The computer scientist is a pioneer for women in technology

Yelena Yesha was named the inaugural Knight Chair of the Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC) at the University of Miami. “She is the perfect fit because she also has the expertise to translate data science into computer applications to solve real world problems,” said IDSC founding director Nicholas Tsinoremas.

As an expert in blockchain technology, personalized healthcare and e-commerce, Yelena Yesha has always been drawn to challenges.

When the young math and physics prodigy won second place at the Physics Olympics in Ukraine, she was offered an accelerated path to college, but only if her parents agreed to stay in the oppressive homeland where they were forced to quit their jobs. Instead, the ambitious 17-year-old used her meager English skills to help her family flee what is now Ukraine and settle in Canada.

In three years, Yesha had obtained two bachelor’s degrees. Soon after, she gained a reputation for ingenuity and collaboration that landed her leading roles in some of the most powerful IT agencies in the country. Often the only woman in the room, and certainly the first to lead, she led teams that created one of the federal government’s first e-commerce systems, fixed the Hubble Space Telescope, and pulled health care data. to predict disease, improve diagnostics, and forge treatment outcomes.

Today, the acclaimed data scientist is eager to embark on a new venture as the inaugural John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Institute for Data Science. and Computing (IDSC) at the University of Miami.

“Yelena has a long career in data science – before you even called it that – and has created applications for technology in areas such as cybersecurity, remote sensing and healthcare,” said the founding director of the IDSC, Nicholas Tsinoremas, vice-rector for research of the university. computing and data. “This is precisely what we want to do at IDSC; thus, she is the ideal person as she also has the expertise to translate data science into computer applications to solve real world problems.

Yesha will lead the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning program at IDSC and will continue to be responsible for innovation, a role she started in January 2020, when she joined IDSC as a visiting professor. distinguished from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The first woman in UMBC’s computer science department, at 32, Yesha has also become one of its youngest tenured professors. Yesha said she was drawn from her 30-year-old university home by IDSC’s mission to transform the University into a world-class epicenter of data science through research with international academics and partnerships. with innovative companies.

“As Miami becomes a hub for startups, it presents an exciting landscape to train the next generation of our data science workforce and to help companies bring their products to market,” Yesha said.

While at UMBC, Yesha founded the Center for Accelerated Real Time Analytics (CARTA), which pairs academics with government and industry partners to extract useful information from large, mobile real-time datasets. . Supported by the National Science Foundation, the University of Miami has just become one of CARTA’s five academic sites and is ready to collaborate with several prominent government and industry leaders, a hallmark of Yesha’s career.

Despite being renowned in the IT field for harnessing data to solve cybersecurity, remote sensing, healthcare and e-commerce challenges, Yesha dreamed of being a doctor from an early age. But as she learned more about technology, her career focus shifted to using computers to improve the delivery of health care for all.

For the past decade, she has worked with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and used their huge database of clinical information to predict disease. She continues to refine this tool while working on several other healthcare applications – to improve the diagnosis and treatment of dementia patients, develop smart home sensors to transmit a patient’s vital signs to their doctors and use machine learning to diagnose COVID-19 from a patient. chest computed tomography and x-rays.

“I’m finally making my dreams come true now, 40 years later,” Yesha said. “My mission is to empower healthcare providers to take a more patient-centered approach and take advantage of new technologies at the point of care. We can use new technologies to improve the process of prevention, diagnosis and treatment. ”

Yesha remains humble in the face of her success, which has not come without difficulties.

When his family arrived in Canada in 1980, they had little property and even less money. She could barely afford a bus ticket while living in Toronto, but still wanted to go to college. Always resourceful, she got a scholarship to attend York University and in three years she earned two bachelor’s degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. During this time, she also met her future husband, Yaacov Yesha, a fellow computer scientist at the University of Toronto.

Shortly after graduation, the couple moved to Ohio, where Yaacov landed a professorship at Ohio State University, while his wife earned her masters and doctorates. computer science degrees and cared for their newborn daughter, Rose. Then, in 1989, the couple moved to Baltimore to join the faculty at UMBC.

At UMBC, Yesha remained the only female faculty member in the computer science department for many years. In Miami, she’s one of three female faculty members in the computer science department, which she hopes to change.

“We have never had enough women in IT. Over the past decades we have seen more, but we have never reached critical mass, or even close to it, ”she said. “Yet a lot of women have expertise in data science. If women do not participate on the ground, the United States will be far behind the rest of the world.

Yesha was fortunate to glean high profile opportunities outside of academia early in her career. After only five years at UMBC, Yesha was called in by a White House staff member to lead the Center for Applied Information Technology (CAIT) of the US Department of Commerce at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Taking her leave of UMBC, Yesha galvanized a team of computer scientists to create one of the first e-commerce systems to be used by the federal government. Today, one version of the system is used to process federal transactions of hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Yesha was also selected to represent the United States at the G7 Global Market Group for Small and Medium Businesses, and has guided small and medium businesses in the transition to online platforms. The experience led her to write an e-commerce manual and program. The full text has been used extensively by many North American and European universities.

“We have dealt with business aspects of e-commerce, as well as policy issues such as adding taxes and securing electronic payments,” she said. “At the beginning there were a lot of challenges to overcome.

After an invigorating year at CAIT, Yesha was selected to become director of the NASA Center of Excellence for Information and Space Data Science for five years, surpassing a few of her male contemporaries. This is where his team of scientists helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope. She also oversaw the development of Beowulf, a computer system that revolutionized high performance parallel computing and is now used in research laboratories around the world. His team also developed major components of the Linux operating system and created the Global Legal Information Network at the Library of Congress, to provide secure satellite communication between countries working on international laws or treaties.

Around the same time, she also began consulting for IBM’s product development division.

“I have had the privilege of working on the release of several commercial products. This experience led me to critically examine the power of translational research and enriched the curriculum I taught, ”she said.

Returning to UMBC, in 2003, the University of Maryland School of Medicine Chair of Surgery approached Yesha to create a virtual operating room, and she was finally able to combine her computer expertise with her interest in Healthcare. The couple worked closely to design the nation’s first computer-based surgical simulation rooms for University of Maryland surgical fellows.

Soon after, Yesha plunged into personalized medicine, helping hospitals around the world combine genetic data with clinical information to develop individualized treatment plans for patients. At IDSC, she looks forward to continuing to advance healthcare technology, using a range of tools, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain technology.

Yesha, who founded a blockchain startup, Softhread, is widely regarded as a tech expert. She sees blockchain, which is often described as a database shared over a network of computers that keeps the chronological order of changes made to it, as the key to revolutionizing our daily lives.

University leaders are happy to hear from Yesha on campus.

“Yelena is a pioneer in her field and is extremely knowledgeable about the latest technologies, but she also understands the trajectory of computing today,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president of academic affairs and dean. “This understanding will help guide our students, faculty, staff and community to the next technological revolution, and we are thrilled to have it at the University of Miami.”

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