Todd Austin and Valeria Bertacco receive North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Award

They were honored with the Community Building & Impact Award for creating the AURA program, a research exchange for undergraduate students at African universities.
Todd Austin
Prof. Todd Austin

Todd Austin, S. Jack Hu Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, and Valeria Bertacco, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Mary Lou Dorf Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, have received the Community Building & Impact Award at the 2024 North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Awards. The award recognizes their leadership and contributions to the U-M community through the African Undergraduate Research Adventure (AURA) initiative, a research exchange program they launched in 2019 for undergraduate students at African universities.

The North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Awards are dedicated to U-M community members, including students, organizations, staff, and faculty, affiliated with North Campus schools and colleges. Named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the awards are meant to recognize individuals and groups who embody MLK’s values and vision and demonstrate leadership in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year’s awards were announced at U-M’s annual MLK Symposium honoring and commemorating MLK’s legacy.

Prof. Valeria Bertacco
Prof. Valeria Bertacco

Austin and Bertacco have made substantial contributions to strengthening diversity, building an inclusive community, and creating opportunities for underserved students through AURA. The program brings a group of students from African universities to Ann Arbor each summer for a 12-week research experience. Embedded in the lab of a designated College of Engineering faculty member, students in the program have the opportunity to engage in a research project closely aligned with their interests and work closely with faculty and a PhD mentor throughout the research experience.

Over its five years of operation, the AURA program has brought dozens of students from Ethiopia and Rwanda to U-M, and participants have contributed to projects in robotics, mechanical engineering, computer science, and beyond. Over half of those students have since completed their undergraduate degrees, and gone on to pursue graduate studies.

AURA not only gives participating students the opportunity to form connections with leading faculty in their field and engage in substantive, hands-on research at a world-class institution; the program also contributes to bringing a greater diversity of perspectives, cultures, and worldviews to U-M, making our campus a more inclusive place for all individuals.