Alumnus receives prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship

A College of William and Mary alumnus was recently named a 2007 Gates Cambridge Scholar. Eric Koskinen (’01), currently a graduate student at Brown University, is one of two William and Mary graduates to have ever received the honor.Eric Koskinen (’01)

“I'm delighted to hear the news about Eric. I can't imagine a more deserving individual,” said Phil Kearns, chair of William and Mary’s computer science department and Koskinen’s honors thesis advisor. “He always impressed me as being an intense computer scientist, but one who was well-rounded. This is significant because the intensity and the well-roundedness are often mutually exclusive. He was one of those students who make taking a salary for being a faculty member at W&M seem like larceny.”

Established in 2001, the Gates Cambridge Scholar program enables outstanding graduate students from outside the United Kingdom to study at Cambridge. According to the Web site, the scholars are chosen based on their intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to use their knowledge to contribute to society throughout the world by providing service to their communities and applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others.

A native of Allendale, N.J., Koskinen graduated from William and Mary with a double major in computer science and physics. He said he has nothing but fond memories of William and Mary, where he played in a small pop/rock band and met many of his closest friends, including his wife.

After graduation from William and Mary, Koskinen moved to Seattle and worked for Internet Movie Database (IMDb), a division of Amazon.com.

“As a movie buff and long-time fan of IMDb, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” he said. “In addition to facing large-scale software engineering challenges, I had a taste of the movie biz, working with film reviewers and attending an occasional premiere.”

In 2005, he and his girlfriend married in the Wren Chapel and then moved to Rhode Island so that he could attend Brown University. As an intern last summer with Microsoft Research in Cambridge, Koskinen became interested in formal verification, which seeks to eliminate software bugs.

As a part of the Gates Cambridge program, Koskinen will work on developing new techniques for automatically verifying computer programs. This means he will be working to ensure systems work correctly in order to prevent system failures that could cost human lives.

“The nature of this research area seems like an appropriate match for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Recipients of the award are expected to use their education to improve the lives of people around the world,” he said. “As computer systems have become so pervasive, I believe that research in this direction is immensely important.”

Koskinen hopes his experience at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory will help him build a strong background in logic and semantics. After completing the program, he plans to continue in academia, “attempting to advance the field of formal verification, and trying to inspire new generations of students to pursue this area,” he said. “Additionally, I hope to build ties with the industry so that I can continue to advocate the use of formal verification in real systems.”

Koskinen credits his undergraduate education and three William and Mary professors in particular with his success: Kearns; David Armstrong, professor of physics; and Richard Prosl, professor emeritus of computer science.

“I am certain that without their help I would not be where I am today,” he said.