The Computing Research Association (CRA) announced that Alejandro Medina ’24, a senior at Southwestern University, has been named one of the four recipients of the 2023-2024 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. This prestigious award, sponsored by Microsoft Research and Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (MERL), recognizes undergraduates with exceptional computing research potential. The awardees were selected by faculty from institutions across North America who nominated individuals showcasing strong research capabilities and a commitment to advancing the field. The recipients will receive up to $1,500 in financial support to attend a research conference of their choice.

Medina, who is majoring in computer science with minors in mathematics and data science, has demonstrated outstanding contributions to various research areas. His focus on evolutionary computation has significantly improved generative AI for content creation in video games. His development of a fitness function successfully generated diverse and high-quality flying machines in Minecraft. Medina also led a project to implement and evaluate a Dial-a-Ride scheduling problem, providing empirical insights to complement theoretical findings. Beyond his research accomplishments, he is actively involved in departmental organizations, including the CS club and Math club, serves the department as the Vice President of the Honor Code Council, and holds an officer position in the Hispanic and Latine Organization (HALO).

Professor of Computer Science Barbara Anthony, who nominated Medina for this award, emphasized his commitment to continually seeking opportunities to learn and grow while also working to support others. “As a researcher, he’s capable of both theoretical work and writing code to support that work. Medina also has the confidence to question existing work so that we can learn from what others have done and take the next steps. In short, he sets goals for himself and will find a way to achieve them, no matter what obstacles he may encounter, and then will work to break down those barriers for others,” Anthony said. “Based on all he has accomplished in what is not yet three years at Southwestern, I can’t wait to see what he will accomplish in the coming years.”

Showcasing his involvement beyond the classroom, Medina spoke at matriculation in the fall of 2023 and collaborated on two papers—one titled “Prioritizing Self, Team, or Job: Trends in Sincerity in Cooperative Polls during his first year with Anthony and another titled “Evolving Flying Machines in Minecraft Using Quality Diversity with Associate Professor of Computer Science Jacob Schrum for Summer Collaborative Opportunities and Experiences (SCOPE) in the summer of 2022. He also participated in a poster presentation, “Evaluating an Earliest Deadline First Algorithm for a Dial-a-Ride Problem,” at the 2023 Tapia Conference in Dallas, Texas, showcasing the depth of his engagement in student-faculty research.

Highlighting the significance of this recognition, awardees in recent years have often come from R1 universities, with liberal arts colleges like Carleton College and Harvey Mudd also included. Southwestern University takes pride in being over-represented in the award list, with recipients including Medina, Sara Boyd, a 2020 finalist, and Lauren Gillespie, a 2019 awardee.

Southwestern’s Computer Science department boasts dedicated faculty members actively engaging students in research projects. Offering diverse formats, including in-semester and summer opportunities, they provide numerous avenues for students to explore the meaning of research in the field and determine their interests. Notably, some students embark on their research journeys as early as their first year, underscoring the faculty’s commitment to supporting students in achieving their goals.