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News Release

Engineering student leaders honored

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Courtesy of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center

San Diego, CA, May 24, 2018 --Top performing engineering student leaders were honored at the 9th annual Engineering Leadership Awards celebration on May 17. The event, presented by the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center at UC San Diego, recognizes undergraduate and graduate engineering students who demonstrate extraordinary leadership through their communication skills, teamwork abilities and implementation of technical solutions in competitions or real-world challenges.

The five undergraduate and three graduate student award winners were nominated by a faculty member, industry partner or peer, and receive monetary awards for the recognition, along with the title of Gordon Fellow.

The Gordon Engineering Leadership Center also recognized an outstanding engineering industry leader at the ceremony with its Professional Gordon Fellow award. This year’s winner was Greg Papadopoulos, a Jacobs School of Engineering alumnus and venture partner at NEA. Read more about Papadopoulos’ remarks here.

Ebonée Williams, executive director of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center, said the students recognized at the ceremony represent just a fraction of the engineering leaders honing their skills at UC San Diego.

"This is a golden opportunity to celebrate the talented, driven students here at the Jacobs School of Engineering,” she said. “It was an exciting launch into our 10th year here at UC San Diego."

The mission of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center is to identify and train effective engineering leaders who will create jobs and products that benefit society. The Gordon Center plans to broaden the representation of the engineering departments in its 10th year, and welcomes collaboration from all the engineering departments. The 2018 student award winners, along with their bios, are below.

Graduate Awards

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Kimberly McCabe, Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Kimberly McCabe (R.B. Woolley Award)

Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering 

Advisor: Andrew McCulloch, Ph.D.,Bioengineering

Kimberly McCabe demonstrates a sophisticated knowledge of muscle biophysics and mechanistic modeling. She has led international, multidisciplinary teams of researchers and is currently authoring the first interdisciplinary thesis in her lab. She has served as an advocate for graduate students through programming and legislative influence in leadership roles for multiple graduate organizations, both within the Jacobs School of Engineering as well as campus wide. McCabe works to expand the boundaries of engineering and leadership as deeply rooted values in her life.


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Gaurav Agrawal, Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Gaurav Agrawal

Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Advisor: Shyni Varghese, Ph.D., Bioengineering

Gaurav Agrawal’s focus is developing micro-scale in vitro platforms of human skeletal and cardiac muscles, a platform he’s dubbed “organ-on-chip”.  He is the co-founder and president of UC San Diego’s Blue LINC biomedical incubator that has engaged interdisciplinary teams of students from the Jacobs School of Engineering, School of Medicine, and Rady School of Management to tackle pressing clinical problems. Agrawal organizes a quarterly seminar called the “Medical Innovator’s Hall of Fame Series”, as well as a successful pitch event, where teams compete for prototype-development funding. He has raised over $400,000 to support medical innovation.


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Melissa Hernandez, Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Melissa Hernandez

Ph.D. Candidate, Bioengineering

Advisor: Karen Christman, Ph.D., Bioengineering

Melissa Hernandez is investigating a de-cellularized extracellular matrix hydrogel for clinical translation. She is one of two students leading a $3 million grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine to translate therapeutic materials to the clinic. Hernandez has mentored and led teams of her fellow graduate students and undergraduate students to support their technical development and support the pipeline to engineering. Her excellence in academics, research, and outreach exemplify strong engineering leadership.


Undergraduate Awards


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Karan Lala - Computer Science and Engineering

Karan Lala

Computer Science and Engineering

Karan Lala has impressed faculty and influenced his peers through his exemplary leadership.

As the lead Teaching Assistant in Computer Science and Engineering, he led a team of 60 tutors and was responsible for over 600 students’ grades. During an internship at Viasat, Lala led a team that patented a design for a machine learning algorithm and system.


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Lucero Lopez - Chemical Engineering

Lucero Lopez

Chemical Engineering

Lucero Lopez is driven by her commitment to an inclusive community as evidenced through her leadership for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). As President and Outreach & Planning Committee lead, she fielded their first Team Tech Competition. She naturally ascended into leadership roles within Global TIES, serving as the lead of the Diabeatit project to design diabetes education applications, and collaboratively implementing an Alumni Association. Through each of her leadership experiences, Lopez strives to build the balance between compassion, understanding, and authority.


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Faris Hamdi - Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Faris Hamdi

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Faris Hamdi has led a team of over 30 engineers in the design, fabrication and testing of a small satellite for NASA’s national Cube Satellite (Cubesat) competition. The team placed third in the nation by building one of the most compact satellites, which led to winning $100,000 in funding. His technical rigor has led to the development of over 100 underwater drones that can reach depths of more than 3,000 feet and operate for years in remote areas of the ocean, with 100 percent success rates. Hamdi’s leadership has led to the co-founding of Voyager Space Technologies where he directs a team of developers to build software that provides value in the space industry with the goal to reduce the cost of designing satellites by 60 percent.


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Alexandra Kasper -  Biotechnology 


Alexandra Kasper


Alexandra Kasper’s technical work in bioengineering includes strain-specific methods of bacteria capture, techniques to diagnose pacemaker lead migration and understand cell to cell communication using RNA. As president of the BioMedical Engineering Society (BMES), she leads a team of 19, and expanded the impact of Bioengineering Day by 25 percent. Alexandra facilitated collaborations with the Bioengineering Graduate Society (BEGS) to create a journal club to share research happening on campus.  


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Hamna Khan -  Electrical and Computer Engineering

Hamna Khan

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Hamna Khan is committed to improving clean energy policy and interventions by establishing a nonprofit organization for advocacy and energy reform. Her team re-designed a clean water system for 500 residents in Honduras through the Global Engineering Brigade. She has published papers in both IEEE Xplore and IEEE Potentials Magazine.  As the Professional Chair of IEEE, Khan re-invented the career fair to appointment-style registration and led the execution of ECE Day. She led a team to develop a software applications to create a FitQuest ecosystem, which secured the highest amount of investments.

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering