How mentorship and a transformative graduate experience inspired alum Brian Levine to build a legacy of socially responsible innovation

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If UC Santa Cruz alumnus Brian Levine (Ph.D. ’99, Computer Engineering; MS ’96, Computer Engineering) had to describe his graduate experience in one or two words, it would be life changing.

Arriving at UC Santa Cruz immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Albany, Levine had no idea what he wanted to do for the rest of his life – a feeling commonly shared by many 21-year-olds.

A keen interest in computer science and engineering research and a desire to be close to Silicon Valley led Levine to cross the country to join the Baskin School of Engineering’s Computer Engineering master’s program. For several years, he worked closely with his mentor professor JJ Garcia-Luna-Aceves, a distinguished professor of computer science and engineering, to obtain a master’s and a doctorate in computer engineering. Levine explained that his time at UCSC was crucial.

“I credit everything to my adviser JJ. He took a chance on me — only 21 when I first met him — and for that I’m incredibly grateful,” Levine said. “I learned lifelong knowledge from him, and the mentorship and encouragement I received during my time as a graduate student made it easier for me to choose academia over industry.”

Career niche: academia

When Levine graduated from UCSC, many of his peers were accepting job offers from Silicon Valley startups. The dotcom era has provided new graduates with exciting opportunities to join the industry; however, Levine was only interested in one career path.

“My time at UCSC inspired me to become a professor. I wanted to try to have at least a fraction of the same impact that JJ and all the other professors at Baskin Engineering had on me.

Choosing academia over industry meant Levine could pursue research into peer-to-peer networks, transferring and sharing content across multiple platforms, and helping students gain an engineering background so they can continue to have a positive impact on society. The humanistic impact of engineering has always been the most important driving factor for Levine’s teaching and research.

Levine joined the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) in 1999 as an assistant professor of computer science. In 2010, he was elevated to full professorship at Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences. He is the founding director of the UMass Amherst Cybersecurity Institute and co-directs the UMass Amherst Rescue Lab.

Socially responsible and high-impact research

Levine studies computer network security, privacy and forensics. His recent work has focused on combating online child exploitation and other topics including network privacy, mobile networks and cryptoeconomics.

Levine has repeatedly observed that while new networking technologies such as peer-to-peer networks and mobile apps bring many benefits, they also raise privacy concerns for children. Noting that children are at a much higher risk of being exploited online, Levine focused on how law enforcement handles crimes against children, especially crimes related to sharing of material. sexual exploitation of children (CSAM). Recognizing the lack of tools available to identify perpetrators and prevent child exploitation, Levine and his team of Rescue Lab researchers offered to help.

Levine regularly partners with the FBI and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force program to develop network forensics tools that help identify and apprehend child sexual abuse suspects.

“Re-victimization is common for victims of child exploitation, resulting in lifelong and sometimes worse trauma,” Levine said. “Our goal is to stop the sharing of content and bring justice to victims of crime. Often when law enforcement suspects someone is sharing sexually abusive material, they find the victim in that residence. This area of ​​research is important in finding ways to prevent these crimes from happening.

The digital forensics tools developed by Levine and his team are used nationally and internationally, helping to rescue hundreds of children from sexually abusive situations. Another area of ​​privacy research Levine is currently investigating is the dangers of social networking apps for teens. He’s working on science-based observation tools that can decipher the most problematic apps to help educate families and protect the safety and privacy of teen and tween users.

Honoring an engineering legacy for good

Levine has published over 100 papers and received numerous awards, including an NSF CAREER Award (2002), UMass Amherst Spotlight Scholar recognition (2016), and the IEEE Infocom Test of Time Award (2017). He became a Fellow of ACM in 2020 “for his contributions to forensics, network security and privacy, and combating crimes against children.”

During Alumni Week, Levine will be honored as a 2022 Distinguished Graduate Alumnus of the Baskin School of Engineering, an annual recognition given to a former Baskin School of Engineering graduate student who has made a major contribution to the industry or in the fields of education and research. Levine will be celebrated for his engineering for the pedagogical approach to social good and his high-impact research.

“Going to UCSC changed my life, and it’s been absolutely amazing to be recognized for my efforts ever since,” Levine said.

The Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni Awards Ceremony, honoring distinguished graduate students from each academic division, will take place on Saturday, April 23. Register for the event.

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