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Engineering Professor Mary Lou Soffa Awarded for Work on Computer Security

Mary Lou Soffa, Owens R. Cheatham Professor of Science in the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been named winner of the Association for Computing Machinery-IEEE Computer Society’s Ken Kennedy Award. She received the award on Nov. 13 in Salt Lake City at SC12, the international conference on high-performance computing.

Soffa, former chair of the Engineering School’s computer science department, was chosen for her contributions to detecting and managing software security flaws, according to the IEEE Computer Society. She developed software tools for debugging and testing programs to eliminate or reduce false alarms and to improve operating efficiency. Her research has produced automatic, practical solutions in software engineering and programming languages, thereby improving software reliability, security and productivity.

The Kennedy Award carries a $5,000 honorarium, endowed by the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture and the Computer Society.

A leading researcher in programming languages, Soffa provided analytical and experimental models for understanding, predicting and verifying the optimization of software. In her recent work, she developed a unifying framework for optimizations, with model-based strategies that enable compilers to produce higher-quality code and to employ different paradigms than those previously in use.

The Kennedy Award cites Soffa for “contributions to compiler technology and software engineering, exemplary service to the profession and life-long dedication to mentoring and improving diversity in computing.”

Among her other awards, Soffa previously received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from the White House in 1999 and was elected an ACM Fellow the same year. In 2006, she received the Computing Research Association’s Nico Habermann Award for contributions toward increasing the numbers and successes of underrepresented members in the computing research community.

She has held leadership roles in prominent national and international organizations and currently serves on the ACM Publications Board and as an elected member-at-large of the ACM Council. A highly regarded speaker, she has also published more than 150 papers in computing journals and conferences.

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. in mathematics, Soffa received her master’s degree in mathematics from Ohio State University before earning a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh. She was a professor and graduate dean in arts and sciences there before joining U.Va.

The Kennedy Award was established in 2009 to recognize substantial contributions to programmability and productivity in computing and significant community service or mentoring contributions. It was named for the late Ken Kennedy, founder of Rice University’s computer science program and a world expert on high-performance computing.

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