African research engagement program recognizes third annual cohort

Students in AURA are paired with a faculty mentor for an immersive research experience throughout the summer.

The University of Michigan concluded its third African Undergraduate Research Adventure (AURA) this summer, engaging a 13 student cohort from Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAIT) in an immersive research experience. This year’s program was held virtually, but students worked one on one with engineering faculty on projects ranging from quadcopter controllers to new coding environments.

“It was a great year for the program despite the many challenges we had to overcome,” says S. Jack Hu Professor of Engineering Todd Austin, one of the program’s administrators. Students in AURA are paired with a faculty member based on their research preferences and interviews, and have the option to work with a partner in the cohort on a collaborative project. Faculty then provide research mentoring throughout the summer, culminating in a final presentation symposium and social event.

“It is exciting to see how the AURA program inspires students to pursue research and teaching careers,” says Vice Provost for Engaged Learning and Thurnau Professor Valeria Bertacco. 

Most AURA students go on to graduate school, with former AURA students now pursuing graduate studies at U-M, AAIT, University of California-Berkeley, University of Colorado-Boulder, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and University of Delaware. The program is administered by Austin, Bertacco, and Assistant Professor at the AAIT School of Electrical and Computer Engineering Fitsum Andargie. AURA is sponsored by the U-M College of Engineering, Google, Intel and ARM.

This year’s cohort worked with seven different faculty advisors from the CSE and ECE Divisions. Their projects included:

  • Using computer vision to quantify bird skeletons
  • Creating a predictive benchmark suite for web applications
  • Building a more powerful alternative to Jupyter notebooks
  • Programming a quadcopter with a new, formally verified programming language
  • Designing hardware acceleration blocks to boost graph algorithm performance
  • Devising a new hardware design flow for specialized hardware accelerators
  • Computing on encrypted data in cloud applications
  • Proving that a common technique to protect against side channel attacks is still vulnerable
  • Using electricity smart meter data to understand opportunities for residential energy efficiency 

Recordings of all student final presentations are available on the AURA project webpage.

“I want to congratulate the AURA 2021 students on performing so admirably through these many challenges,” says Andargie. “You should know that by demonstrating a keen ability to deal with all the uncertainty that this years’ program has thrown at you, you are all showing yourselves to have the skills necessary to overcome the uncertainty of performing research.”