Alumni Spotlight Profile

Avner May ‘05

As a student at CESJDS, Avner May ‘05 loved math. He was a member of the math team where he created the “Problem of the Month” giving chocolate bars to anyone who could solve the mathematical equations he posted through the halls. Fast forward 18 years and Avner has transformed this passion into a successful career as a Research Scientist on Google’s speech recognition team.

Following his time as a lifer at JDS, Avner went on to study math at Harvard University with a minor in computer science. After graduating from Harvard, he worked at Microsoft in Seattle as a software engineer. In 2011, he returned to school receiving his MS/PhD in computer science at Columbia University followed by a Postdoctoral Scholarship at Stanford University’s computer science department. Since 2020, Avner has been working with his team at Google to incorporate information from videos of people speaking (e.g., lip movements)  to improve speech recognition systems. This research could improve captioning for platforms such as YouTube and Google Meet, and  the ability of Google Assistant devices to understand users even in noisy environments.

During his career, Avner has published many academic papers in his area of expertise. He says that it is critical to be a clear writer to be able to pass the peer review phase. He credits the foundation of his analytical thinking and writing skills to his JDS English classes.

At JDS, Avner was particularly inspired by Jewish ethics and critical thinking skills that formed a foundational part of his identity. He can recall learning about the importance of treating everyone the way he would like to be treated and the importance of asking questions and challenging the status quo, like Abraham had in the Torah. Today, these values still guide Avner in his day to day.

Avner considers the friendships that he made at JDS to be amongst the most important in his life. Judaism and JDS taught him the importance of community and family. He is very close with his family, including his two sisters Yael May ‘02 and Orly May ‘06 who are also JDS lifers. They often spend holidays together, including this past year at Pesach. He continues to be in contact with many of his classmates from the Class of 2005 and frequently sees those that live near him in Brooklyn. Additionally, he is a member of the Prospect Heights Shul, where the Rabbi is Jon Leener ‘06.

Today, Avner loves outdoor activities including backpacking, mountaineering, snowboarding, and biking. He is passionate about conservation and sustainability, working to keep the planet beautiful and limit the footprint that we leave on it. He does his part by keeping his number of physical purchases to a minimum and eating vegan/vegetarian.

As a way to give back to JDS, Avner joined the Lion’s Den five-year giving society exclusively for JDS alumni. Avner says that JDS was the foundational community of his childhood and adolescence and it’s a pleasure to give back.

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