Rutgers Senior Awarded Prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Rutgers Senior Awarded Prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Sridhar Sriram, one of 34 U.S. scholars chosen, wants to reduce bias in technology

Sridhar Sriram wants to work on fixing the bias created when programmers allow their own values to shape online search results and social media feeds.
Photo: Andes Lee

Sridhar Sriram’s family always stressed that his actions were only meaningful if they had a positive impact on the people around him.

While studying computer science at Rutgers, that desire to make a difference sparked his interest in eliminating the bias that creeps into algorithms and impacts results from online search engines and social media platforms.

That is the work he hopes to pursue after graduation in May as a recipient of a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which is awarded to applicants who demonstrate outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential, and commitment to improving the lives of others.

Established in 2000, the scholarships funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cover all fees and living expenses for a student’s full-time master’s or doctoral studies at Cambridge, one of the oldest and most esteemed universities in the world.

Sriram, who grew up in Edison, wants to work on fixing the bias created when programmers, consciously or unconsciously, encode their own biases into the platforms and products they create.

“I discovered that contemporary technologies are riddled with biases that manifest themselves in the algorithms that power these tools,’’ Sriram said. “By pursuing a master of philosophy in technology policy, I hope to gain an understanding of how best to regulate algorithmic bias without hampering the innovation process, while also exploring the technical frameworks necessary to tackle such biases.”

Sriram will graduate in May as a double major in public policy, with a concentration in urban informatics, and computer science. During his time at Rutgers, he worked as a teaching assistant for a graduate-level data science course at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and was a member of the School of Arts and Sciences honors program, while also serving as a resident assistant for three years. He is a member of the Google Community Leaders Program, and a member of the Cap and Skull Honor Society. He was also a participant in the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy Leadership Conference.

Every day, Rutgers prepares students, contributes to communities, provides exceptional care for patients, stimulates the economy, and delivers results for New Jersey.
When Sriram began thinking about his next steps after graduation, he considered applying to six different programs and full-time employment opportunities, but soon realized the Gates Cambridge Scholarship was his top choice.

“I explored all my options and strategized about what might be a good fit and fell in love with the Gates Cambridge Scholarship,’’ Sriram said. “It was the only program I ended up applying to.’’

Arthur D. Casciato, director of Rutgers’ Office of Distinguished Fellowships, said that when he received the news that Sriram was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship he was not at all surprised.

“This remarkably accomplished young man has the exact combination of academic achievement and social commitment that the Gates Cambridge Scholarship seeks to recognize,” Casciato said.

Sriram is committed to developing policy standards that will hold companies accountable for creating diverse and equitable technology that conforms to its users and not the other way around.

“At Cambridge, I want to focus on the technical and policy-based remedies to algorithmic bias to craft the necessary inclusive, equitable, and diverse technologies of tomorrow," he said.

Sriram is the 11th Rutgers-New Brunswick student to be awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship since the Office of Distinguished Fellowships was established 12 years ago, said Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui, vice chancellor of undergraduate academic affairs. “There is a strong sense of pride that we feel for our students as they go on to achieve great things even beyond their academic pursuits on campus,” he said.