News Release

Graduating seniors say hands-on experience defined their time at the Jacobs School

San Diego, CA, June 29, 2017 -- As the 2016-2017 academic year drew to a close, a good chunk of the approximately 1,500 graduating engineering seniors from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering gathered on Warren Mall at the end of a long day of commencement ceremonies. The students came together to participate in the Jacobs School’s annual Ring Ceremony — a student-driven event in which engineering students recite an oath promising to uphold the integrity of their field and use their craft to do good, and then receive a ring to symbolize the promise.

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Ring Ceremony 2017 at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

The buzz of conversations among friends and family members could be heard along Warren Mall prior to the event. The graduating students chattered excitedly with their guests about the moments that defined their time at UC San Diego. Overwhelmingly, they spoke of the implementation of new hands-on curriculum at the Jacobs School.

“I wish I’d had ECE5 when I was a freshman,” said graduating electrical engineering major Jane Lee. She was referring to an electrical engineering class in which students measure, debug, and characterize sensors and microcontrollers. ECE5 is part of the Jacobs School’s Experience Engineering Initiative, which aims to give every engineering and computer science undergraduate student at UC San Diego a hands-on or experiential engineering course or lab each and every year — starting freshman year. These new hands-on classes serve as "spring training" for future internships and full-time jobs.

For Lee, it was the academic environment that defined her experience at UC San Diego. “I was surrounded by the best of the best,” she said.

While new coursework is rolling out across the Jacobs School, several seniors at Ring Ceremony noted that there are many ways to get hands-on engineering experience, whether through research in faculty labs, joining student orgs, working on senior design projects or getting internships.

Michael Unanian, winner of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Award, gained hands-on experience when he joined HKN – the student honor society of IEEE. “I joined HKN so I could participate in workshops,” said Unanian. “But what I got was a whole community. In addition to the hands-on experience, I learned perseverance, leadership and time management skills.”

Unanian also participated in undergraduate research with world-renowned electrical engineering and mechanical engineering professors. “Taken together, these experiences created an environment in which I could thrive,” said Unanian.

Mechanical and aerospace engineering grad Randy Lewis joined mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Tom Bewley’s Coordinated Robotics Lab as an undergraduate.

“I worked on a project sponsored by NASA AMES, which ultimately landed me an internship there this summer,” said Lewis.

For many students, hands-on experience gained during their first three years at the Jacobs School culminates in a senior design project that has real world applications. In a structural engineering senior design class that was new in 2016-17, students got an opportunity to test their skills at creating unmanned aerial vehicle wings out of composite materials.

“Our team members came from clubs such as Formula SAE and Steel Bridge, and internships with UTC Aerospace Systems, Northrop Grumman, and NAVAIR, to name a few,” said Au. “Taking our knowledge from our four years at UC San Diego with our club and internship experience, we were able to combine our engineering intuition and hands-on experience to build a full-scale UAV wing made completely from pre-impregnated carbon fiber composites.”

When the seniors were asked what advice they had for incoming Jacobs School students, one theme emerged: Find your passions and like-minded people, and change the world.


Advice for graduates

Their advice doesn’t just go for incoming students. During the ceremony, Ryan Hill, the outgoing president of the Triton Engineering Student Council and a graduating computer science major, challenged his peers to change the world.

“In my time here, I’ve seen students be the first ones in the world to 3D-print rockets and send them to space. I’ve seen students build their own biofuel reactors, create virtual reality experiences to interact with nanoparticles…There is no magic formula...One day they said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I did X’…and didn’t look back.”

Nothing in particular makes you the right person to change the world, he said. But there is also nothing stopping you.

After receiving advice from a peer, the graduates had the privilege of hearing from one of the top minds in technology today – Jacobs School alumnus Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha (Ph.D., Electrical Engineering, ‘96). Dr. Modha is an IBM Fellow and IBM Chief Scientist for Brain-inspired Computing at IBM Research.

Continuing with the theme of changing the world, Modha spoke of a recipe: “First, you must identify gradients.” A gradient is an engineering term that refers to an imbalance, or the difference between two things.

Gradients, he said, are the sources of opportunity. Take, for example, a water wheel, which converts the energy gradient of water flowing from high to low into useful work. “Similarly, your task is to leverage the gradients that exist in society today – social, economic, political, etc. – and turn them into opportunities.”

In Modha’s case, the gradient that led to the notion of brain-inspired computers, the innovation for which he is most widely known, was the observation that there was a billion-fold disparity between the function, size, energy and speed of the brain and today’s computers.

“The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says that all gradients efface over time, leaving increased entropy in their wake,” he said. “It is not possible to defy this law over space and time. However, within the span of your lifetime, it is indeed possible to engineer means by which gradients produce useful work.”

After all, some engineer had to do the work of inventing and perfecting the water wheel. The 2nd Law will have its way eventually – but while your inventions last, they will enhance human life.

Modha concluded with: “So let us look the 2nd Law in the eye and say not today, my friend, you are dealing with a graduate of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering!” (Read the entire keynote on Darmendra Modha’s Brain-inspired Computing blog.)


The Oath of the Ring

Following the keynote address, the class of 2017 partook in the Oath of the Ring ceremony, which has a long history. Jacobs School Dean Albert P. Pisano stepped up to the microphone to explain: “In 1970 the ‘Order of the Ring’ ceremony was started in the United States with a stainless steel ring. At the Jacobs School, our students decided 11 years ago to create their own ring ceremony. I ask you to accept and interpret, most seriously and with pride, the meaning and purpose of the ceremony to which you are about to subscribe.”

Pisano concluded: As a Jacobs School graduate, you leave here today with the experience to change the world and the vision to realize the impossible.


story written by Deborah Jude

Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering