Zichao (Jack) Wang

PhD Student at Rice University; Machine Learning, Personalized Education


I'm currently a 4rd year PhD student in Electrical Engineering at Rice University, working with Prof. Rich Baraniuk. My research lies at the intersection of machine learning and personalized education, where I develop novel machine learning algorithms to automate certain tasks in large-scale personalized education scenarios. My recent focus has been variational autoencoders and disentangled representation learning for analysing large educational data sets. Previous works include educational text analysis, such as question generation and free response grading.

During my undergraduate days, I specialized in signal processing, where I worked on a variety of real world signal processing problems involving audio and images, with mentorship of Prof. Gary Woods and Prof. Rich Baraniuk.

In summer 2015, I visited the Signal Processing Group at University of Oldenburg in Germany, working with Ante Jukic and Prof. Simon Doclo on speech dereverberation problem.

Research and Projects


A Meta-Learning Augmented Bidirectional Transformer Model for Automatic Short Answer Grading

Z. Wang, A. S. Lan, P. J. Grimaldi, A. E. Waters, and R. G. Baraniuk
Educational Data Mining (EDM), July 2019 (poster)
We explored automatic grading open responses in natural language with a meta-learning augmented BERT model which shows superior performance than BERT without meta-learning.


A Max-Affine Spline Perspective of Recurrent Neural Networks

Z. Wang, R. Balestriero, and R. G. Baraniuk
ICLR 2019
We develop a new framework using max-affine spline operators (MASOs) to provide new insights and improvements to recurrent neural networks.


QG-Net: A Data-Driven Question Generation Model for Educational Content

Z. Wang, W. Nie, A. S. Lan, P. J. Grimaldi, and R. G. Baraniuk
Learning at Scale (L@S) 2018
We develop a model that automatically transforms textbooks contents into homework questions.



A Latent Factor Model for Instructor Content Preference Analysis

Z. Wang, A. S. Lan, P. J. Grimaldi, and R. G. Baraniuk
Educational Data Mining (EDM) 2017
We develop a latent factor model to explain and predict' instructors homework question selection.


Constrained multi-channel linear prediction for adaptive speech dereverberation

A. Jukic, Z. Wang, T. V. Waterschoot, T. Gerkmann, and S. Doclo
IEEE International Workshop on Acoustic Signal Enhancement (IWAENC) 2016
We develop a novel real-time adaptive speech dereverberation algorithm.



EagleEye: Vision-to-Touch Sensory Substitution with the Versatile Extra Sensory Transducer (VEST)

Z. Wang, Z. Zheng, M. Zabala, and R. Grey. Undergraduate capstone project.
Best ECE capstone project award in 2016.
2nd Place in Design Competition at American Society for Artificial Internfal Organs Annual Conference (ASAIO) 2016
We developed a vision to tactile sensory substitution device to help the blind regain a sense of vision.


Microsoft Research Cambridge, Minimum Data AI Project


Research intern supervised by Cheng Zhang, May - August, 2019
Worked on large scale educational data mining using partial variational autoencoders.

Oldenburg University, Signal Processing Group


Undergrad research intern supervised by Ante Jukic, May - Aug, 2015
Worked on experiments and implementation of online adaptive speech dereverberation algorithms.


Rice University - Houston, TX

Rice University

Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, 2016 - Present
B.S. Electrical Engineering (Magna Cum Laude), 2012 - 2016

University of Leipzig, Germany

Northwestern University

German language studies at Goethe-Institute, May - August 2013
Completed German B1 and B2 level courses
With full scholarship

No.1 Middle School Affiliated to CCNU, Wuhan, China

Northwestern University

High School Diploma, 2009 - 2012
Model United Nations Club
President of Student Science Club

Honors and Awards

First Place, Electrical Engineering Senior Design Award, 2016
Second Place, ASAIO Student Design Competition, 2016
Senior Merit Award in Engineering, 2016
First Place, IEEE Region 5 Conference Student Paper Competition, 2015
First Place, Rice Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition, 2015
German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) RISE Scholarship, 2015
Louis J. Walsh Scholarship from Rice School of Engineering, 2015
35th Place Worldwide (top 2%), IEEEXtreme 24-Hour Coding Competition, 2015
Critical Language Scholarship from Rice (supports summer German language study in Leipzig, Germany), 2013
Lady Geddes Essay Prize from Rice English Department (first International student to receive this award), 2013
Membership of Eta Kappa Nu, Tau Beta Pi, Phi Beta Kappa


Fellow, Data to Knowledge (D2K) Lab, Fall 2019 - present
TA, ELEC 425/554 Computer Architecture, Rice University, Fall 2017
Co-Instructor, COLL 199 Intro to Computer Music, Rice University, Spring 2016 [syllabus]
TA, ELEC 301 Signal and Systems on EdX, Rice University, Spring 2015
TA, ELEC 241 Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering on Coursera, Rice University, Spring 2014

Outside Academics


Ignite Scholar, Ignite Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship Trek

Joined a group of MBA and engineering students on a tour to silicon Valley, visiting startups and talking to entrepreneurs. cool pic #1 | cool pic #2 | cool pic #3


Violinist, Campanile Orchestra

Campanile Orchestra composes entirely of non-music major students. I was a violinist in the string section for one academic year, and performed 4 concerts. cool pic


Volunteer, Mission:Wolf

Travelled to Mission:Wolf, a wolf sanctuary near Westcliffe in Colorado. I built an entire lighting system for the visitor centor, in addition to feeding wolves and other chores daily. cool pic #1 | cool pic #2 | cool pic #3

More About Me

I come from Wuhan (武汉), a city with almost the same weather and latitude as that of Houston (we've got real winter in Wuhan, though!).

I can speak English, Chinese and a bit German. I was in Germany for two out of my only three summers when I was undergrad, primarily because of my interest in the language, music and culture and the research program. Of course, I made well use of my time in Europe to explore many cities and countries.

I enjoy playing the violin and basketball (go Rockets!) In my spare time.