Maria Esipova and Vikram Subramanian win Jessie W. H. Zou Memorial Award

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Maria Esipova and Vikram Subramanian are this spring’s winners of the Jessie W. H. Zou Memorial Award. The award was established by Computer Science professor Ming Li in honor of his late wife Jessie Wenhui Zou, with the aim of celebrating undergraduate research done by students now in their final year at Waterloo.

Maria Esipova

Maria Esipova

Pure Math and Combinatorics and Optimization student Maria Esipova has loved math since kindergarten. “I enjoyed solving problems and thinking about those things,” she says, but “I was never really aware that there was anything past calculus.” Esipova grew up in Moscow, Russia, the daughter of engineers who encouraged her interest in mathematics and science. They moved to Canada when Esipova was in third grade, and in high school she enrolled in a specialized math and science program.

In her first year at Waterloo, Esipova had to shift the way she thought about everything from studying to math itself. Math at Waterloo was “proof-heavy, foundations heavy – hard, but in a really rewarding way.” Eventually, she says, she began to understand “the big picture of what you do as a mathematician.”

During the pandemic she also began the first of two Undergraduate Research Assistantships (URA), with professor Karen Yeats in spring term 2021. “I was extremely impressed with [Esipova’s research],” Yeats writes in her nomination letter for the award. “She is in the top three of all the undergrad researchers I have worked with.”

During the URA, Esipova honed her love for her current field of study: algebraic combinatorics. Esipova especially appreciates way that algebraic combinatorics encourages her to bring in tools from other disciplines and solve problems that were hard to solve in their original setting. Her research with Yeats resulted in the paper “A result on the c2 invariant for powers of primes,” which has been accepted in the Canadian Mathematical Bulletin.

This September, Esipova will begin a Master’s in Math at the University of British Columbia, where she will continue to study algebraic combinatorics and learn to teach university mathematics. She is especially thankful for the support and mentorship of Yeats, as well as Olya Mandelshtam, her supervisor for her second URA.

“I’m very grateful to be recognized like this,” she says. “It’s an affirmation of the work that I’ve done. I’m very thankful to Waterloo and the professors here who have given me the room to grow and excel in mathematics. Hopefully I can continue to do this work in graduate school.”

Vikram Subramanian

Vikram subramanian

Growing up in Singapore, Software Engineering student Vikram Subramanian knew he wanted to study software engineering before he even reached high school. He had “a fantastic computer science teacher, who went above and beyond and really sparked my interest.” In high school, as a member of the robotics club, he helped build several RC drones, and coded drone microcontrollers.  

When considering higher education, Subramanian knew that he wanted his university education to include similar opportunities for practical learning and development. “The co-op program and the fact that it was in the middle of a fantastic tech circle means that the choice to go to Waterloo was a no-brainer in the end,” he says.

Subramanian’s experience at Waterloo has been “a fantastic one,” he says. “It has been formative as well: I am a different person both technically and personally” than when he began.

Subramanian has been working on research projects for the last four years, on top of his regular coursework. He has been involved in three major projects: SEGarage, a curative archive for software engineering tools; Apply+, a tool that helps software patch management; and a collaborative project to help understand the first commits of developers in open source projects.

As a result of his work on these research projects, Subramanian has two published full papers with two others ready as drafts. One of these papers, “An empirical study of the first contributions of developers to open source projects on GitHub,” won first place at the ACM student research competition at ICSE 2020.

“Vikram is an outstanding researcher in our field,” says his nominator, Associate Professor of Computer Science Meiyappan Nagappan. “He is a smart and insightful researcher and is just getting started.”

After graduation, Subramanian will continue collaborating with Nagappan as a Master’s of Computer Science student at Waterloo. “I’d like to thank Professor Mei for taking the time out to be not just a supervisor but also a mentor for the last few years and guiding me through university and research journey,” he says. “I feel incredibly honored and proud to win this award.”

You can learn more about the Jessie W. H. Zou Memorial Award here. Learn more about opportunities for undergraduate research here.