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Student earns $50K scholarship for innovation in artificial intelligence, safety

Obama Foundation selected Adrianna Pinzariu for the Voyager Scholarship for Public Service

Woman with long hair and black clothing
Adrianna Pinzariu, a junior studying computer science, earned a $50,000 scholarship from the Obama Foundation. (Photo by Jeff Carrion/DePaul University)
Computer science student Adrianna Pinzariu believes artificial intelligence has the potential to help keep people safe and healthy. She isn’t waiting until graduation to make that a reality.

As a junior in the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media, Pinzariu is developing a mobile app to help college students walk safely together on campus. She’s applying AI models that can help law enforcement identify human trafficking. And she’s using data science and machine learning in research that may enable doctors to identify lung cancer sooner on medical imaging.

She’s earning accolades and scholarships — and she’s just getting started.

“Technology has transformed our society. We've progressed so much, just within the past few years because of it,” Pinzariu says. “When you apply technology to social causes, like combating human trafficking with artificial intelligence, it can help make an even greater impact.”

Addressing global challenges

Pinzariu is one of 100 college juniors recently awarded a Voyager Scholarship from the Obama Foundation and Brian Chesky, cofounder and CEO of Airbnb. The scholarship supports students who plan to pursue a career in public service with up to $50,000 in financial aid, a $10,000 stipend and free Airbnb housing to pursue a summer work-travel experience. Scholars also receive a $2,000 Airbnb travel credit every year for 10 years to broaden their horizons and forge new connections throughout their public service careers. The award supports young leaders dedicated to addressing global challenges and driving positive change in their communities and around the world.

“I’m extremely grateful for the support of this scholarship for helping me to extend my studies. The education DePaul provides has helped me a lot in the pursuit of my goals,” Pinzariu says.

As a Voyager scholar, she plans to connect with nonprofits and law enforcement. She is developing AI models that can scrape hotel security footage and social media to flag patterns of human trafficking. Pinzariu grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois, and her parents are immigrants from Romania. She has a personal connection to the issue of human trafficking—a person close to her who went missing.

“The Voyager scholarship includes a travel stipend, so I can visit new places and develop partnerships with research institutions around the world,” Pinzariu says.

Applied research bolsters undergrad experience

Since she started at DePaul, Pinzariu has been gathering accolades and building momentum for her work.

Earlier this year, Pinzariu won the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center’s Purpose Pitch Competition. Along with teammates, she pitched a mobile app that would use social networking and AI. While it’s still in development, the app could help college students link up with known users and walk safely together around campus and the city.

“We’re currently training an AI model using safety data, so students can get access to the safest routes possible,” Pinzariu says. The private sector took notice—and the company Spokeo awarded Pinzariu their AI scholarship as a result of this work.

Applied research has been vital to Pinzariu’s education. Working with faculty member Roselyne Tchoua, she is using data science and machine learning to identify lung cancer subtypes in medical imaging. She was selected as a scholar with the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

“When I came to DePaul, I didn’t have much of a data science background,” Pinzariu says. “Professor Tchoua has been there for me—both with technical support and just as an overall mentor.”

Tchoua, an assistant professor of data analysis, offers a mini data science boot camp for undergraduate researchers like Pinzariu. Supporting undergraduate researchers who lack experience is never a problem, as long as students are eager to learn.

“Adrianna is ambitious and self-motivated, and that’s the hardest part. That’s what we look for when selecting students for these opportunities,” Tchoua says.

Learn more about the programs and people in DePaul's School of Computing online.