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Aktar’s promising work leads to first-ever EWF fellowship

Dean Loboa and Rumana Aktar pose in front of a grey background.

Rumana Aktar, seen here with Dean Elizabeth Loboa, recently was selected as the first-ever recipient of the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) Fellowship. Photos courtesy of Rumana Aktar.

Rumana Aktar’s interest in image processing and computer vision led her to the U.S. after earning her bachelor’s degree in her home country at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. She wanted to work with a faculty researcher who was doing cutting-edge work in the area of computer vision, and she found what she was looking for in MU Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Interim Chair Kannappan Palaniappan.

Her master’s thesis and current work as a doctoral student has garnered attention, and Aktar recently was selected as the first-ever recipient of the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) Fellowship.

The EWF is committed to the advancement of women in the fields of information security and information technology (IT) risk management and privacy. EWF’s belief in the world-class abilities and resources of the MU College of Engineering led it to name a full-tuition fellowship for a female MU computer science doctoral student for a five-year period.

Aktar poses wearing her graduation cap.

After earning her master’s degree from Mizzou Engineering in 2017, Rumana Aktar began her work as a full-time doctoral student in Kannappan Palaniappan’s lab.

“[Palaniappan] told me that we’re meeting with Dean [Elizabeth] Loboa, and I thought it was kind of an interview. As soon as she opened the door, she welcomed me as the recipient,” Aktar recalled. “I didn’t know that I was already selected. That was really amazing. I felt honored and I felt recognized. Now it’s a great motivator for my Ph.D. research.”

Aktar applied for the fellowship because she had great experiences with social media-based organizations geared toward supporting women in IT in her native Bangladesh, and she sought something similar but more globally-focused. The EWF Fellowship not only provides financial support, but also mentorship support between Aktar and an EWF participant in the upper levels of industry.

“Rumana benefited from the networking opportunities after attending the Computing Research Association-Women meeting in Washington, D.C. to encourage women to pursue doctoral study in computer science,” Palaniappan said. “So applying to the EWF was a natural follow-on after this experience. Creating video summarizations has many applications including public safety and security, as well as health and food security. Rumana has strong research skills, and her topic was a good fit for the EWF Fellowship.”

It’s the latest in a list of academic successes for Aktar since she came to the U.S. She designed and developed an RNA sequencing (RNASeq) database for Andrea Eveland’s Lab at Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis in late 2015, then began her pursuit of a master’s from the EECS Department at MU in 2016.

“For example, say you have a video of aerial data that has 10,000 images or frames, so what we needed was to analyze/summarize data, but it would be time-consuming and error prone to go through the video manually, frame by frame,” Aktar said of her master’s thesis. “We wanted get a complete view of video in a few summary mosaics while preserving the spatial context information from the original video. We generated geospatial mosaics from the whole video.”

After earning her master’s in 2017, she began her work as a full-time doctoral student in Palaniappan’s lab.

“Rumana was transferring from Notre Dame for family reasons, and I invited her to join our research group because I saw a talented student who was enthusiastic about image analysis and computer vision research,” Palaniappan recalled.

Currently she is working toward activity recognition and multispectral tracking in aerial video. This kind of research — the ability to track key elements in a wide array of data algorithmically — has potential applications in security, traffic safety, agriculture, biomedical data and more. Aktar chose Mizzou because she believed working with Palaniappan would give her the expertise needed to thrive in the field of computer vision and image processing. In hindsight, it turned out better than she could’ve imagined.

“Mizzou was exactly what I was looking for, and my professor was exactly what I was looking for in a mentor. … It’s even more than what I hoped for,” she explained. “It’s really nice, and he knows how to motivate innovation and collaborative research. I am more than happy here.”