Academic Stories

Fourth-year earns scholarship to explore interests in technology, public service

Computer science major Devshi Mehrotra to pursue master’s in China as Schwarzman Scholar.

Devshi Mehrotra believes that computer science education can provide crucial skills for securing employment in an increasingly tech-centric, globalized world. Dedicated to public service, the fourth-year College student has led efforts at UChicago to promote just and equitable advancements in technology.

As co-director of the student group compileHer, she has helped middle school girls interested in computer science find educational opportunities.

“The activities I have taken part in over the course of my undergraduate experience have affirmed to me that I would like to dedicate my life toward finding ways technology can be leveraged as a means to equalize opportunity for those who are most underserved in society and work towards social justice along racial and socioeconomic lines,” she said.

Mehrotra will continue to pursue her interdisciplinary interests in technology and public service next year through the Schwarzman Scholars program in Beijing. One of 147 students selected for the competitive fellowship, Mehrotra will complete a one-year master’s program in global affairs at Tsinghua University, one of the world’s most renowned institutions of technology and an important hub for China’s growth.

“As someone who would ultimately like to pursue graduate studies in computer science, I am eager to devote my year in Beijing toward building my experience as an artificial intelligence researcher,” said Mehrotra, who will graduate from UChicago in the spring with a joint bachelor’s/master’s degree in computer science. “Not only has Tsinghua University recently launched an institute for AI, but I also know that Beijing is home to a vibrant ecosystem of machine learning startups.”

Joining an esteemed cohort

As a member of the fourth class of Schwarzman Scholars, Mehrotra will join students from 38 different countries pursuing coursework in public policy, economics and business, and international relations, taught by scholars from Tsinghua University and visiting faculty members from some of the world’s leading institutions.

“We take great pride in knowing that Devshi has been selected to study at Tsinghua University and that this honor will allow her to continue her work in expanding access to technology,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “She joins an international group of scholars who will address the most pressing intellectual, scientific, cultural and humanitarian issues that we face as members of a global community.”

On campus, Mehrotra also serves as senior chair of the Institute of Politics’ Student Advisory Board. Taking part in the IOP’s Sargent Shriver Fellowship for Leadership in Public Service during her second-year allowed her to invest a year examining the multifaceted causes of youth violence in urban communities and the ways in which historically unjust social structure continue to perpetuate the school to prison pipeline. Through her work, Mehrotra aspires to strike a balance between two worlds—advanced technology and public service—while helping young women who are often underrepresented in the field.

“The core issue with lack of representation in technology careers is that those who have the privilege to think audaciously and experiment fearlessly simply do not share the lived experience of most individuals,” she said. “This disparity unfortunately renders the vast majority of a society vulnerable to the political and economic restructuring necessitated by rapid technological developments. It is only when individuals from diverse backgrounds are equipped with digital skills that they will be able to craft technological solutions for the communities they belong to.”

To help these students prepare to engage in upcoming technological transformations, Mehrotra expanded compileHer’s programming to include designHer Hacks, a hackathon style event focused on human-centered technology design. Students created a mobile application design that would make someone in their life happy. Projects ranged from a resource to improve pet care to a memory assistant for the cognitively impaired.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Mehrotra has completed internships with leading institutions in artificial intelligence, including Google Brain, Microsoft Research, Google DeepMind, Facebook and Peking University. She has experience applying deep learning algorithms to predict the progression of retinal diseases, perform natural language processing, and train robotic agents. All of these have the potential to bring dramatic improvement to public health in the coming years.

Mehrotra was supported throughout her application process by the College Center for Research and Fellowships, which supports all undergraduates and College alumni through the highly competitive application processes for prestigious national scholarships and fellowships.