University of Texas at Austin


Unlocking Potential: Insights from the Moncrief Interns of 2023

By Rebecca Riley

Published Jan. 16, 2024

Harsha Harish presenting his poster, "Goal-Oriented Derivative Informed Neural Operators," to Dr. Karen Willcox, and Khushi Hiremath presenting her research poster, "A Machine Learning Model for Identification of Blood Brain Barrier Opening Compounds."

The Moncrief Undergraduate Summer Internship Program at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin serves as a platform for students to immerse themselves in cutting-edge research across mathematics, science, and engineering. This program allows undergraduates to collaborate with faculty and research staff, contributing to impactful research projects during the summer months.

Interns participating in the program engage in a wide array of research activities spanning the diverse disciplines of computational science and engineering, including energy and ecological studies, advanced materials, biomedical research, nanomanufacturing, and autonomous systems. Two students, Harsha Harish and Khushi Hiremath, who participated in the program last summer, shared their experiences to provide a glimpse into the depth and breadth of research within the institute.

For students potentially interested in this line of work, there are few programs in the country that can expose undergrads to so much in so little time.

— Oden Institute Core Faculty Member Tom Yankeelov

Harsha Harish, a mathematics and computer science major, worked on a project centered around goal-oriented derivative-informed neural operators. These operators aim to augment the generalization and accuracy of neural networks by incorporating information about function derivatives. Harsha's research focused on PDE-constrained optimization problems. 

"The general trend that we found was that it's very dependent on the type of PDE and the type of quantity of interest," he explained. "I enjoyed having Dr. Omar Ghattas as a mentor. He's very nice, very helpful, and gives great guidance."

Khushi Hiremath, a biomedical engineering major, found the Moncrief Internship Program through her research at the Oden Institute. 

“Originally, I worked in Dr. Tom Yankeelov’s lab at the Oden Institute during the school year,” she explains. “They informed me about the Moncrief summer program, and I decided to apply. While the computational research project was along the same lines, it was in a different context, broadening my perspective on the field.”

During the internship, Khushi worked under the supervision of Dr. Aaron Baker to create a machine learning model for molecular property prediction related to the blood-brain barrier. Her goal was to identify drugs that could open the barrier, potentially aiding in the treatment of neurological diseases.

Reflecting on her journey, Khushi stated, "I struggled with imposter syndrome initially, because I knew that I didn’t have any lab experience. But, going through this summer program, I learned that everyone starts at the same point and that I have my own unique ideas and interests to contribute.”

As the Moncrief Undergraduate Summer Internship Program continues to evolve, the narratives of Harsha and Khushi provide valuable insights. 

“The Moncrief Summer Internship is a phenomenal way for students to experience both the depth and breadth of computational modeling and how it impacts the world,” said Dr. Tom Yankeelov who is Director of the Center for Computational Oncology at the Oden Institute. 

“In addition to working on a project specific to their own interests, they can also learn how mathematical and computational modeling and the associated high performance computing facilities are used to attack problems ranging from protein folding to galaxy formation and everything in between,” he explained. “For students potentially interested in this line of work, there are few programs in the country that can expose undergrads to so much in so little time.”

For participants like Harsha and Khushi, the program acts as a pivotal stepping stone, guiding them towards Ph.D. programs, industry internships, and other research opportunities. Reflecting on how her summer experience has influenced her career aspirations, Khushi said, “The internship has influenced me to apply for opportunities aligned with similar projects. The experience was eye-opening."

Interested in applying to the Moncrief Internship Program before the deadline on February 1, 2024? Check out the application criteria for the Summer 2024 program at