Daniele Moro, a sophomore in Boise State’s Honors College, has joined an elite group. He’s been named a Goldwater Scholar — one of just 211 in the 2018-2019 academic year.
The award, named for former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, recognizes American undergraduates studying natural sciences, mathematics or engineering. Moro is majoring in computer science with a minor in applied mathematics. He was selected from a field of 1,280 students nominated by campus representatives from over 2,000 colleges and universities. The scholarship provides $7,500 toward educational expenses.
Moro, now 17, was born in Italy. He moved to Boise with his family when he was 7 after his father took a job at Micron. Moro began building low-cost wireless weather stations when he was still in junior high as part of a STEM research and education program initiated by the Boise State Geoscience Department. He’s a graduate of Timberline High School in Boise.
He received a scholarship to attend the 2017 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute Summer Scholars program. Only 11 students out of over 1500 applications are selected for this scholarship. While there, he built a neural network to control soft robotic hands. Moro is currently working with Casey Kennington, an assistant professor in Boise State’s Department of Computer Science, to build a machine learning system that uses tendon activation data and visual features to understand the semantics behind hand gestures.
“In the broadest sense, I’m working on artificial intelligence,” said Moro. “I’m working to try to make computers understand human body language so that humans and computers and robots can augment each other, help each other, and do better things.”
It may be obvious to say that Moro is a fast learner, said Kennington. What might not be as obvious is Moro’s enthusiasm for learning things on his own. He’s not afraid of self-directed study and doesn’t take information at face value.
“I always have to back up what I say,” said Kennington.
Moro said he’s always liked to work on his own projects.
“We live in an age when the entirety of the world’s knowledge can be accessed through a phone in our pocket. So why not go out and try to learn as much as possible?” Moro said.
His relationship with Kennington is such that he’s comfortable sharing his opinions and asking pointed questions. That has influenced the direction of his research, said Kennington. The two have written a paper together and are waiting to hear if it will be published. It’s rare, said Kennington, to work so closely with a student, especially one as young as Moro.
“But he’s willing to put in the time and now here is the result…in terms of research productivity, he’s on par with someone who’s finishing their master’s degree.”
Kate Huebschmann, academic and fellowships advisor at the Boise State Honors College, agreed that Moro has the “maturity and vision of a much older student.”
“Applying for Goldwater can be a grueling process, and he continually impressed me with his eagerness to incorporate as much feedback as we could provide. His long list of achievements are a credit to his intelligence and discipline, but they do not fully convey his humility and the appreciation he shows to those who have guided him along the way,” Huebschmann said.
Moro is the president of Boise State’s chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a group of about 120 fellow students.
“It allows me to engage with my community, to get to know and talk to engineers around me,” said Moro.
The group, whose membership has grown by more than 70 percent under Moro’s leadership, hosted 19 events this year, including visits from guest speakers, workshops and tours to sites like Idaho Power, Micron and labs on campus.
This summer, Moro will continue his engineering and design work at a Silicon Valley startup through the competitive Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers Fellowship Program. Moro was among 53 fellows chosen from 3,000 applicants at 250 universities.
His ultimate goal is to get a Ph.D. in machine learning. He wants to one day lead a machine learning and robotics lab that studies multimodal methods of interaction, artificial intelligence systems, and natural language techniques to build robots that operate in intelligent, versatile, and intuitive ways.
“Research fascinates me, but I really want to work in cutting-edge technology,” said Moro. “I don’t think I would be happy with a typical coding job. I want to be challenged and pushed.”
Moro is the seventh Boise State student to receive the award since 1991. Previous Boise State winners were selected in 1991, 2004, 2007 (two awards), 2009, and 2014. Boise State has also earned two honorable mentions during that time. Sarah Rehn was Boise State’s most recent Goldwater Scholar, earning the honor in 2014.
Read more about Moro on his LinkedIn profile.