By Brian Powell
July 14, 2014
Daniel Fried has joined some pretty exclusive company.
The Class of 2010 Flinn Scholar and recent graduate of the University of Arizona is one of only 14 students in the United States to be awarded the Churchill Scholarship this year, enabling him to spend a year at the University of Cambridge in England pursuing his research while earning a master’s degree.
Fried will earn a Master of Philosophy degree in computer science from Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, which focuses on the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. His time during the nine-month program will be devoted to both coursework and research, where he will study natural language processing and machine learning.
Fried has focused his research on artificial intelligence and machine learning, such as teaching computers to learn from examples and find patterns in data as people can do.
“Now is a great time to do it because there is a lot of data available and resources in the form of faster computers,” Fried says.
The Churchill Scholarship
The nearly year-long master’s program begins in early October, and Fried, who has never been to the United Kingdom, plans to arrive in Europe a few weeks before the program starts to travel and get settled in Cambridge, which is 50 miles north of London.
The Churchill Scholarship, awarded to approximately 14 United States students a year, is valued at between $45,000 and $50,000. It covers all university fees as well as a living and travel allowance. There have been more than 450 Churchill Scholars since the first three were awarded in 1963. The program’s genesis was a meeting between Sir Winston Churchill and American friends, where the former British prime minister asked for a way for young Americans to study at the college.
Fried is the second representative of an Arizona university to win the Churchill. Diane Thomson, also a Flinn Scholar at UA, received the award in 1994.
Fried said the Churchill has similarities to the Flinn Scholarship in that it funds his education, sponsors cultural activities, and offers a community of current and past scholars.
A Decorated Undergraduate Researcher
The Churchill Scholarship is not the only major national award for Fried.
In 2013, Fried was named a Goldwater Scholar—one of three from the state of Arizona that year—which is awarded annually to sophomore and junior undergraduates who intend to pursue research careers in science, mathematics, or engineering. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the former Arizona senator.
“The award told me I was on the right track and the research I was doing mattered to other people,” Fried says.
The research that led to Fried’s Goldwater Scholarship was directed toward extracting meaning from documents posted online and the conversion into a format that would more easily allow computers to process and reason about the documents.
He said “Watson,” the IBM supercomputer that won its Jeopardy! quiz show game in 2011 against former top winners, is an example of the artificial-intelligence technology he is exploring.
Fried graduated in May with a triple-major Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Arizona in computer science, mathematics, and information science. In addition to his national honors, he received a number of awards from the university, such as Excellence in Undergraduate Research, College of Science; Outstanding Senior, Computer Science; and Outstanding Senior, Information Science. He has remained in Tucson this summer working at a UA research lab.
The Flinn Opportunity
The 2010 graduate of University High School in Tucson had heard about the Flinn Scholarship through the annual information sessions that are presented each spring throughout the state and often feature the insights of current and past Flinn Scholars.
Fried was happy to accept the Flinn Scholarship, knowing it could provide research opportunities at UA. There were other attractive aspects of the program as well, including the travel and mentorship opportunities and the people with whom Flinn Scholars are invited to interact. He praised the research mentors who were willing to give him substantial freedom.
“Flinn gave me the flexibility to concentrate on research opportunities, which was my focus from early on, and opened a lot of doors,” Fried says.
He used his study-abroad experiences, supported by the Flinn Scholarship, to further his research as well as have rewarding cultural and language experiences. He conducted research in artificial intelligence and information visualization during internships with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, as well as at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. A little closer to home, he even found time for a summer internship at Microsoft.
While academic research was Fried’s main focus as an undergraduate, he is also proud of his work with “Team Flinnovation” during his sophomore year with five other Flinn Scholars. Three were students at UA and three attended Arizona State University.
As a competitor in the global Google Online Marketing Challenge, “Team Flinnovation” volunteered to consult for the Tucson-based nonprofit, Casa de los Ninos, performing website and data analysis and a marketing campaign to increase website visits and volunteers for the agency, which provides services to aid abused children and prevent further abuse.
“It was a fun project and beneficial for Casa de los Ninos and a great way to interact with other people from my class and the class ahead of me, as well as Scholars from both UA and ASU,” Fried says.
Fried was also active in Model United Nations and the Association for Computing Machinery during his undergraduate years in Tucson.
After completing the Churchill in July 2015, Fried plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program for computer science, focusing on language and machine learning, at a yet-to-be-determined university.
Fried plans to continue this research and solving these problems for the foreseeable future, whether at a university, in an industry lab, or at a startup company.
“I want to keep working on these problems at some level,” Fried says. “Computer science gives us a way to implement mathematical ideas and do something that can benefit people.”