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Stanford Report, June 18, 2003

Daphne Koller honored with Cox Medal

Daphne Koller, associate professor of computer science, was honored with the 2003 Allan V. Cox Medal Saturday by James Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering, at a ceremony in Kresge Auditorium.

The medal is awarded annually to a faculty member who has established a record of excellence directing undergraduate research over a number of years. It may also go to a faculty member who has done an especially outstanding job with just one or two undergraduates whose work is unusually superior.

The citation for Koller's award said she had transformed the culture of the Department of Computer Science through the creation of the Computer Science Undergraduate Research program, "which inspires undergraduates to conduct research [and] publicly present their results, and interests them in academic careers." It also said Koller had made it "her mission to evangelize the participation of faculty and undergraduates in the research environment to their mutual benefit."

The citation also noted Koller's personal commitment to her students and her creation of "an environment beneficial for women in computer science, so that they don't feel marginalized by the relatively few women who major in this discipline."

At the same ceremony, one of Koller's advisees, Ben Blum, received a Firestone Medal for his honors thesis on "A Continuation Method for Nash Equilibria in Structured Games."

The Cox award was established in memory of Allan Cox; the late professor of geophysics and dean of the School of Earth Sciences is widely known as the co-discoverer of magnetic field reversals.

Laura Selznick, associate director for student services in the Undergraduate Research Programs office, noted that "in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was Cox, more than any other Stanford faculty member, who extolled the virtue of research programs such as that pioneered at MIT. He encouraged professors to adopt the same goals and provide similar opportunities to undergraduates here. His energy led to increased funding and support for faculty-student collaboration in research."

Koller, who has received numerous other awards, focuses her research on complex domains that involve large amounts of uncertainty. Her work builds on the framework of probability theory, decision theory and game theory, but uses techniques from artificial intelligence and computer science to allow the application of this framework to complex real-world problems. Most of Koller's work is based on the use of probabilistic graphical models such as Bayesian networks, influence diagrams and Markov decision processes.