Yelena Yesha has been named the first Knight Chair of the Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC) at the University of Miami. “She’s a perfect fit because she also has the expertise in translating data science into computer applications to solve real-world problems,” said Nicholas Tsinoremas, founding director of IDSC.
As an expert in blockchain technology, personalized healthcare and e-commerce, Yelena Yesha has always drawn to challenges.
When the teenage girl took second place in math and physics at the Ukrainian Physics Olympiads, she was offered an accelerated path to college – but only if her parents agreed to stay in the oppressive homeland where they were forced out of their jobs . Instead, the ambitious 17-year-old helped her family flee what is now Ukraine and settle in Canada with her scant knowledge of English.
Within three years, Yesha had completed two bachelor’s degrees. Not long after, she gained a reputation for ingenuity and collaboration that put her in leadership positions at some of the most powerful computer agencies in the country. She was often the only woman in the room and certainly the first to be in charge. She led teams that developed one of the federal government’s first electronic trading systems, repaired the Hubble Space Telescope, and analyzed health data to predict disease, improve diagnoses, and forge therapeutic outcomes.
Now the renowned data scientist wants to be the first to venture into a new company Chairman of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC) at the University of Miami.
“Yelena has a long career in data science – even before you called it – developing applications for technologies in areas such as cybersecurity, remote sensing, and healthcare,” said Nicholas Tsinoremas, founding director of IDSC, the university’s vice-propector of research. Computers and data. “That is exactly what we want to achieve with IDSC; Therefore, it fits perfectly, because it also has the know-how to translate data science into computer applications in order to solve real problems. “
Yesha will lead the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning program at IDSC and continue to serve as the innovation officer, a role she began in January 2020 when she joined IDSC as a distinguished visiting professor from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Yesha was the first woman in the computer science department at UMBC at the age of 32 and also became one of the youngest full professors. Yesha said she was lured from her 30-year academic home by IDSC’s mission to transform the university into a world-class data science epicenter through research with international scholars and partnerships with innovative companies.
“As Miami becomes a hub for startups, it is an exciting environment to train the next generation of our employees in data science and help companies bring products to market,” said Yesha.
While at UMBC, Yesha founded the Center for Accelerated Real Time Analytics (CARTA), which brings academics together with government and industry partners to extract useful information from massive and moving real-time data sets. Supported by the National Science Foundation, University of Miami just got one of CARTA’s five academic locations and is ready to work with several prominent government and industry leaders – a hallmark of Yesha’s career.
Although known in the computing world for using data to solve cybersecurity, remote sensing, healthcare and e-commerce problems, Yesha dreamed of becoming a doctor from an early age. But as she learned more about technology, her career goal evolved to use computers to improve health care for all.
For the past decade, she has worked with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and used their extensive database of clinical information to make disease predictions. She continues to refine this tool as she works on several other health care applications – to improve the diagnosis and treatment of dementia patients, develop smart household sensors to relay a patient’s vital signs to their doctors, and use machine learning to improve COVID- 19 Use the diagnosis of a patient to diagnose lung CT scans and x-rays.
“Now, 40 years later, I am finally making my dreams come true,” said Yesha. “My mission is to enable healthcare providers to take a more patient-centered approach and take advantage of novel technologies at the point of care. We can use new technologies to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment process. ”
Yesha remains humble about her success, which has not come without difficulties.
When her family first arrived in Canada in 1980, they had few belongings and even less money. While living in Toronto, she could barely afford a bus ride, but remained anxious to attend college. Always resourceful, she received a scholarship to study at York University and within three years earned two bachelor’s degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. During this time she also met her future husband Yaacov Yesha, a computer scientist friend at the University of Toronto.
Shortly after graduation, the couple moved to Ohio, where Yaacov took a faculty position at Ohio State University while his wife received her Masters and Ph.D. studied computer science and took care of her newborn daughter Rose. In 1989 the couple moved to Baltimore to join the UMBC faculty.
At UMBC, Yesha remained the only female faculty member in the computer science department for many years. In Miami, she is one of only three female faculty members on the computer science faculty, which is about to change.
“We never had enough women in IT. We have seen more in the past few decades, but we have never reached or even come close to critical mass, ”she said. “Nevertheless, many women have expertise in data science. If women do not participate in this field, the United States will lag far behind the rest of the world. “
Yesha was fortunate enough to land some high profile opportunities outside of academia early in her career. After only five years at UMBC, Yesha was called by a White House official to lead the US Department of Commerce’s Center for Applied Information Technology (CAIT) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Yesha said goodbye to UMBC and led a team of computer scientists to create one of the first electronic trading systems to be used by the federal government. Today one version of the system is used to process federal transactions valued at hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Yesha was also selected to represent the United States in the G7 global marketplace for small and medium-sized businesses, and led small and medium-sized businesses in the transition to online platforms. The experience led her to write an e-commerce textbook and curriculum. The comprehensive text has been widely used by many North American and European universities.
“We looked at the business aspects of e-commerce as well as political issues like increasing taxes and securing electronic payments,” she said. “In the beginning there were many challenges to master.”
After an invigorating year at CAIT, Yesha was selected to serve as director of NASA’s Center of Excellence in Space Data and Information Science for five years, dwarfing some of her male contemporaries. There, her team of scientists helped repair the Hubble space telescope. She also oversaw the development of Beowulf, a computer system that revolutionized high-performance parallel computing and is now used in research laboratories around the world. Her team also developed key components of the Linux operating system and created the Global Legal Information Network in the Library of Congress to provide secure satellite communications between countries working on international laws or treaties.
At around the same time, she also started working as a consultant for the product development department at IBM.
“I have had the privilege of working on the release of several commercial products. This experience led me to critically examine the power of translational research and enriched the curriculum of the courses I teach, ”she said.
Back at UMBC in 2003, the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine turned to Yesha to create a virtual operating room, and she was finally able to combine her computer literacy with her interest in healthcare. The two worked closely to design the nation’s first computer-assisted surgical simulation rooms for University of Maryland surgery fellows.
Soon after, Yesha immersed herself in personalized medicine, helping hospitals around the world combine genetic data with clinical information to create customized treatment plans for patients. At IDSC, she is committed to further advancing health technology using a range of tools, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain technology.
Yesha, founder of the blockchain startup Softhread, is widely recognized as an expert on the technology. She sees blockchain – which is often described as a database that is shared over a network of computers and maintains the chronological order of changes made to it – as key to revolutionizing our everyday lives.
University administrators are happy about Yesha’s insights on campus.
“Yelena is a pioneer in her field, with a deep understanding of the latest technology, but also understanding the evolution of computers today,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president of academic affairs and Provost. “This understanding will help lead our students, faculty, staff, and communities onto the next technological revolution, and we are excited to have them at the University of Miami.”