UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Graduating students honored with engineering Awards of Excellence

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By Daniel Li

San Diego, Calif., June 11, 2020-- While graduation celebrations for the Class of 2020 may be different than usual, some things will remain the same, including the high caliber and character of students graduating from UC San Diego with baccalaureate degrees in engineering. 

All of these students have contributed to our Jacobs School of Engineering community in ways big and small, but six students were selected from among their peers to receive an Award of Excellence for their outstanding academic, leadership and community contributions. They received these awards virtually from Dean Albert P. Pisano at the livestreamed Ring Ceremony on Saturday, June 13. Watch a replay of the ceremony here the Jacobs School of Engineering website.

At the Ring Ceremony, graduating seniors also received their class ring, and recited together the Jacobs School of Engineering oath, vowing to practice engineering with integrity and high ethical standards. 

Distinguished student speaker Laura Alejandra Morejon Ramirez, an aerospace engineering graduate, shared the following remarks.

Here are some highlights from the 2020 Jacobs School of Engineering student award winners.

Award for Excellence in Bioengineering

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Almudena Prieto Prieto

Almudena Prieto Prieto’s favorite part about bioengineering is its impact on improving the lives of others through drug treatments and medical devices. Throughout her four years at UC San Diego, Prieto Prieto has been a part of the Biomedical Engineering Society and served as the Translational Medicine Day co-chair her junior year. 

“As TMD co-chair I was able to organize a conference-style event displaying the field of translational medicine and its bench-to-bedside approach that ensures that medical innovation reaches patients and benefits them sooner rather than later,” she said. “Organizing and learning about this event made me realize the importance of timely impact and made me want to focus on practical healthcare innovations that put the patient first.”

While at UC San Diego, Prieto Prieto completed two internships: She worked abroad in Australia and at Tandem Diabetes Care in the research and development department. After graduating, Prieto Prieto will continue her studies at Rice University, pursuing a master’s degree in Medical Innovation to dive deeper into medical technologies, particularly for low resource communities. She hopes to use this knowledge to pursue medical technology development focused on global health to make an impact in communities around the world.

Prieto Prieto explained the importance of branching outside of one’s major and exploring seemingly unrelated topics.

“Many times, I feel like engineering students will not try different specialties or projects because it doesn’t fit their cookie-cutter definition of what they think they are supposed to do based on all these labels,” Prieto Prieto said. “However, in reality, most projects are so interdisciplinary that everyone’s background knowledge can contribute so much. I wished I had had someone tell me that when I began my college career, and that I’d listened because I truly think that one can only learn when they step out of their comfort zone.”

Award for Excellence in Computer Science and Engineering

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Weiyang Wang is obsessed with solving complex problems, which is why he decided to double major in computer science and physics. He spent the majority of his time at UC San Diego conducting circuit-switching research under Professor Alex Snoeren, an experience that helped him discover his interests in research and computer networking. 

At the same time, Wang was a tutor for several computer science classes, including CSE 132A with Professor Victor Vianu and CSE 8B with Professors Paul Cao and Alex Snoeren.

“Our tutoring program is awesome — it gives us a chance to help fellow students to learn, consolidate our knowledge, and meet other amazing peer tutors,” Wang said. 

In the fall, Wang will enroll at MIT for his Ph.D. in computer science, with hopes of becoming a professor. To be successful, Wang explained that it is important to be willing to dive deep into a subject and take advantage of all the resources that the department offers. 

“I never run out of fun things to think about in computer science (and physics), and these interesting problems motivate me to keep exploring,” Wang said. “Hence, my advice would be to realize your motivation and carry on with it.”

Award for Excellence in Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Keshav Rungta

Keshav Rungta was immediately hooked on electrical engineering after taking one of his first ECE classes, ECE5: Making, Breaking and Hacking Stuff. The class reinforced his passion for robotics, and after earning his master’s degree next year as part of the BS/MS program at the Jacobs School, he hopes to enter the robotics industry.  

On campus, Rungta was involved in a variety of organizations, including UC San Diego’s Eta Kappa Nu chapter, and IEEE. He also conducted research under Professor Truong Nguyen on a 3D Scene Reconstruction project, and Professor Dinesh Bharadia on an All Weather Radar Imaging for Autonomous Driving project. His most memorable experience: running H.A.R.D. Hack, one of the largest hardware hackathons. 

“I believe it is the people I met along the way that really made these activities meaningful; it was all of these relationships and the support from all my friends that allowed me to work in so many things,” Rungta said. 

He encourages students to step out of their comfort zones and try something new to gain more experiences.

“The one thing that I would want everyone to keep in mind is to always try something new,” Rungta said. “It will allow one to get out of their comfort zone, meet new people, learn new perspectives, learn new ideas, and gain new experiences.”

Award for Excellence in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

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Barry Lawlor

Mechanical engineering was an attractive major for Barry Lawlor to study in college because he loved working with his hands, understanding mechanisms, and excelled in math and physics. For Lawlor, one of the most rewarding aspects of the field is the ability to study the function of different aspects of the world, and then apply that in practical ways through technology. 

After graduation, Lawlor will be attending California Institute of Technology for his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Civil Engineering. According to Lawlor, his time in Professor Veronica Eliasson's Shocks & Impacts Lab conducting research on experimental mechanics is what inspired him to pursue a Ph.D. 

“Throughout the course of the years, I had the chance to see the full development of an experimental system from initial concept to fine tuning and producing results,” Lawlor said. “Ultimately this was the most instrumental opportunity that led to my pursuit of a Ph.D. after undergrad. I'm so thankful to Dr. Eliasson for her great investment in me and the other undergrads in her lab. I don't know of any other faculty that cares so much about their students and seeks to set them up for success like Dr. Eliasson does!”

His advice to students?

“Seek out challenges early in your career! Eventually, they'll come to you regardless. But struggling through difficult problems and projects early on provides so much more valuable experience than taking things easy on yourself: making future challenges after undergraduate that much more manageable,” Lawlor said. “For sure, there are times to rest, but you have to know that it will never seem convenient to take on these extra challenges.”

Award for Excellence in Nanoengineering

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Leilani Kwe

Leilani Kwe was drawn to nanoengineering because of its interdisciplinary nature and the field’s cutting-edge technology and research. At UC San Diego, Kwe worked in Professor Shaochen Chen's Tissue Engineering Lab for two years, working with engineers to create 3D-bioprinted objects. 

Kwe will be interning at Intel this summer and then returning to UC San Diego to start her master’s degree. She stressed the importance of communicating with peers, mentors, and experienced engineers. For Kwe, reaching out to these more experienced engineers and advisors for advice helped her get a clearer picture of her future goals, and she encourages students to do the same.

“For me, it was difficult to figure out what kind of path I wanted to take with my degree, and many times I wasn't even sure how to set myself apart from other students,” Kwe said. “A previous teaching assistant, Cody Carpenter, nudged me to get into research and build more skills; he explained how I could approach a PI and gave me the confidence to do so. And once in a lab, my Ph.D. mentor showed me how to communicate scientific ideas in a cooperative manner, how to write a resume and answer interview questions, and most importantly, how to better manage a work/life balance.”

Award for Excellence in Structural Engineering

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Jessica Chan

When Jessica Chan started at UC San Diego, she was an engineering science major looking to switch into mechanical engineering. However, after attending a Triton Unmanned Aerial Systems meeting with a friend and joining a project team, she became interested in aerospace composites and structural design. She decided to pursue structural engineering, and the rest is history. 

Since joining Triton UAS, Chan has held multiple leadership roles: Airframe subteam co-lead and project manager. She emphasized that on top of developing hands-on technical skills, Triton UAS has allowed her to gain experience in leadership, management, and communications.

“Most notably, I have also learned how to work with a diverse and interdisciplinary team of students from the computer science, data science, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and structure engineering departments to integrate software, embedded, and airframe systems to create a competitive platform for competition,” Chan said. “Our team provides an opportunity for students to have hands-on experience by making sure that the barrier for entry is low - we don't have any applications or attendance requirements.”

At UC San Diego, Chan also conducted research in Professor Hyonny Kim’s lab, studied abroad in Rome, and participated in Los Alamos Dynamic Summer School. She urges students to get involved on campus right away, and to talk to both professors and teaching assistants. 

“There's a lot of different engineering student project teams to choose from and many professors are happy to offer undergraduate students lab assistant positions in their labs,” Chan said. “If you can, figure out how to do a study abroad program. The effort is really worth the experience. For engineers, one good study abroad program is the Global Seminars, many of which fulfill college specific general education requirements.”

After graduation, Chan looks forward to working at General Atomics as a stress engineer. She hopes to take some time and figure out if she would like to pursue graduate school to branch off either to academia or a federally funded research and development center like NASA.

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