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Graduating student features: Nawaz to continue education at University of Pennsylvania


As told to Allie Arp

Two years ago, Farhad Nawaz came to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) from India to get his master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. He is now graduating and heading to the University of Pennsylvania for his doctoral studies.

How will your experiences help you in this career?Farhad Nawaz
This is my first educational experience in the United States and UIUC has been very kind to get me acquainted with the system of education. My weekly meetings with my adviser, Melkior Ornik, motivated me to push myself and think in the right direction. The courses offered here have been there for a long time, with some of the top faulty in the nation in control theory. I feel UIUC has given me a strong base in control theory and decision-making systems, and a good launch pad for my research career in autonomous systems.

During my stay at UIUC, I was working on path planning for multi-agent systems in complex and stochastic environments. For my doctoral degree I am going into electrical and systems engineering with research on combining control theory and machine learning methods for autonomous vehicles.

What research project are you particularly proud of from your time at Illinois?
One interesting project was on path planning for autonomous vehicle like Mars rovers. You want the robot to navigate to locations that are a priori unknown, but we can use probabilistic knowledge from pre-existing maps and local sensor information. We used ideas from the Battleships board game where you should hit all the battleships hidden on a board with known patterns. We discover their locations as you hit more spots on the board. It was cool how we used game playing strategies to solve real-world problems.

What was your favorite part of your time at CSL?
One of my favorite memories at UIUC was the first Quad Day during orientation, before COVID happened. A lot of other international students were there, I was able to meet a lot of people from different cultures. There were student groups on robotics, dance, and sports, all showcasing their work.

I also really enjoyed the CSL student conference, where I had the opportunity to present my research and receive an award for my poster. The robotic demonstrations looked exciting and demonstrated the potential for practical applications of novel research. The CSL seminar series introduced me to various interdisciplinary research happening in the field of control and automation.       

What advice do you have for current students?
I would suggest everybody to use the resources that you have at UIUC. Try to complete the right lower level courses at the beginning and talk with upper classmen to know about various courses specific to your research area.

In CSL, a lot of collaboration happens. People try to get out of their comfort zones, and I feel great things happen in that space. Do not just talk with your adviser, talk to other professors as well who are always willing to share their thoughts and research interests. Even a 30-minute conversation can lead to a huge research project. I have seen that a lot. Not always going in the same direction is something I would encourage people to do.