W&L’s Katie Yurechko Among 2024 Class of Marshall Scholars Yurechko ’24 is the university’s first Marshall Scholar.
“I am eager to continue pursuing socially impactful research to combat algorithmic injustice alongside a community of diverse and compassionate individuals.”
~ Katie Yurechko ’24
Kathryn (Katie) Yurechko ’24, a computer science and philosophy double major, is Washington and Lee University’s first Marshall Scholar.
The British Government announced Dec. 11 that Yurechko, 22, of Havre de Grace, Maryland, was one of 51 scholars chosen this year to begin graduate studies next fall at universities across the United Kingdom. The scholarship fully funds one to three years of study, which Yurechko will spend at the University of Oxford and University College London.
The Marshall Scholarship program was created in 1953 by an Act of British Parliament as a thank-you to former U.S. Secretary of State General George Marshall and the United States for assistance under the Economic Recovery Act, better known as the Marshall Plan. The scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit, leadership potential and ambassadorial potential.
“When I found out I had been selected, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Yurechko. “I am eager to continue pursuing socially impactful research to combat algorithmic injustice alongside a community of diverse and compassionate individuals.”
At Oxford, Yurechko plans to pursue a master’s degree in social science of the internet, followed by a master’s degree in computer science at University College London. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, she will build on her undergraduate studies by exploring unjust social media algorithms and inadequate algorithmic content moderation. Specifically, Yurechko is interested in how to eradicate the unjust, algorithmic silencing of marginalized voices on social media while increasing the moderation of hateful content that often targets marginalized groups.
“Our world needs more daring souls who carry a social justice emphasis into computer science, and I cannot think of a better place to learn from such people than the United Kingdom and its advanced social media regulatory landscape,” said Yurechko. “The interdisciplinary Oxford Internet Institute and highly technical University College London computer science curriculum will not only equip me with new research methods that are especially relevant to the study of social media, but will also challenge me to learn how to apply the most effective and respectful methods to user studies examining such sensitive topics as online abuse.”
A Bonner Scholar, Yurechko’s noteworthy work on and around W&L’s campus is marked by her passion for centering and supporting the work of others. She advocates for increased self-care opportunities for her fellow students as the first-ever Group Exercise Program meditation instructor, serves as the president of the Nabors Service League, and is co-president of the Volunteer Venture Program, vice president of Campus Kitchen and a student representative on the Shepherd Poverty Studies Program Advisory Board.
Yurechko has also long demonstrated a commitment to equity and justice in technology. She regularly plans and leads coding activities for girls in the Rockbridge area through her role as a computer science co-chair of Women in Technology and Science. She participated in Google’s Computer Science Research Mentorship Program that supports the pursuit of computing research for students from historically marginalized groups and is on the University of Washington’s AccessComputing team to help improve the experience of students with disabilities in computing classrooms, research and industry.
“Katie is conscientious and self-aware, remaining committed to putting people first in her work and her life,” said Marisa Charley, associate director of the Shepherd Program at W&L. “Her passion for tech equity and complex understanding of the problems associated with poverty and inequalities will no doubt provide her with a foundation to become a leader in her academic field and in applied solutions that facilitate healthier, more just communities.”
Yurechko’s extensive research experience will lend itself well to her future studies through the Marshall program. During the summer of 2022, she served as a research intern in Carnegie Mellon University’s Media, Interaction and Technology Lab, where she investigated “algospeak,” an emerging phenomenon in which social media creators alter their language to avoid the algorithmic suppression of their content. This experience inspired her to investigate how social media algorithms can be used to empower users rather than exploit them. While conducting research in the University of Washington’s Social Futures Lab this past summer, she worked with her research team to develop an interactive machine learning tool to help address marginalized social media creators’ experience with online harassment.
Yurechko’s research has been published online in Sage Journal’s “Social Media and Society,” and she has presented at numerous national and international conferences, including the 2023 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Web Conference at the University of Texas at Austin, an international academic conference focusing on the future direction of the World Wide Web.
Sara Sprenkle, associate professor of computer science at W&L, describes Yurechko as a “rock star” and admires her enthusiasm and ambition. This is a familiar sentiment among many of Yurechko’s professors and mentors who have witnessed her passion for computer science and how it relates to other fields.
“Katie could not be a more responsible, bright and curious student, and she leads by example,” said Stuart Gray, associate professor of politics at W&L. “I am proud to have witnessed her deep commitment to an academic path that allows her to benefit those around her, especially as it pertains to the intersection of technology and ethics.”
Yurechko, a Johnson Scholar who graduated from the John Carroll School, was one of 30 W&L juniors to be initiated in spring 2023 to Phi Beta Kappa, the national academic honor society, and one of 18 W&L juniors selected in spring 2023 for Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society. She is also a member of Phi Sigma Tau, the international philosophy honor society, and received the university’s James McDowell Scholarship for top academic achievement.
“Katie possesses an exceptional ability to perceive the intersection between academia and advocacy,” said W&L President William C. Dudley, “and to recognize that new scholarly approaches can advance important conversations inside and outside the academy. Her plan to use the tools of computer science to explore issues of equity in social media is promising and innovative. She will be a tremendous ambassador for the Marshall Scholarship and for Washington and Lee.”
Upon learning of her Marshall Scholarship, Yurechko expressed appreciation for her network of support. “I am overwhelmingly thankful for my professors, mentors, friends and family who have supported me throughout my undergraduate career and will no doubt continue to be a source of encouragement and guidance as I embark on this next adventure.”