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Three Computer Science Students Receive Catacosinos Fellowships

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Three students in the Department of Computer Science have received Catacosinos Fellowships for Excellence in Computer Science.

CS students
Left to right, Najmeh Miramirkhani, Syed Billah and Prashant Pandey

PhD candidates Najmeh MiramirkhaniPrashant Pandey and Syed Billah were each recognized for their hard work and cutting-edge research with a $5,000 grant from the Catacosinos Fellowship Fund.

“Historically, the Catacosinos Fellowship Fund has been very supportive of computer science students. I am proud that this carefully selected group of students will benefit from that support,” said Samir Das, chair of the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Over time a number of CS students have received Catacosinos funding, and Najmeh Miramirkhani is the first woman in recent years to win this prestigious award.”

An example of the Department’s goal of making each individual’s dreams come true, Miramirkhani is part of the PragSec Lab, where she researches cyber crime and web security. 

Miramirkhani said: “I am very appreciative for this fellowship. Being a recipient of such an honorable award is encouraging and reminds me that hard work pays off.”

Holding a master’s degree from Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology, Miramirkhani does research that spans analysis of malicious ecosystems on the web, DNS abuse and malware evasion techniques. Recently she received the best paper award at NDSS 2017 for performing the first systematic study of a multi-million-dollar scam, revealing the scammers’ underlying operations. 

She is currently working on the security implications of domain name business models, focusing on broad and severe security threats connected to temporary ownership of domain names. She also recently proposed a new class of evasion techniques that can be exploited by malware authors to bypass malware analysis systems. 

Prashant Pandey came to Stony Brook in 2013 after earning his bachelor’s degree from India’s University of Pune. He has since worked for both Intel (2014-2015) and Google (2016-2017) as part of their internship programs.

His research focuses on the intersection of systems and algorithms. Pandey works on designing and building theoretically well-founded data structures for large data issues in computational biology, databases and file systems. Currently Pandey is focused on “building efficient approximate membership query data structures, specifically, counting filters and their applications.” He is also working on “finding compact methods to represent large DNA sequencing and transcriptome datasets for large-scale sequence-search and de Bruijn graph traversal and assembly process.”

“I am really happy to get the Catacosinos fellowship,” he said. “This award further bolsters my trust in the research I am doing and its impact on the field of computer science.”

Syed M. Billah earned his MS from the University of Arkansas and his bachelor’s degree from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). His primary research interests concern the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI) and accessible computing and systems.

In his PhD work, Billah focuses on building technology to promote equity, ubiquity, and openness. Some of his career highlights include: identifying the technical limitations of existing accessibility frameworks in modern operating systems; proposing a cross-platform, ubiquitous accessibility framework; understanding and predicting the lifecycle of assistive technologies; augmenting existing assistive technologies with new input modalities; and designing new assistive technology for which no alternative exists for people with visual impairments.

“I am very much honored to receive the Catacosinos fellowship,” Billah said. “I sincerely thank my two advisors I.V. Ramakrishnan and Donald Porter for their support, and for giving me the freedom to conduct research I care about most. Receiving this fellowship inspires me to continue building technology to compensate for sensory losses.”

About the Fellowship
The Catacosinos family, by whom the fellowship was established, originally provided the University with an endowment in 1978. The family’s support has had a lasting impact on the University. This year’s fellows were selected out of fourteen eligible computer science students. Each student was nominated by a faculty member for consideration and they were evaluated by an independent committee based on their research statement, letters of recommendation, resume, and work products. Beyond this fellowship, two additional endowed funds established by the Catacosinos family have supported cancer research and strategic initiatives by the President’s Office.

— Joseph Wolkin

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