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Jessy Ayala, a software engineering Ph.D. student in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), has been awarded the Eugene Cota-Robles (ECR) fellowship, the most prestigious diversity fellowship offered at UC Irvine. This award, named in honor of one of the earliest Mexican-American professors in the University of California System, puts students interested in careers in academic teaching and research on a fast-track toward completing their doctoral degree.

“I was ecstatic to find out that I received this fellowship,” says Ayala, who previously worked as an associate cybersecurity engineer at Insulet, securing medical devices for people who have diabetes. “The Eugene Cota-Robles fellowship will help me refine my research niche and complete core requirements during my first year and really focus on dissertation work during my fourth year.” In the first and fourth years, the Graduate Division will cover fees and tuition and provide a $25,000 stipend as part of the fellowship. During the second, third and fifth years, ICS is obligated to provide funding at an equivalent level of support — through teaching assistant (TA) or graduate student researcher (GSR) funding, for example — as well as provide at least $3,000 per summer.

“I am grateful to have the opportunity to grow as a researcher without having to worry about the financial component post-secondary education comes with,” says Ayala. “As an underrepresented student, this especially means a lot to me.” Ayala is a Mexican-American who grew up in Southeast San Diego but has roots in Baja California. He is a first-generation college student who will be the first in his family to earn a Ph.D.

Ayala’s research is centered around addressing, exploring and revealing security concerns in real-world software and systems. “In particular, I am interested in open-source technologies, as there are many unaddressed questions in quantifying security and privacy risks from an interdisciplinary perspective,” he says. “Taking this approach will not only provide guidance to start answering these questions, but also provide results that have an impact on the open-source community and developers alike for a better future in secure software development.”

Ayala recently earned his M.S. in cybersecurity from NYU. “Software engineering is a field that naturally becomes intriguing while studying computer science, but it is the amazing people at UCI who do research in the area that led me to this [Ph.D.] program,” he says. “Having a software engineering lens for security problems gives potential for tools and studies that address real-world problems software developers face.”

— Shani Murray

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