Wenzhao LiWenzhao Li, Ph.D. from the Computational and Data Sciences (CADS) program is the recipient of Chapman University’s 2020 James L. Doti Outstanding Graduate Student Award in the doctoral category.

The Doti Award is the highest honor for graduate students at Chapman University. It is given out annually to one doctoral and one master’s student. The Doti Award trophy, incorporating artist Nick Hernandez’s sculpture Emergence, remains on permanent exhibit in Argyros Forum. The recipients of the Doti Award receive a $1,000 cash award and a replica of the Emergence sculpture, crafted by the artist himself. 

“I am deeply honored to receive the James L. Doti Outstanding Graduate Student Award. The award means all the challenging and fruitful work from these past years [has been] recognized by my peers at Chapman. Meanwhile, it encourages me as a great start for my career after the Ph.D. training,” shared Dr. Li.

Dr. Li defended his dissertation in fall 2019, and his Ph.D. degree was conferred in January 2020. His dissertation was entitled, “Employing Earth Observations and Artificial Intelligence to Address Key Global Environmental Challenges in Service of the SDGs,” which shows the intersection between earth observation and artificial intelligence can help people face environmental challenges. Both NASA and Bloomberg Environmental have highlighted Dr. Li’s impactful research. 

Dr. Li explains, “Doing research is challenging and exciting. It is not only reviewing the past but looking forward to the future. You will never get bored and there are always new things to explore. Lastly, research brings the people together who sincerely share the same interests and dedications. It introduces you to great people!” 

Dr. Li came to Chapman in 2015 excited to join Dr. Hesham El-Askary’s team to carry out interdisciplinary research on data science, earth observation, and artificial intelligence to support the newly-released UN’s 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs). In his time at Chapman, Dr. Li has co-authored 9 peer-reviewed publications, primarily in top-tier journals, including 6 first-authored publications, along with a few book chapters. He has also presented at over a dozen international conferences. 

“Wenzhao proves to me day by day that he is an independent scientist who is able to think critically and always ask the right questions. I enjoyed mentoring him as a Ph.D. student and currently collaborating with him as a colleague,” noted Dr. El-Askary. 

Following his degree conferral in January, Dr. Li started working as a postdoctoral researcher at Chapman to continue his research on SDGs with earth observation and artificial intelligence. He hopes to include new mathematical tools in his research to improve the explainability of the artificial intelligence to scientific research to positively contribute to the research community. Specifically, he would like to look at the interaction of climate change, drought, and dust storms in the arid/semi-arid regions of the world. 

Dr. Li wanted to share his gratitude to his Ph.D. dissertation committee, Dr. Olga Kalashnikova, and Michael Garay from JPL, Dr. Venkataraman Lakshmi, from the University of Virginia, as well as Dr. Thomas Piechota and Dr. Daniele Struppa. “In particular, I would like to recognize my advisor Professor Hesham El-Askary for his enduring inspiration and guidance to my study. Finally, I would like to show my deep appreciation to my wife, Bonnie, who has been a firm support to me and taking care of our newly-born son, Nehemiah.”

Congratulations again to Dr. Li! We are thrilled that he will be staying at Chapman University. We know he will continue to do remarkable things to enhance our research opportunities for our students in the sciences. 

Cover Photo: Dr. Wenzhao Li with Dr. Hesham El-Askary