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UW-Eau Claire Senior Wins Prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship

RELEASED: April 13, 2005

Michael LeMayEAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire computer science major — who enrolled in his first university computer science course at the age of 15 — is among the winners of a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Michael D. LeMay, a 20-year-old Eau Claire native who will graduate from UW-Eau Claire in May, is among the 180 NDSEG fellows selected from 3,700 applicants, making him the first UW-Eau Claire student to receive an NDSEG fellowship. LeMay and a UW-Madison student were the only two fellows selected this year from UW campuses, with many of the winners coming from internationally known schools such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

"Once again, a UW-Eau Claire student has been selected for a prestigious award along with students from some of the world's most elite colleges and universities," said Interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson. "These kinds of successes remind us that our top students are as capable and as well prepared as students from any institution in the country. That says a lot about the quality of the students we attract and the strength of our faculty."

The three-year fellowship will pay LeMay's tuition and fees as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He'll also receive a stipend of about $30,000 annually for three years.

"I'm very excited," LeMay said of the fellowship. "This is a big one and Illinois has one of the top computer science graduate programs in the country."

The Department of Defense created the fellowship program as a way to increase the number of U.S. citizens who are trained in 15 science and engineering disciplines of military importance. In the computer and computational sciences discipline, LeMay was one of just 12 fellowship winners. In the last four years, nearly 1,100 students applied in the computer science category, with just 73 (about 7 percent) receiving awards.

Given his abilities, it's not surprising that LeMay was selected, said Andrew Phillips, a professor of computer science and interim associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and dean of Graduate Studies. "Michael is the best student I've ever seen, here or anywhere else, over my 20-year career," he said.

"Ever since Michael started in our program, he's been the top student in every computer science class he has taken and always by a wide margin," Phillips said. "As a 15-year-old college freshman, he left his classmates in awe, not only with regard to his intellectual ability, but also with regard to his humbleness and easy personality."

As a 16-year-old sophomore, LeMay began working with computer science professor Jack Tan on research involving e-mail security. The work resulted in numerous published papers and national presentations, and is now in the process of being patented, LeMay said.

"Michael's innate ability to do quality state-of-the-art research is astounding," Tan said. "He's meticulous, innovative and intelligent, all hallmarks of a great researcher."

Collaborating with LeMay has been a "rich and rewarding experience," Tan said. "He'll be a prolific researcher who will one day be a major contributor in his chosen field."

"The opportunity to do research with faculty is the reason I'm where I am today," LeMay said of the value of UW-Eau Claire's nationally recognized undergraduate research program. "The research I've done here was the key to the fellowship."

LeMay became interested in electronics as a young boy thanks to his father, David LeMay, a long-time employee of Chippewa Falls-based Cray Research. His love of electronics soon included computers. He began programming at age 13 and was interested in computer security issues by age 15.

"My dad has been a big influence in my life," said LeMay, the oldest of six children. "But I also read profusely and that's how I developed my specialized interests. I've developed most of my skills through reading everything I could find."

As a teen, two projects that LeMay entered in a 4-H Club competition at a county fair caught the attention of 4-H judge Susan Harrison, an associate professor of computer science at UW-Eau Claire. One of LeMay's projects was the equivalent of a final project in a college freshman computer science class, Harrison said, adding that she was stunned when LeMay said he'd taught himself programming.

"I've had the pleasure of watching him grow and mature and blossom here," Harrison said. "And it's a delight to think that I had even a small role in this because one summer day I took a few extra minutes to talk with him at the fair and to help open this door."

With Harrison's encouragement and guidance, LeMay, who was home-schooled from 5th through 12th grade, enrolled in his first university computer science class while still 15. He studied at UW-Eau Claire part-time for three semesters, and then enrolled as a full-time student.

"My age was never an issue," LeMay said. "The other students were always very kind and respectful of me. And the faculty treated me like everyone else."

Harrison said that despite his young age, LeMay thrived on campus, quickly becoming a resource and friend to his classmates.

"He's the most humble, polite and respectful young person I've ever met," Harrison said. "He could be another way because of the gifts he's been given but he's not."

For the past two years, LeMay has worked as an intern for Cray Research. This summer he'll work as part of a national, highly competitive computer security internship program. LeMay will then begin his graduate studies in the fall in Illinois.

"Michael has the intellectual, social and communication skills needed to be an outstanding graduate student and a future Ph.D.," Phillips said. "His work ethic is tremendous and he routinely does some of the best work I've ever seen. When he was in my Computer Organization and Design class, he often put together solutions to projects that were better than my own. It's quite humbling when a 16-year-old could easily replace you as the local expert on a subject."

LeMay is focused on computer security research and is exploring career paths within government or industry research laboratories through his summer internship. He also mentioned that teaching at the university level is among the career paths he is considering.

If LeMay decides to teach, he already has one job offer. "I am so confident in his abilities that when he does finish his Ph.D. in computer science, I will aggressively try to hire him into our faculty ranks," Phillips said. "Michael is a sure thing."



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