Equitech Alumnus wins Global PhD Fellowship in Computer Science at NYU

By Anodya Mishra

Baraa Al Jorf, a native of Palestine, is a graduate from New York University (NYU), Abu Dhabi. 

After completing his undergraduate studies in Computer Science, Baraa was awarded the Global PhD Student Fellowship in Computer Science by NYU Abu Dhabi in 2023. “I was one among the 2% of applicants who were selected for this fellowship,” Baraa said with pride. “I want to work towards improving healthcare at a global scale, and I am excited that my PhD is a global one because it gives me a chance to work with our partners from all over the world.” 

In the summer of 2022, Baraa was selected for the Equitech Scholars Program. The promise of a curriculum at the intersection of technology and social impact piqued his interest. “Before joining the Equitech Scholars Program, I was in two minds about finishing my bachelors degree. I used to constantly keep questioning my choice of major. ‘Why was I pursuing computer science? What was my impact on society?’ Through this program, I gained a new perspective about computer science, and what I could do with a degree in it,” Baraa shared. 

Inspired by the work of Dr. Bhasi Nair, Equitech core faculty, Baraa shared, “Bhasi cultivated a sense of mathematical intuition in his students. I liked the way in which he would think and teach us to think about informatics and mathematics. I see myself following in his footsteps someday.” He further expressed his desire to meet his cohort in person someday. 

Incidentally, in September 2023, Baraa met a few members of his cohort at the Equitech IRL event in Chicago. “Meeting my Equitech cohort in real life was a profound experience. It's as if our virtual connections and shared passion for mathematics were transformed into a tangible bond. We could finally see the faces behind the screen names and collaborate in person.”

“My primary motivation to join the Equitech Scholars Program was to leverage my skills in the field of technology. I had come across other programs in the field of AI and social impact, but most of those centered around policy-building, whereas Equitech was a blend of technology and policy, giving me an opportunity to use my skills as a computer engineer to create social impact,” Baraa remarked. 

During the course of his bachelor’s degree, Baraa spent a January term studying climate change in Prague which culminated in a data science project analyzing methods to make his university campus more energy efficient and sustainable. The summer after completing his bachelor's degree, Baraa worked under Dr. Farah Shamout on a project which used machine learning to solve issues in healthcare. 

“I did a postgraduate training program under Dr. Shamout and this project transitioned into a PhD,” he said. “While working on this project, I was constantly asking myself, ‘Is the model I am creating biased? Is my data diverse enough?’ This line of thought was my core takeaway from the Equitech Scholars Program.” 

Aside from his coursework, Baraa has worked on independent research projects in Greece and India. In Greece, he worked with a local ompany which was teaching cinematography skills to refugees in the country. “Their main aim was to give a voice to the refugee community, and I appreciated that.” 

In India, Baraa participated in a course titled “Engineers for Social Impact” through which he worked with a local organization on grassroots problems like employment, health, and education. 

Baraa shared his advice for future Equitech Scholars: “Think about why you want to join Equitech, and align it with your purpose. Ask yourself the question, ‘Why am I doing this? Why do I want to join Equitech?’ and take a long time to reflect and think on it, and if you actually see data science for social impact falling into your career trajectory, and you see Equitech as part of the answer to ‘why am I doing this?’ then go for it.”

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