Spotlight on Seniors: Rui-Jie Yew ’21 Explores the Human Side of Computer Science

Last spring, when Scripps transitioned to remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rui-Jie Yew ’21 put her software skills to work. After being approached by fellow senior Melody Chang, Yew and four other Scripps students designed Major Connections, an algorithm that matched current students with similar academic interests, ultimately creating more than 200 virtual connections during a time of physical distance.

The Major Connection project is just one example of Yew’s aptitude for addressing human needs via technological solutions. She knew she wanted to study computer science in college, but it wasn’t until she came to Scripps that she began to explore the intersections between computer science, mathematics, and the humanities. Although she is majoring in computer science and mathematics through Harvey Mudd College, she credits her Scripps courses, particularly the Core Curriculum in Interdisciplinary Humanities, with introducing her to the types of projects and questions that solidified her academic interests. Additionally, the interdisciplinary, hands-on work of the broader Scripps community—including students and alums whose research explores intersectional feminist issues in computer science—has been instrumental in shaping her perspective of the discipline. “My interactions with my peers and professors in my Scripps humanities courses expanded my perspectives of the computer science projects I was working on in my courses at Harvey Mudd,” she says. “I’ve tried to approach my research projects with that same interdisciplinary spirit.”

Not only has Yew’s academic journey merged multiple disciplines, her educational path has included in-depth study at several of The Claremont Colleges (5Cs). As a sophomore, she took a course on computability and logic with Harvey Mudd Assistant Professor of Computer Science George Montañez, which sparked her interest in symbolic artificial intelligence (AI), the branch of AI that deals with logic. Yew then began working with Pavel Naumov, a visiting associate professor of computer science at Claremont McKenna College, on research projects that explored how to model ethical dilemmas with modal logic, a mathematical logic of necessity and possibility that plays a major role in disciplines as varied as language, game theory, and web design. Last year, Yew and Naumov co-authored a paper on ethical dilemmas in strategic games, which was accepted to the 35th Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference, held virtually in February 2021.

Through these projects, Yew became fascinated by the philosophical foundations and ethics of AI, as well as its societal impacts. “I’ve been thinking about whose values we’re embedding into technology and what it means for philosophy to be heavily operationalized in computer science,” she says. “Just as poets might think about how a particular poetic structure further serves to communicate the value they wish to express, logicians might think about how a particular value they wish to define logically fits within a sound and complete structure.”

Yew has earned a number of academic honors during her time at Scripps. In addition to receiving a Presidential Scholarship, she was one of six finalists for the Martha Wehmeier Hammer ’66 Scholarship, which recognizes excellence in the College’s Core Curriculum, and was one of Scripps’ nominees for the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which is awarded to emerging research leaders in science, mathematics, and engineering.

She has also participated in several high-profile internships. Last summer, she was part of the inaugural cohort of privacy engineer interns at Google, where she participated in privacy reviews for home devices and wrote code to achieve differential privacy, which helps organizations collect data insights while ensuring that those insights do not allow an individual’s data to be identified. Following her internship with Google, she worked as a civic digital fellow at the US Census Bureau, building a Python-based record look-up file and query system. These experiences solidified her desire to pursue a career in computer science research with a public interest focus: This fall, Yew will enter a technology and policy master’s program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.

“Pursuing software projects with my peers has been a huge part of my Scripps experience,” she explains, noting that it has been especially valuable during remote instruction. “The community of computer scientists and engineers at Scripps encourages me to feel a sense of belonging in the field at large.”