Travis Cuvelier Receives 2019 WNCG Student Leadership Award

Thursday, May 30, 2019

As an interdisciplinary center for research and education, WNCG is home to many talented minds. The group has grown steadily since its inception over 15 years ago and now comprises 23 faculty members and over 150 students and research staff.

The upward trends don’t stop simply at the number of group members. Over the years, WNCG has built an exceptional network of industry partners, increased the number of its sponsored research projects yielding groundbreaking results, and successfully graduated Masters and Ph.D. students who go on to a wide range of careers in industry and academia.

WNCG students play a key role in these accomplishments; graduate research assistants make up the vast majority of membership in the group.

In celebration of these contributions, each year WNCG presents a Student Leadership Award to an outstanding student who embodies the spirit of the group’s mission—someone who aids in the creation of a collaborative research environment and displays excellence in research and academic activities.

This year’s winner is third-year Ph.D. student Travis Cuvelier, who received the award on May 10 at WNCG’s annual Spring Social event.

Each WNCG faculty member may submit a single nominee for the award each spring. Current or recently graduated WNCG students are eligible for nomination as long as they have not won the award previously.

The winner—in some years, winners—is decided by a committee of faculty and staff and is honored at the group-wide Spring Social at the end of the semester. The selected student also receives a cash prize from WNCG in recognition of his or her academic and research merits.

Travis Cuvelier works under advisor Robert Heath as a member of Prof. Heath’s Wireless Systems Innovation Laboratory. Prior to joining WNCG, Cuvelier earned his B.S. and M.Eng. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and gained work experience with internships at LGS Innovations and MITRE.

Cuvelier’s advisor Robert Heath noted his strength in bringing students together, saying, “Travis excels in his interactions with the rest of the group—not only for work and research, but also as an extraordinary social event coordinator. No matter what the task, he’s always there to help.”

A familiar face around the WNCG offices, Cuvelier’s upbeat attitude is unmistakable—you’ll know you’re approaching his desk when you see the assortment of motivational posters in the area (a bit tongue-in-cheek, but sprucing up the office with positivity nonetheless). He has represented the group at events such as Texas Wireless Summit and WNCG Open House, from presenting his research at poster sessions to simply volunteering his assistance with event logistics.

“We’re thrilled to have Travis’s contributions to the group honored by this award,” WNCG Director Constantine Caramanis stated. “A happy group is a productive group -- and so we’re very happy to recognize the efforts individual students make in this direction.”

Picture: Travis Cuvelier with WNCG Director Constantine Caramanis and Assoc. Director Alex Dimakis

Winner Travis Cuvelier(center) shakes hands with both WNCG Director
Constantine Caramanis (left) 
and Associate Director Alex Dimakis (right)
in a whimsical moment after receiving the Student Leadership Award.

Prof. Caramanis presented Cuvelier with the award at the Spring Social on May 10.

We caught up with Cuvelier after the Spring Social for a short Q&A to ask about his experience as part of the group:

     Q: When did you join WNCG?

     Cuvelier: I joined WNCG in August 2016, at the same time I joined UT Austin.

     Q: How did WNCG factor into your Ph.D. program choice?

     Cuvelier: I came in not knowing exactly what I was interested in. I liked math and had interned as a signal processing/communications engineer. A really big draw for me was the breadth and depth of faculty here that work (broadly) on things like signal and information processing, and who work on interesting applied math problems in electrical engineering. The vast majority of those faculty, of course, are in WNCG.

     Q: How has being a WNCG member influenced your studies and Ph.D. work?   

     Cuvelier: Probably the biggest influence has come from courses taught by WNCG faculty. I hadn’t had a ton of exposure to machine learning before I got here, and the courses I’ve taken on ML and optimization have done a lot to influence the current project I’m working on. Many of the courses involve a research component, which, besides earning you more publications, really helps to train you in how to do research (this is still an ongoing process for me, of course).

     It goes without saying that it is also amazing to have such a diversity of experts in our office. Even if you’re just getting started or have a really basic question, people are more than willing to help. 

     Q: Tell us a little bit about your research.

     Cuvelier: Last year I got involved in a project on quantum computing. It sounded cool, but I really knew pretty much nothing about it. My initial motivation was to try to use ideas from quantum computing to design signal processing techniques—at the end of it all I really wanted to design magically fast signal processing algorithms that could run on future quantum computers. It turned out that a more opportune problem was to leverage ideas from modern signal and information processing to engineer reliable quantum computers, and I’m looking forward to focusing on that for the rest of my Ph.D.                                                                                        

     Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

     Cuvelier: I don’t really know. I grew up in the northeast and I do kind of miss it—I was a ski instructor so I actually kind of miss snow. I think I’m going to take a break from academia when I finish up here. When I was in high school, I told my teachers I would run for congress around that time…  At a minimum I’d like to own a boat, preferably with sails.

     Q: Any closing thoughts/advice for future WNCGers?

     Cuvelier: I’m not the best one to give advice, but there are two things that kind of stick out to me: When I was an undergraduate, during freshmen orientation the university president said something to the effect of, “If you learn nothing else while you’re here, learn to ask for help.”

     The second thing is something that a faculty member said during the ECE grad orientation here—it was something along the lines of, “Real life starts to happen while you’re in graduate school.” That last thing is certainly true. I started getting invited to weddings, I have a couple friends with kids… I think that a lot of people (including myself of course) come in having not had to ask for help too many times or in to large of ways, and I think that the pressures of “real life” make it really important to learn to ask for help.


Congratulations on winning this year’s Student Leadership Award, and thanks for being a wonderful part of WNCG!


Picture: 2019 Student Leadership Award winner Travis Cuvelier



Related: See more pictures from WNCG's 2019 Spring Social here.