News Release

Eight Students Receive Engineering Leadership Award

San Diego, Calif., May 16, 2017 – Five engineering undergraduate and three engineering graduate students were recognized for their outstanding leadership skills at the 8th Annual Engineering Leadership Awards Celebration, which took place May 12, 2017 at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Presented by the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center, the awards recognize engineering undergraduate and graduate students and professionals for leadership and communication skills, teamwork ability, and engineering excellence demonstrated through implementation of technical solutions in competitions or real-world challenges.

Each awardee was nominated by faculty, industry partners and peers and received monetary awards, along with the title of Gordon Fellow.

“Our role at the Bernard and Sophia Gordon Engineering Leadership Center is to identify and train effective engineering leaders,” said Dr. Ebonee Williams, Executive Director for the center. “The awards are an extension of this mission – they serve to enhance the exceptional engineering leadership, talent and technology that fuel our region and the nation.”

The awardees, along with their bios, are listed below.


Graduate Awards


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Kara Johnson (R.B. WOOLLEY AWARD) - Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Kara Johnson (R.B. WOOLLEY AWARD) - Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Advisor: Dr. Sheng Zhong, Ph.D., Prof. Bioengineering

Kara Johnson is focused on developing nucleic acid-based technologies for examining protein-protein interaction in cellular networks, which would allow for an entire cell to be queried in one assay.  She sits on two advisory boards; Institute of Engineering in Medicine and Clairemont High School Engineering Academy.  Kara is dedicated to making an impact on science by volunteering her time through leadership and outreach to children and graduate students.


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Martin Spang - Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Martin Spang - Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Advisor: Dr. Karen L. Christman, Ph.D., Prof. Bioengineering

Martin Spang is designing formations of biomaterials – naturally-derived hydrogels – to treat the heart through injection after a heart attack. His leadership has led to collaboration with physicians to integrate this material into future surgeries and to develop real-time imagery of the drug delivery. As president of the Bioengineering Graduate Society he has launched new programs to support current and future graduate students.  His continued dedication to the next generation is evident through the number of mentees and outreach activities in which participates.


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Antonella Wilby - Ph.D. Candidate, Computer Science

Antonella Wilby - Ph.D. Candidate, Computer Science

Advisors: Dr. Henrik I. Christensen Ph.D., Computer Science and Engineering & Dr. Jules Jaffe Ph.D., Marine Physical Laboratory

Antonella Wilby’s research focuses on developing cutting-edge technologies for critical conservation efforts – the fight to save the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world.  She has received the National Geographic Young Explorers Award and was nominated for the best paper award at the ACM Symposium.  Antonella has independently raised $25,000 towards her research.  She leads teams of undergraduates and graduates in the Engineers for Exploration program and is dedicated to outreach.


Undergraduate Awards


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Darren Charrier - Aerospace Engineering

Darren Charrier - Aerospace Engineering

Darren Charrier leads a team of over 100 students in a self-sustained student organization, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).  He is the founder of one of the five technical SEDS projects, which ranked in the top 5 among all academic and corporate competitors in the NASA Cube Quest Competition. SEDS’ relationship with NASA has grown under Darren’s leadership, resulting in a NASA grant to test a hydrogen peroxide monopropellant engine and colossus test stand.



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Raina Borum – NanoEngineering

Raina Borum – NanoEngineering

Raina Borum’s leadership led to the founding of Team UC San Diego’s DNA Technology project, for which she recruited undergraduate and graduate students, along with faculty mentors. She co-leads one of UC San Diego’s two inaugural Hacking for Defense teams to protect U.S. Navy assets from enemy autonomous swarms. Raina also teaches underprivileged students how to use a research technique called DNA origami.



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Christopher Ellis - Electrical Engineering

Christopher Ellis - Electrical Engineering

As president of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), Christopher Ellis received funding from the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department to expand the Maker Space to serve more students.  He founded the IEEE Professional development series, and through his leadership, revitalized ECE Day. For the past three years, Chris has led the Electrical Power Systems team for the SEDS Cube Satellite project.



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Nasim Eshragh Nia – Bioengineering

Nasim Eshragh Nia – Bioengineering

Nasim Nia is an author on a research publication that identifies a new gene with a role in inducing susceptibility to cerebral malaria.  She won best oral presentation for her research in a new area of bioengineering – developing a conductive polymer system for drug delivery.  Nasim led the Cartilage Tissue Engineering (CTE) team, trained other members on multiple research techniques, and completed an osteochondral analysis study a week early.


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Yajur Maker – Bioengineering

Yajur Maker – Bioengineering

Yajur Maker’s research contribution to a biometric bone project has resulted in three publications and five conference presentations.  He led teams of students for each publication to create a 2D and 3D freeze casting processes and created a CAD program to 3D print a polymer template. Yajur’s visionary leadership in UC San Diego’s chapter of Engineering World Health (EWH) led to the establishment of a benefit corporation that will provide funding for future EWH projects. 



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Dr. Asad Madni

Dr. Asad Madni

In addition to the eight student awardees, Dr. Asad Madni was given the professional Gordon Engineering Leadership Award. Madni retired from BEI Technologies after serving as their President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer. His work focused on intelligent micro-sensors.  During his career, he worked on the development and commercialization of the revolutionary MEMS GyroChip technology for electronic stability control and rollover protection in passenger vehicles. It is estimated that this technology saves millions of lives every year.


Media Contacts

Brittanie Collinsworth
UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation