Vineetha Menon

Dr. Vineetha Menon is a recipient of a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Gulf Research Program Early-Career Research Fellowship.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Dr. Vineetha Menon, an assistant professor of computer science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), has been selected as one of 20 recipients of a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Gulf Research Program (GRP) Early-Career Research Fellowship.

The two-year fellowship, which begins Sept. 1, is awarded to emerging scientific leaders who are prepared to work at the intersections of environmental health, community health and resilience, and offshore energy system safety in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. coastal regions.

“I was ecstatic beyond words when I was notified to be one of the selected 2020 fellows,” says Dr. Menon, who is director of the Big Data Analytics Lab at the Department of Computer Science at UAH. Her lab is focused on exploring Big Data analytics solutions for multidisciplinary research in remote sensing, computational biology, cybersecurity and interpretable machine learning for human-machine interaction domains.

“It is a great honor to be one of the 2020 fellows and to be able to serve science and community alike. I’m very grateful to my department chair, Dr. Ranganath, my mentor Dr. Sundar Christopher and Dr. Sara Graves for supporting my endeavor. I’m also thankful to my wonderful peers and colleagues at UAH and my family for cheering me on.”

The fellowship is awarded to tenure-track faculty at colleges, universities and research institutions. Each of the 20 selected fellows receives a $76,000 financial award, mentoring support and a built-in community of colleagues who share an interest in the well-being of Gulf Coast communities and ecosystems.

Since the award is not attached to a specific project, fellows are able to use the support to pursue bold, nontraditional research that they otherwise might not be able to conduct.

Most people don’t think of computer science as a traditional outlet to study environmental impact on human lives, Dr. Menon says, but it’s actually a very intuitive paradigm to study large volumes of satellite data in remote sensing applications.

“My research in the remote sensing domain is oriented toward exploring an inclusive Big Data analytics framework that unifies multi-faceted data to accomplish deeper understanding of environmental phenomena, prompting better prediction and disaster-relief mechanisms for more disaster-resilient gulf communities,” she says.

That’s significant to the GRP because remote sensors deployed on portable platforms like drones have the potential to be deployed where humans would either be disruptive to ocean-life habitats or be placed in hazardous reconnaissance situations.

“Furthermore, my cybersecurity research focuses on safeguarding man-made infrastructures vital to GRP health and welfare, such as oil pipelines and dams,” Dr. Menon says. “My recent research has also focused on the investigation of machine-learning techniques as a constructive means for communication of research outcomes and their translation to other research domains.”

That work could enable greater transparency for the decision-making process and improve human trust in automation at all levels of management and community, she says, and that would help to ensure broader acceptance of scientific solutions for greater disaster resilience in the Gulf community.

Dr. Menon serves as the faculty advisor for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and ACM-Women (ACM-W) chapters at UAH.

“My role as the faculty advisor for the UAH ACM chapter also provides an interactive platform for professional development, knowledge dissemination and student mentoring opportunities within industry and community to raise more awareness of scientific problems and stimulate innovative solutions,” she says. “With this platform I firmly believe that my research can realize significant contributions to the issues of human health, disaster relief, environmental and critical infrastructure protection, and the transportation and societal missions of the GRP.”

The early years of a researcher’s career are a critical time, says Lauren Alexander Augustine, GRP executive director.

“This program gives fellows the independence and flexibility to explore untested ideas and develop lasting collaborations,” Augustine says. “The 2020 class of fellows are a distinguished group of individuals who have demonstrated superior scholarship, exceptional scientific and technical skills, and the ability to work across disciplines.”

An award of $76,000 is paid to each fellow’s institution in the form of a two-year grant. Of that, $75,000 is available for the fellow to use for research-related expenses, including equipment purchases, professional travel, professional development courses, trainee support, salary or any other costs directly related to the fellow’s research. The remaining $1,000 serves as an honorarium for a mentor.

All fellows will attend a required orientation in Washington, D.C., in September. Fellows may be required to attend other events or conferences during their fellowship term. Travel expenses for these events will be covered and are in addition to the fellowship award.



Dr. Vineetha Menon

Jim Steele