Senior Jairo Pava wins national recognition for storm surge simulation research

Computer Science senior Jairo Pava is the only student from Florida to receive recognition in the 2011 Computing Research Association (CRA) Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award competition. Pava, whose research focuses on developing storm-surge simulation systems, received honorable mention honors, joining students from the top 10 computer science universities in the country including Cornell, Princeton and UC Berkeley, among others.

Pava was nominated for the award by his two mentoring professors, Shu-Ching Chen and Peter J. Clarke. The CRA’s award recognizes undergraduates who show outstanding research potential in an area of computing research.

“For the nomination, Jairo needed to submit what kind of impact his research would have on the community and provide very detailed information to justify this achievement,” said Chen.

Pava manages Chen’s Distributed Multimedia Information Systems Lab, including the oversight of two Ph.D. students, three graduate students and seven undergraduates. Pava chose to work with Chen for one simple reason.

“Our lab focuses on helping fellow Floridians, and how we can contribute to helping the community. So that really interested me,” he noted. “The goal is to overcome the difficulties the state of Florida has been having with evacuating when a storm is coming.” He cited as examples the over-evacuation of nearly two million people when Hurricane Floyd came and the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, when too few people evacuated.

Pava’s research argues that when a storm is coming, the color-coded evacuation maps displayed by meteorologists and newspapers are simply not clear enough for Floridians to understand the hazards of the potential flooding.

“We believe that they will better understand the results of these storm surge forecasts if they actually get to see the simulation of flooding and damage to their home or business during an actual hurricane.”

In addition to the storm surge imagery system, Pava also has developed a new program to teach Sweetwater Elementary School fourth graders introductory computer science using robotics, teamwork and technology, according to Jai Navlakha, professor and interim director of the School of Computing & Information Sciences. “He is absolutely an exceptional student,” said Navlakha.

Pava also has been the president of the department’s Greek society Upsilon Pi Epsilon for two years, a tutor to juniors (when he was a sophomore and junior), and this year won the Computer Science Best Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award.

While Pava’s ultimate goal is to become a professor, he accepted a position upon his graduation in summer with IBM in New York City that will allow him to pursue a graduate degree.