Hu named D2K director

Rice computer scientist succeeds Genevera Allen, founder of data science education lab.

Xia “Ben” Hu standing outside under a tree

Xia “Ben” Hu, associate professor of computer science (CS), has been named the new director of the Data to Knowledge Lab (D2K) at Rice.

“Ben is the right choice for being the new director, given his expertise in data mining, data science and machine learning. Ben is no stranger to the D2K, having participated in its activities since he joined Rice a year ago,” said Luay Nakhleh, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering.

Hu will succeed D2K founder and faculty director Genevera Allen, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, of statistics and of CS. Allen started D2K in 2018. The center was supported by a $4 million gift from Rice alumnus Kevin Harvey and his wife Catherine Harvey.

“D2K was conceived, implemented and brought to a huge success by Genevera,” Nakhleh said. “She stepped down from her role as director effective June 15. We are indebted to her for this great program that has impacted thousands of students and will impact even more in the future.”

Hu earned his Ph.D. in CS from Arizona State University in 2015. His research focuses on interpretable machine learning, automated machine learning and network analytics.

“I am honored and humbled to be named director of the D2K Lab,” Hu said. “It has directly influenced thousands of students through data science courses, co-curricular programs and events. There are challenges ahead, but this is a golden age for our students and researchers, who are transforming rich data to actionable, valuable knowledge.

“We will ensure the continuity of the momentum into our next giant leaps, in partnership with other teams across campus, making Rice a hub for interdisciplinary data science education, research and innovation.”

Before joining the Rice faculty in 2021, Hu was an associate professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M where he directed the DATA (Data Analytics at Texas A&M) Lab.

“Experiential learning is a hallmark of our engineering education,” Nakhleh said, “and D2K plays a crucial role in delivering it. The D2K is a school-wide program serving students from many majors outside engineering as well. It will be administering the data science minor as well, effective July 1.”

Hu has published more than 100 papers in major academic venues, led the research and development of the most-used automated deep learning software, AutoKeras, and is the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award and ACM SIGKDD Rising Star Award. His work has been cited more than 14,700 times and has an h-index of 50.

Hu’s research has been supported by DARPA, NSF and such industrial sponsors as Adobe, Apple, Alibaba, Google, LinkedIn and JP Morgan.

In addition to being an academic leader, Hu was co-recipient earlier this year of a highly competitive NSF Small Business Innovation Research grant to further his tech startup,, an automated machine-learning platform for edge devices.