Milenkovic named Willett Scholar
Jamal Collier, ECE ILLINOIS
- Milenkovic was one of just eight College of Engineering faculty members to be named a Willett Scholar and also received the Dean's Award for Excellence in Research.
- Milenkovic said she likes to work on ideas outside of the classical field of coding theory
- Although she is proud of all the awards she has received throughout the years she is most proud of the awards she won with her students including some best paper awards.
ECE Professor Olgica Milenkovic recently earned two honors for her work in coding theory and its applications. Milenkovic was one of just eight College of Engineering faculty members to be named a Willett Scholar and also received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research.
The Willett Scholarship is given to faculty members who, at a relatively early stage in their careers, are excelling in their contributions to the university. The award represents a type of “junior professorship” to encourage continued achievement in outstanding young faculty.
The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research is given each year to faculty deemed outstanding in teaching, research, and outreach as voted on by their colleagues.
Although Milenkovic says her focus is on her projects and her students, she was excited to receive the awards.
“It feels good to be encouraged by awards,” she said. “Especially if you took a lot of risks to get to a certain point, when you could have failed or you could have started to make a difference in reality. It gives you more reasons to spend those sleepless nights working on grants and papers.”
Milenkovic said she likes to work on ideas outside of the classical field of coding theory. She used her formal training in mathematics to branch out to work in signal processing and areas like compressive sensing or bioinformatics. She is starting to work with the Bioengineering Department and also called metagenomics her latest and greatest obsession."
Milenkovic is wokring with Michel Regenwetter, a professor in the Psychology Department, to analyze cognitive approaches to decision making and ranking systems. One of Milenkovic’s more recent endeavors is in using graph theory to find solutions for aggregating large groups of rankings, for example, those generated by Google search engines.
Doing that kind of interdisciplinary research is what she feels helped win her this recognition.
“To be perfectly honest (interdisciplinary research) is not easy,” Milenkovic said. “You have the background but still you need to learn a lot about the specifics of an application in order to use your background correctly. So, it takes a lot of time and effort, a little bit of courage, maybe more 'craziness' to try to do it.”
So why does she do it?
“The excitement of a new problem,” she said. “Trying to understand how to make a difference in areas that are pretty new. When you occasionally feel that you need fresh air in your research field branching out is not a bad idea.”
Milenkovic makes sure to get her students involved with her work. Although she is proud of all the awards she has received throughout the years she is most proud of the awards she won with her students including some best paper awards.
“There is always the point of catching up quickly, which you can only do if you have a team of people learning the subject,” she said. “If you don’t have a team of people asking the same questions and doing parallel reading and sharing information with you, you cannot really learn a new subject in a timely manner. Students are instrumental in making those things happen, as they are in every other aspect of research."