Makanjuola Ogunleye, a Ph.D. student in computer science at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, has been awarded a Black Students in Technology Scholarship from Cadence Diversity in Technology Scholarship Programs.

Ogunleye, a member of the Perception and LANguage (PLAN) research lab, is one of eight students pursuing technical degrees at universities across the country who were selected to receive the scholarship based on their impressive academic records, work in the community, leadership potential, and recommendations from professors. He is advised by Ismini Lourentzou, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science. 

Ogunleye’s research specifically examines how artificial intelligence (AI) agents interact and coordinate to develop effective communication strategies for human-agent collaboration.

Also keen on improving the field of conversational AI, especially in task-oriented domains, Ogunleye provides expertise in question-answering and dialogue generation models as a member of Virginia Tech’s Alexa Prize Taskbot Challenge 2 Team competing in the Amazon Science-sponsored competition. 

His line of research, in addition to enhancing virtual task assistants such as Alexa, could lead to more efficient and scalable systems for other domains, including robotics and self-driving cars.

“By improving the ability of machines to understand and respond to nonverbal communication, we can create more accessible systems, ensuring that everyone has equal access to technology,” he said. 

At the PLAN lab, Ogunleye is currently leading a research project that explores how vision-language models and tasks can benefit from emergent communication pre-training.

He also coordinates the lab’s weekly email newsletter, which connects lab members with valuable career development opportunities and fosters a sense of community within the group.

This past fall, Ogunleye represented the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science at the CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference Career Fair in Washington, D.C., where he engaged with prospective students and shared information about graduate programs, including the cutting-edge AI research opportunities available at the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

“Completing an engineering-related degree opens the door to many rewarding career paths, but the path can be challenging and demanding,” Ogunleye said. “I advise students pursuing these degrees to cultivate a resilient and persevering spirit. Whether struggling through a difficult technical course, working on a complex software project, or facing any challenging situation, approach every challenge with a growth mindset and as an opportunity to learn and improve.”

He said diversity and representation in the field of technology bring fresh perspectives, creative solutions, and new ways of thinking to technical challenges and are crucial for innovation and progress. 

“As someone from an underrepresented background, I believe it is important to use our unique perspectives and experiences to drive innovation in the field. By excelling academically in engineering degree programs, we can demonstrate our abilities and advocate for greater inclusion and equity,” Ogunleye said.

Ogunleye said he thrives on tackling complex and ambitious projects, and his entrepreneurial spirit has led him to set a long-term goal: to start his own company. “The prospect of bringing a new idea to life and seeing it make a positive impact on society is incredibly appealing to me,” he said.

The Cadence scholarship, he said, will impact both his personal and professional development. It adds to his academic achievements and enables him to serve as a model to fellow Hokie students underrepresented in the field of technology, promoting diversity and inclusion. It is also a catalyst for career development by providing resources and opportunities to continue building technical skills. 

“I am grateful for this opportunity and excited to explore new areas of research and innovation that can make a positive impact on society,” he said.

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