Updated June 10, 2020: Congratulations to Lana El Sanyoura on being invited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to deliver remarks during his convocation address.
Receiving her honours bachelor of science degree with a specialization in computer science and a major in cognitive science will be the latest addition to Lana El Sanyoura’s long list of achievements. A member of Victoria College, she’s won several awards for academic achievement, leadership and extracurricular involvement, including the John H. Moss Scholarship and the Vector Scholarship in Artificial Intelligence (AI). After completing a summer internship with Amazon, she’ll return to U of T in the fall for graduate school.
You’re the recipient of five awards — congratulations! How does it feel to see your hard work paying off?
I’m really excited and grateful. These awards are great because they show that if you work hard and try to make a change in the community, people will appreciate it and help you move forward. The application process was a lot of work, but it allowed me to reflect on my whole undergrad and made me realize how grateful I am to all of my friends and professors.
What drew you to U of T for your undergrad?
I knew I loved science, but I also really enjoyed art and linguistic expression. I decided a computer science degree at U of T would be the best of both worlds because, in my first year, I could take all the science courses I wanted, but I could also take cool courses like the philosophy of puzzles. It gave me an opportunity to study at an incredible institution in a great program while also exploring different avenues and gaining a lot of breadth.
What’s one of your favourite memories from your time at U of T?
Working with the computer science student union on a semi-formal event. I think my favorite memory was working to see it come together and then attending the event and having an amazing time with all the students that year.
Is there a lesson you learned as an undergraduate student that you'll take with you moving forward?
One thing I learned was resilience. If you don't succeed once, you work on it and try again. In first year, I applied to a lot of internships and the response was, “You don't have a lot of experience, but you can supplement this with working on your own project.” That summer, I worked on a game I could add to my resume. In the fall of second year, I tried again, and they told me to try more things to diversify my resume, so during winter break, I took a course to learn how to create online apps. By the time I went to the career fair in January, I had a better resume and was able to get an internship. If I had just given up when people told me “no,” and I hadn't worked on myself, I don't think I'd be where I am today.
What type of research will you be doing for your master’s?
I'm looking at the domain of machine learning and computational social science, so trying to understand how AI could fit into society in a better way and using data science techniques to understand social systems, but also to try to improve the integration of AI with humanity. Professor Ashton Anderson’s lab is the perfect combination of my motivation for social good, passion for AI research and drive for creating technology that can better the lives of those using it.