Catherine Zhao appointed Dean’s Fellow for College’s AI strategy

Department of Computer Science & Engineering (CS&E) Associate Professor Catherine Qi Zhao has been appointed a Dean’s Fellow in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). During this two semester role, she will work closely with CSE Associate Dean for Research Joseph Konstan on shaping the college’s strategy around artificial intelligence (AI).

As a Dean’s Fellow, Zhao will be responsible for assessing the strategic significance of AI within the college, executing a comprehensive analysis to understand how AI can become a fundamental component of contemporary education, research and administrative processes. The key objective is to identify areas where strategic interventions at the college level could make a meaningful impact.

“We will look at how the college can support and collaborate with labs to integrate AI seamlessly,” said Zhao. “This collaborative effort will involve multiple departments to develop and execute strategic initiatives to harness AI and enhance our productivity and visibility. More specifically, we have recognized the importance of integrating ethics in AI applications.”

With the recent national call for ethical considerations in AI, Zhao’s work will leverage expertise from various domains, including AI researchers, users of AI, and specialists in law and policy. These efforts aim to augment existing college and campus initiatives to drive the ethical AI agenda forward. As a first step, Zhao and Konstan are organizing an ethical AI panel as part of the Research Ethics Week at the University of Minnesota in order to encourage collaboration and dialogue around this topic.

“It’s really a golden time for AI,” Zhao said. “The exponential expansion of data and computational power has propelled the development of today's sophisticated AI tools. While some are already accessible for widespread use, many more are in the pipeline. It is clear that AI is rapidly changing people’s daily life.”

Zhao is a computer scientist specializing in computer vision and machine learning. Her work bridges the theoretical foundations and practical implementations of AI, with a keen focus on developing machine intelligence by blending AI with human intelligence. Through her research, Zhao aims to create AI solutions that are not only technologically advanced but also trustworthy, ensuring positive outcomes.  

“Eventually, we want AI to be impactful and collaborative,” Zhao said. “Within our college, the emphasis lies in cultivating AI initiatives that align with our core missions in higher education and research. This endeavor provides a platform to explore diverse pathways for integrating AI. As an AI researcher, I am thrilled by the transformative potential AI holds for the future of education.”

Learn more about Zhao and her research group.