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Mari Ostendorf

  • Professor

Mari Ostendorf joined the Speech Signal Processing Group at BBN Laboratories in 1985, where she worked on low-rate coding and acoustic modeling for continuous speech recognition. Two years later, she moved to Boston University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, where her research expanded to include language modeling, prosody modeling and speech synthesis. She joined the University of Washington in 1999, where she is broadly interested in spoken language technology. She teaches courses in statistical language processing and undergraduate signal processing, and has recently introduced a class titled “The Digital World of Multimedia,” introducing new undergraduates to signal processing and communications. Her current research efforts are centered on rich speech transcription, particularly for purposes of automatic language processing on speech, with more fundamental interests in learning methods for language technology. She has published over 150 papers on various problems in speech and language processing. Ostendorf has served on the Speech Processing and the DSP Education Committees of the IEEE Signal Processing Society and numerous workshop committees.

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_8641" align="alignleft" width="478"] The Sounding Board team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Fang, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng.[/caption]

The team, made up of UW graduate students in electrical engineering and computer science, is one of three in the world to make it to the finals. The inaugural $2.5 million Amazon Alexa Prize is the first of its kind for the company, asking students from around the globe to build a “socialbot” that can have intelligent conversations with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, about pop culture and news and events.

The grand challenge of the Alexa Prize is to develop a socialbot with the ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The team that has the highest-performing socialbot will receive the grand prize of $500,000. If the winning team also meets the 20-minute grand challenge, the team’s university will receive an additional prize of $1 million.

UW Electrical Engineering (EE) graduate student Hao Fang led the effort to develop the university’s prototype – Sounding Board. When developing the bot, the team sought a design that provides user-focused content selected from a variety of sources.

“Sounding Board is content-driven and engages the user by providing them with information that they may not already know or perspectives that they may not have heard,” Fang said. “Sounding Board is also user-driven and tracks the user’s mental state to adjust topic choice and interaction strategy.”

Applications for the Alexa Prize came in from over 100 teams across 22 countries. Sounding Board was one of 12 teams evaluated in the semifinals. The bots were evaluated based on a number of criteria, including ratings from Alexa customers and competition judges, depth and breadth of topics covered and accuracy of responses.

Fang and his teammates EE graduate student Hao Cheng and graduate students Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark and Ariel Holtzman from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering worked with lead advisor EE Professor Mari Ostendorf and Allen School Professors Yejin Choi and Noah Smith.

For the UW team, the highly collaborative environment at the university proved a perfect testing bed for their bot. “The evolution of Sounding Board involved a lot of effort from all team members and frequent feedback from faculty advisors,” Ostendorf said. “We benefited from our experiences in data science, natural language processing, social science and system engineering. Sounding Board also benefits from the good research environment at UW, where we get a lot of useful feedback from lab mates, the UW-NLP community and both EE and CSE faculty and staff, who chatted with early versions of the system. A key resource in system development has been access to real Alexa users worldwide, which was possible through the Amazon competition. It is impossible to anticipate all the types of reactions and questions people will have, and all the different ways that even a simple yes/no question can be answered. Learning from actual user data is critical.”

From July 1 to August 15, the bots were evaluated in the semifinal round. Real customers interacted with the devices, prompting a conversation with “Alexa, let’s chat.” Customers rated the bots on a scale of one to five, assessing whether they would care to speak with the socialbot again.

In addition to Sounding Board, three other bots were selected to move on to the final round – Alquist from Czech Technical University in Prague and What’s up, Bot, a wild card pick from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The winning team will be announced in November at the Amazon Web Services event, AWS re:Invent.

Congratulations to team Sounding Board!
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_8641" align="alignleft" width="430"]The HuskyBot team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Feng, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng. The Sounding Board team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Fang, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng.[/caption]

The University of Washington is one of 12 top teams from around the world to receive Amazon's sponsorship in their inaugural Alexa Prize. The team, called Sounding Boardis led by EE student, Hao Fang, and includes EE student, Hao Cheng, and CSE students Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark and Ariel Holtzman. EE Professor Mari Ostendorf is the lead faculty advisor, with CSE Assistant Professor Yejin Choi and CSE Associate Professor Noah Smith also supporting the team. The Amazon sponsorship includes a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) services to support the team's development efforts and support from the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) team.

The grand challenge of the Alexa Prize is to develop a socialbot with the ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The team that has the highest-performing socialbot will receive the grand prize of $500,000. If the winning team also meets the 20-minute grand challenge, the team's university will receive an additional prize of $1 million. 

Applications for the Alexa Prize came in from over 100 teams across 22 countries. These applications were reviewed and evaluated based on the "potential scientific contribution to the field, the technical merit of the approach, the novelty of the idea and the team’s ability to execute against their plan."

The teams will be evaluated in April 2017 by millions of real Alexa customers. These users will converse with the socialbots on popular topics. This feedback will be a factor in selecting the best socialbots to advance to the finals. Winners will be announced at a special session at re:Invent 2017, a global cloud computing conference hosted by Amazon Web Services. Congratulations, Team Sounding Board! Additional news: [post_title] => EE-CSE Team Among Top for Amazon's Alexa Prize [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ee-led-team-among-top-for-amazons-alexa-prize [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-06 10:52:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-06 18:52:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.ee.washington.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=8640 [menu_order] => 111 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6792 [post_author] => 15 [post_date] => 2016-08-09 20:13:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-08-09 20:13:08 [post_content] => ScreenShot2016-07-29at2.52.38PMAs Chief Technology Officer of Mobvoi, UW Electrical Engineering (EE) alumnus, Mike Lei, leads a company focused on intuitive design, infallible functionality and brilliant human-machine interaction. The startup, which is shaking up the tech community, has already received multi-million dollar investments from search giant, Google. Within ten minutes of opening their Kickstarter campaign for their newest invention – The Ticwatch 2, Mobvoi had already surpassed their $50,000 funding goal. Currently, The Ticwatch 2 had raised over $550,000, more than 11 times their original goal. Although it appears born out of the talented stock of tech products in Silicon Valley, Ticwatch is different. The genesis of Ticwatch occurred nearly 6,000 miles from Silicon Valley in Beijing, China. “The core of Android Wear is Google's VoiceSearch, which is blocked in China,” Lei explained about the necessity for an exclusive smartwatch in the Chinese market. “The most popular smartwatch, Moto360, couldn't be used without VPN in China. Therefore, we decided to develop an operating system, Ticwear, for smartwatches in China. In the early days, we flashed our Ticwear system on Moto360 and interacted with users on a weekly basis. For better user experience, we realized we needed to be in charge of the hardware, so we decided to build our own smartwatch, Ticwatch.” Two years ago, TechCrunch raved about the product, lamenting that the American market could not utilize the device because of its Chinese language interface. However, because of the success of Ticwatch in China, Lei and the executive team decided to create a product for the American market. “It [Ticwatch] was the best selling Android based smartwatch in China. Our work on smartwatch OS was noticed by the Google Android Wear team, and we formed a strategic collaboration to launch the Android Wear China version with Mobvoi's VoiceSearch technology. Google then invested in us for next series funding.” This VoiceSearch technology that impressed Google is a passion of Lei’s. During his time at the University of Washington, Lei focused his PhD in EE on acoustic modeling of Mandarin speech recognition under Professor Mari Ostendorf, directly utilizing this expertise in the development of Ticwatch. On August 25, the Kickstarter campaign will end for Mobvoi. However, for Lei and his team, Ticwatch is just the beginning. What began as a passion for smart, unique design will develop into the next generation of voice technology software and AI. “We will continue to improve the AI technologies on the Ticwatch, including speech recognition and natural language processing,” Lei said. “Ticwatch is one platform to deliver our speech interaction experience to users. As an AI company, we are also looking at other platforms, such as smartmirror in the car and home robots. Our next software hardware integrated product Ticmirror is launching in late September in China.” For now, Lei is excited about the opportunity to expand Ticwatch to a larger market and introduce the top speech interaction software to users. “Ticwatch is our first software hardware integrated product,” Lei said. “With a relatively small team, we designed and built the hardware, developed the operating system, and integrated our AI technologies in the product. It is a huge challenge to put every piece together, and I am most excited about bringing the best speech interaction experience to the Ticwatch users.” More News: [post_title] => Alum Mike Lei Leads Smartwatch Revolution with Company Mobvoi [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => uw-ee-alum-mike-lei-leads-smartwatch-revolution-with-company-mobvoi [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-07 15:03:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-07 23:03:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://hedy.ee.washington.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=6792 [menu_order] => 143 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [_numposts:protected] => 6 [_rendered:protected] => 1 [_classes:protected] => Array ( [0] => block--spotlight-tiles ) [_finalHTML:protected] => [_postID:protected] => 877 [_errors:protected] => Array ( ) [_block:protected] => 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[post_author] => 12 [post_date] => 2017-08-31 11:07:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-31 18:07:43 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_8641" align="alignleft" width="478"] The Sounding Board team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Fang, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng.[/caption] The team, made up of UW graduate students in electrical engineering and computer science, is one of three in the world to make it to the finals. The inaugural $2.5 million Amazon Alexa Prize is the first of its kind for the company, asking students from around the globe to build a “socialbot” that can have intelligent conversations with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, about pop culture and news and events. The grand challenge of the Alexa Prize is to develop a socialbot with the ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The team that has the highest-performing socialbot will receive the grand prize of $500,000. If the winning team also meets the 20-minute grand challenge, the team’s university will receive an additional prize of $1 million. UW Electrical Engineering (EE) graduate student Hao Fang led the effort to develop the university’s prototype – Sounding Board. When developing the bot, the team sought a design that provides user-focused content selected from a variety of sources. “Sounding Board is content-driven and engages the user by providing them with information that they may not already know or perspectives that they may not have heard,” Fang said. “Sounding Board is also user-driven and tracks the user’s mental state to adjust topic choice and interaction strategy.” Applications for the Alexa Prize came in from over 100 teams across 22 countries. Sounding Board was one of 12 teams evaluated in the semifinals. The bots were evaluated based on a number of criteria, including ratings from Alexa customers and competition judges, depth and breadth of topics covered and accuracy of responses. Fang and his teammates EE graduate student Hao Cheng and graduate students Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark and Ariel Holtzman from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering worked with lead advisor EE Professor Mari Ostendorf and Allen School Professors Yejin Choi and Noah Smith. For the UW team, the highly collaborative environment at the university proved a perfect testing bed for their bot. “The evolution of Sounding Board involved a lot of effort from all team members and frequent feedback from faculty advisors,” Ostendorf said. “We benefited from our experiences in data science, natural language processing, social science and system engineering. Sounding Board also benefits from the good research environment at UW, where we get a lot of useful feedback from lab mates, the UW-NLP community and both EE and CSE faculty and staff, who chatted with early versions of the system. A key resource in system development has been access to real Alexa users worldwide, which was possible through the Amazon competition. It is impossible to anticipate all the types of reactions and questions people will have, and all the different ways that even a simple yes/no question can be answered. Learning from actual user data is critical.” From July 1 to August 15, the bots were evaluated in the semifinal round. Real customers interacted with the devices, prompting a conversation with “Alexa, let’s chat.” Customers rated the bots on a scale of one to five, assessing whether they would care to speak with the socialbot again. In addition to Sounding Board, three other bots were selected to move on to the final round – Alquist from Czech Technical University in Prague and What’s up, Bot, a wild card pick from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. The winning team will be announced in November at the Amazon Web Services event, AWS re:Invent. Congratulations to team Sounding Board! [post_title] => UW Team named finalist in $2.5M Amazon Alexa Prize [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => uw-team-named-finalist-in-2-5m-amazon-alexa-prize [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-09-11 10:19:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-09-11 17:19:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.ee.washington.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=11275 [menu_order] => 24 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8640 [post_author] => 12 [post_date] => 2016-12-05 14:18:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-05 22:18:26 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_8641" align="alignleft" width="430"]The HuskyBot team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Feng, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng. The Sounding Board team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Fang, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng.[/caption] The University of Washington is one of 12 top teams from around the world to receive Amazon's sponsorship in their inaugural Alexa Prize. The team, called Sounding Boardis led by EE student, Hao Fang, and includes EE student, Hao Cheng, and CSE students Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark and Ariel Holtzman. EE Professor Mari Ostendorf is the lead faculty advisor, with CSE Assistant Professor Yejin Choi and CSE Associate Professor Noah Smith also supporting the team. The Amazon sponsorship includes a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) services to support the team's development efforts and support from the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) team. The grand challenge of the Alexa Prize is to develop a socialbot with the ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The team that has the highest-performing socialbot will receive the grand prize of $500,000. If the winning team also meets the 20-minute grand challenge, the team's university will receive an additional prize of $1 million. 

Applications for the Alexa Prize came in from over 100 teams across 22 countries. These applications were reviewed and evaluated based on the "potential scientific contribution to the field, the technical merit of the approach, the novelty of the idea and the team’s ability to execute against their plan."

The teams will be evaluated in April 2017 by millions of real Alexa customers. These users will converse with the socialbots on popular topics. This feedback will be a factor in selecting the best socialbots to advance to the finals. Winners will be announced at a special session at re:Invent 2017, a global cloud computing conference hosted by Amazon Web Services. Congratulations, Team Sounding Board! Additional news: [post_title] => EE-CSE Team Among Top for Amazon's Alexa Prize [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ee-led-team-among-top-for-amazons-alexa-prize [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-06 10:52:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-06 18:52:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.ee.washington.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=8640 [menu_order] => 111 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6792 [post_author] => 15 [post_date] => 2016-08-09 20:13:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-08-09 20:13:08 [post_content] => ScreenShot2016-07-29at2.52.38PMAs Chief Technology Officer of Mobvoi, UW Electrical Engineering (EE) alumnus, Mike Lei, leads a company focused on intuitive design, infallible functionality and brilliant human-machine interaction. The startup, which is shaking up the tech community, has already received multi-million dollar investments from search giant, Google. Within ten minutes of opening their Kickstarter campaign for their newest invention – The Ticwatch 2, Mobvoi had already surpassed their $50,000 funding goal. Currently, The Ticwatch 2 had raised over $550,000, more than 11 times their original goal. Although it appears born out of the talented stock of tech products in Silicon Valley, Ticwatch is different. The genesis of Ticwatch occurred nearly 6,000 miles from Silicon Valley in Beijing, China. “The core of Android Wear is Google's VoiceSearch, which is blocked in China,” Lei explained about the necessity for an exclusive smartwatch in the Chinese market. “The most popular smartwatch, Moto360, couldn't be used without VPN in China. Therefore, we decided to develop an operating system, Ticwear, for smartwatches in China. In the early days, we flashed our Ticwear system on Moto360 and interacted with users on a weekly basis. For better user experience, we realized we needed to be in charge of the hardware, so we decided to build our own smartwatch, Ticwatch.” Two years ago, TechCrunch raved about the product, lamenting that the American market could not utilize the device because of its Chinese language interface. However, because of the success of Ticwatch in China, Lei and the executive team decided to create a product for the American market. “It [Ticwatch] was the best selling Android based smartwatch in China. Our work on smartwatch OS was noticed by the Google Android Wear team, and we formed a strategic collaboration to launch the Android Wear China version with Mobvoi's VoiceSearch technology. Google then invested in us for next series funding.” This VoiceSearch technology that impressed Google is a passion of Lei’s. During his time at the University of Washington, Lei focused his PhD in EE on acoustic modeling of Mandarin speech recognition under Professor Mari Ostendorf, directly utilizing this expertise in the development of Ticwatch. On August 25, the Kickstarter campaign will end for Mobvoi. However, for Lei and his team, Ticwatch is just the beginning. What began as a passion for smart, unique design will develop into the next generation of voice technology software and AI. “We will continue to improve the AI technologies on the Ticwatch, including speech recognition and natural language processing,” Lei said. “Ticwatch is one platform to deliver our speech interaction experience to users. As an AI company, we are also looking at other platforms, such as smartmirror in the car and home robots. Our next software hardware integrated product Ticmirror is launching in late September in China.” For now, Lei is excited about the opportunity to expand Ticwatch to a larger market and introduce the top speech interaction software to users. “Ticwatch is our first software hardware integrated product,” Lei said. “With a relatively small team, we designed and built the hardware, developed the operating system, and integrated our AI technologies in the product. It is a huge challenge to put every piece together, and I am most excited about bringing the best speech interaction experience to the Ticwatch users.” More News: [post_title] => Alum Mike Lei Leads Smartwatch Revolution with Company Mobvoi [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => uw-ee-alum-mike-lei-leads-smartwatch-revolution-with-company-mobvoi [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-07 15:03:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-07 23:03:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://hedy.ee.washington.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=6792 [menu_order] => 143 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 3 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 11275 [post_author] => 12 [post_date] => 2017-08-31 11:07:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-31 18:07:43 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_8641" align="alignleft" width="478"] The Sounding Board team from left to right: Professor Noah Smith, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Professor Mari Ostendorf, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Fang, Professor Yejin Choi and Hao Cheng.[/caption] The team, made up of UW graduate students in electrical engineering and computer science, is one of three in the world to make it to the finals. The inaugural $2.5 million Amazon Alexa Prize is the first of its kind for the company, asking students from around the globe to build a “socialbot” that can have intelligent conversations with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, about pop culture and news and events. The grand challenge of the Alexa Prize is to develop a socialbot with the ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The team that has the highest-performing socialbot will receive the grand prize of $500,000. If the winning team also meets the 20-minute grand challenge, the team’s university will receive an additional prize of $1 million. UW Electrical Engineering (EE) graduate student Hao Fang led the effort to develop the university’s prototype – Sounding Board. When developing the bot, the team sought a design that provides user-focused content selected from a variety of sources. “Sounding Board is content-driven and engages the user by providing them with information that they may not already know or perspectives that they may not have heard,” Fang said. “Sounding Board is also user-driven and tracks the user’s mental state to adjust topic choice and interaction strategy.” Applications for the Alexa Prize came in from over 100 teams across 22 countries. Sounding Board was one of 12 teams evaluated in the semifinals. The bots were evaluated based on a number of criteria, including ratings from Alexa customers and competition judges, depth and breadth of topics covered and accuracy of responses. Fang and his teammates EE graduate student Hao Cheng and graduate students Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark and Ariel Holtzman from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering worked with lead advisor EE Professor Mari Ostendorf and Allen School Professors Yejin Choi and Noah Smith. For the UW team, the highly collaborative environment at the university proved a perfect testing bed for their bot. “The evolution of Sounding Board involved a lot of effort from all team members and frequent feedback from faculty advisors,” Ostendorf said. “We benefited from our experiences in data science, natural language processing, social science and system engineering. Sounding Board also benefits from the good research environment at UW, where we get a lot of useful feedback from lab mates, the UW-NLP community and both EE and CSE faculty and staff, who chatted with early versions of the system. A key resource in system development has been access to real Alexa users worldwide, which was possible through the Amazon competition. It is impossible to anticipate all the types of reactions and questions people will have, and all the different ways that even a simple yes/no question can be answered. Learning from actual user data is critical.” From July 1 to August 15, the bots were evaluated in the semifinal round. Real customers interacted with the devices, prompting a conversation with “Alexa, let’s chat.” Customers rated the bots on a scale of one to five, assessing whether they would care to speak with the socialbot again. In addition to Sounding Board, three other bots were selected to move on to the final round – Alquist from Czech Technical University in Prague and What’s up, Bot, a wild card pick from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. The winning team will be announced in November at the Amazon Web Services event, AWS re:Invent. Congratulations to team Sounding Board! 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  • Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, 1985
    Stanford University
  • M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1981
    Stanford University
  • B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1980
    Stanford University