighting the importance of socio-economic interventions in regions with high poaching rates.

“This project has significantly enhanced my expertise in data engineering and data science, strategically equipping me for my forthcoming role as a Data Engineering and Applied AI Analyst at Deloitte & Touche,” Courtenay-Dee said. “Engaging in every facet of the data pipeline—from collection through to feature engineering—has not only honed my technical acumen but also enriched my perspective with interdisciplinary insights across technology, governance, African Elephant conservation, and business strategy. This robust experience is crucial as I step into the evolving landscape of data analytics, ready to tackle complex challenges with innovative solutions.”

Congratulations, Courtenay-Dee! 

Graduate Dean’s Choice Award Winner & Honorable Mention

Dean Meyer is also pleased to present the Dean’s Choice Award to master’s student Utkarsh Mujumdar and Honorable Mention to Madhav Varma!

The Dean recounted, “Both of the graduate student winners had an ability in their posters and their conversation to help others immediately grasp the practical implications of their projects. Utkarsh built an impressive prototype for helping users ask questions about topics beyond simple fact retrieval, and Madhav contributed to designing a system to provide personalized dietary information in a clinical setting. Both projects have the potential to help people in a very direct way.”

Winner: “Designing a Multi-Perspective Search System Using Large Language Models and Retrieval Augmented Generation”

Utkarsh Mujumdar’s thesis project involved designing a multi-perspective search system that employs Large Language Models (LLMs) and Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG). Multi-perspective search is an information retrieval scenario when the search query focuses on contentious topics that might not have clear factual grounds for an answer, and so the information presented to the user should accommodate the different perspectives on any given topic. The system developed as part of his thesis does so by blending the conversational flow of LLMs with the context-aware retrieval capabilities of RAG.  

Utkarsh said, “An important learning for me during my capstone project was the ability to think about problems from the perspective of a user, while developing and designing a system. It will help me with my future working on applied AI products that are geared towards non-technical users.”

Congratulations, Utkarsh, for this recognition of your work!

Honorable Mention: “Developing a User Interface for a Clinical Decision Support System (CDSS) Tailored to Individualized Dietary Interventions, Informed by Behavior Change Theory”

Madhav Varma’s project integrates user experience (UX) design principles with empirical insights from clinical research, specifically in personalized nutrition education. Through comprehensive interviews with clinical researchers and dietitians, alongside mixed methods UX research, it aims to elucidate decision-making processes and educational strategies within nutrition interventions. Anticipated outcomes include user flows and prototypes grounded in behavior change theory, facilitating the delivery of tailored nutrition education to patients by providing Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) with quick access to personalized educational materials. Iterative prototyping, driven by feedback and testing, will refine the interface to align with evolving user needs. Collaborative engagement with field supervisors and exploration of design systems within digital frameworks will ensure cohesive, industry-standard interfaces. This initiative enhances the professional toolkit of UX researchers and designers, fostering an understanding of UX design's role in healthcare.

“The culmination of my academic journey in the form of a capstone project provided invaluable insights into the critical role of User Experience (UX) within the healthcare domain. Delving into the intricacies of designing software solutions for this industry underscored the importance of understanding and navigating the unique challenges inherent in healthcare workflows,” Madhav said. “I became acutely aware of how the fusion of clinical and UX research methodologies can yield innovative technological solutions, enhancing the efficiency of established healthcare practices and workflows.”

Congratulations, Madhav!

May 7, 2024