Siblings pursue parallel doctoral degrees

Megan Gent
August 20, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Many students follow in their siblings’ footsteps when attending Penn State, but few share their graduate experience simultaneously. This fall, siblings Adaku Uchendu and Uchendu Uchendu will both be pursuing their doctoral degrees at the College of Information Sciences and Technology when Uchendu begins his studies at University Park.

Adaku, Uchendu's sister, has been working toward her doctorate in information sciences and technology since 2018.

Brother and sister Adaku and Uchendu Uchendu

Adaku (left) and Uchendu Uchendu.

IMAGE: Provided

“[Adaku] is someone that can give me advice and keep me in check,” Uchendu said. “Having my sister here is [going to be] really fun because she always helps me focus on going to a place where I really need to get the job done.”

Originally born in Washington, D.C., the Uchendus spent much of their grade-school years living in Nigeria. Though they spent summers in the United States, it was after high school that they moved back permanently. They both attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where Adaku earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2018 and Uchendu in information systems in 2020.

Uchendu, who had never considered graduate school, said watching his sister succeed at Penn State has inspired him to follow in her footsteps.

“I began to see the advantages of getting a Ph.D. from watching my sister, and I began to see it in a different light,” he said.

“She kind of sold it for me," he added. "I applied to a couple other schools for graduate school, but she really made me see [Penn State] as my top choice.”

Along with Adaku’s influence, his involvement with the Louis Stokes Alliance Minority Program also inspired Uchendu to attend Penn State. Through this program, Uchendu was able to conduct research with Jianwu Wang, a UMBC assistant professor, obtain research funding and attend graduate school workshops.

Adaku, a McNair Scholar, was encouraged to attend graduate school through that program — its main goal is to encourage underrepresented students to pursue graduate degrees. In collaboration with Dongwon Lee, associate professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State, and the PIKE Research Group, Adaku’s current work focuses on machine-text detection — which stems from Lee’s previous work surrounding fake news.

“My work focuses on, ‘Can we distinguish between human-written text and machine-generated text?’ I look at all forms,” Adaku said. “I previously worked on sports articles generated by the machines. In that work, we also looked at sports and financial reports.”

She added, “Then, the next work I did was on chatbots. So, if a human being is talking to a chatbot, can my model detect which is the human speaking and which is the machine?”

Her most recent work explored authorship attribution, comparing state-of-the-art natural language generators (NLG) that generate long, coherent text to human-written articles of comparable length.

Uchendu’s studies will focus on different topics when he begins his research on human-computer interaction with Ben Hanrahan, assistant professor of information sciences and technology.

“We're going to be focusing on a project which gives drivers and passengers more autonomy in ride-hailing platforms,” Uchendu explained. “Basically, the research that [Hanrahan] wants me to look into now is having workers have more autonomy with the apps that they use to get work.”

Due to a recent change to the name of the doctoral degree offered by the College of IST, Adaku will earn a doctor of philosophy in information sciences and technology, while Uchendu will earn a doctor of philosophy in informatics.

Through sharing educational journeys, a State College apartment, and a hobby of collecting model cars, both said they are excited to have each other’s support at Penn State and look forward to the year ahead.

“[Attending Penn State together] will also be helpful for [Adaku], just having her little brother,” Uchendu concluded with a laugh. “I know I'm a good companion.”

Last Updated April 15, 2021