Two Students are Inaugural Recipients of Lustgarten-Whitney Family Fellowships

New fellowship provides support for students from underrepresented and nontraditional backgrounds to study computer science

Nov 05 2020 | By BERNADETTE YOUNG

Krystal Briggs (left) and Lawrence Lai (right) are the Lustgarten-Whitney Family Fellows for 2020.

The Lustgarten-Whitney Family Fellowship was recently established to help support highly qualified students from underrepresented and nontraditional backgrounds pursuing a career in computer science (CS) through the CS@CU MS Bridge Program. This program offers prospective applicants from non-computer science backgrounds, including those without programming experience, the opportunity to take CS courses to prepare for a Columbia master of science degree in CS.

Now in its inaugural year, the fellowship is providing financial aid to two fellows during the MS Bridge Program and additional funds if the student enrolls in the MS program. Starting next year, the fund will name three students as fellows annually.

“I hope this fellowship will bring more diversity to computer science and support the studies of people from groups underrepresented in the technology sector,” said Janet Lustgarten (MS ’85). Lustgarten studied computer science and knows firsthand how important it is to open doors and careers in the tech world. She emigrated from Colombia at a young age and has led an exceptional career as co-founder & CEO of Kx Systems and President of Shakti Software. “My family and I are very excited to help launch the bridge program and support future computer scientists.”

The highly competitive bridge program, established in 2020, is a year of rigorous “bridge” coursework composed of introductory CS courses. This transition prepares students for a seamless entrance into Columbia Engineering’s MS program after the bridge year.

“This generous gift from Janet and her family has played a critical role in launching the program,” said Mary Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “It will be a tremendous support for our students and will inspire a new, diverse generation of leaders in technology.”

The inaugural Lustgarten-Whitney Family Fellows for 2020 are:

Krystal Briggs, a graduate of Brooklyn College Honors Academy with a BA in Speech-Language Pathology and Linguistics. She is interested in bioinformatics and using computer science to create a positive impact on society. She received the Mellon Mays Research Fellowship and participated in a two-year independent research project on African American Gullah Creole origins. Briggs’ work has been published in Harvard University’s Mellon Mays Journal and used as a rich resource for urban educators. As a senior, she won the Dorothy Day Lawson Scholarship for outstanding performance in speech-language pathology. After college, Briggs taught special education and was introduced to data visualization. This led her to enroll in a six-month boot camp offered by Columbia Engineering and to make a career shift to becoming a data scientist. After the bridge program, she plans to pursue a PhD and work on research that will benefit people who have physical limitations, such as motor dysfunction.

Lawrence Lai is a summa cum laude graduate of SUNY Binghamton with a degree in accounting. He is interested in developing machine learning tools for financial services and healthcare. Trained as a certified public accountant, he gained an interest in the use of data and technology while at Ernst & Young. Lai decided to pursue this new interest and moved into a data analytics role at PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2015. He looks forward to participating in machine learning research while at Columbia.