News Release

Graduating students honored with Awards for Excellence

San Diego, CA, June 16, 2018 -- Selecting students to honor from among the roughly 1,600 talented undergraduates who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering in 2018 is no easy task, but this year’s winners set themselves apart in unique ways.

 “The awards recognize the following individuals for their significant contributions over the course of their time with the Jacobs School,” said Dean Albert P. Pisano. “It takes a great deal of effort, commitment, and at times patience, to inspire change within our campus community."

Here are some highlights from the impressive resumes of the 2018 Jacobs School of Engineering student award winners, recognized by the IDEA Engineering Student Center and Dean Pisano at the Ring Ceremony.

Student of the Year — Connor Smith

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Connor Smith

A computer science student and president of the Virtual Reality Club at UC San Diego, Connor Smith is the 2018 Jacobs School of Engineering Student of the Year. 

Smith was integral in organizing Hack XR, UC San Diego’s first virtual and augmented reality hackathon, and also created a VR course on online education site EdX in collaboration with professor Jurgen Schulz and fellow VR Club leader Anish Kannan. More than 8,000 people have taken the class.

He said watching interest in virtual reality grow on campus and in the community because of VR Club outreach efforts was one of the highlights of his undergraduate experience.

“Overall it was an insane journey, and the VR Club has grown so much since it started,” Smith said.  “It was ambitious, and we really focused on growth because we wanted to get VR out there to the community.”

He’ll be working for Apple next year, and advised potential students or underclassman to find a topic— instead of a company— that interests them during college and let that guide their future pursuits.

“I think universities are really good at making really well-rounded students, but I worry that sometimes comes at a cost of people not really knowing what they want to do when they graduate,” Smith said. “I’ll ask people what their dream job is, and they’ll say ‘To work at Google or Amazon.’ But that’s not a job, that’s just a company—find what it is you want to do at that company. I want to encourage people to find something they’re passionate about while they’re here. Being passionate about something has defined my experience.”

In addition to his computer science major, Smith also earned a minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation through the Rady School of Management, and would like to try his hand at starting a company someday—when he does, his skills running the VR Club should come in handy.


IDEA Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion — Leah Guenter

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Leah Guenter

The IDEA Engineering Student Center award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion was awarded to structural engineering major Leah Guenter, who served as president of the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). A Minnesota native, Guenter said her interest in structural engineering was piqued as a child, trying to figure out how the many bridges in her home town functioned.

She’ll be starting her new role as a field engineer for Clark Construction in San Diego this summer.

One of Guenter’s goals during her tenure as president of SWE was to increase collaboration with other groups on campus and within the engineering school.

“Nobody has just one identity,” she said. “Their identity is a lot of different things--a lot of our members are in both the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and SWE, for example. By working together we can impact larger groups.”

By partnering with Women in Computing and the San Diego Supercomputer Center this year, SWE was able to mentor 80 high school students through the Anita Borg Leadership and Engagement project, making a much larger impact than they would have on their own.

Guenter said diversity, and diversity in engineering specifically, is important because it leads to more innovative ways of thinking.

“Everyone comes in with a different perspective,” she said. “Specifically, what I work with most is gender diversity, and women come in to a workplace having different experiences than men socially, and they’re able to react to situations differently. You create a lot more innovation in engineering if you come in with different ideas.”


Bioengineering Student of the Year— Kristine Khieu

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Kristine Khieu

Kristine Khieu was selected as the 2018 bioengineering student of the year for her stellar academic record, entrepreneurial pursuits, leadership abilities and research record. Khieu co-founded a startup company called SoleMate Solutions, initially developed in the Clinical Bioengineering course, and will work on the company next year while applying to medical school. SoleMate is a smart shoe insole that monitors the weight a patient in rehabilitation is bearing on their foot, and provides real time feedback via a mobile app to optimize rehab.

During her undergraduate studies, Khieu also worked in three different research labs, including investigating the effects of a zero-gravity environment on spinal muscles. She was one of six students nationwide to receive a prestigious Universities Space Research Association scholarship for this research, and for her STEM outreach efforts as president of the Tritons for Sally Ride Science club at UC San Diego.



Computer Science and Engineering Student of the Year— Victor Chen

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Victor Chen

Victor Chen wanted to study computer science since he enjoyed math, gaming and programming so much that he built his own computer games in high school. He chose to study at UC San Diego because the more relaxed, collaborative spirit was a welcomed change of pace from the Bay Area where he grew up. He wasted no time in becoming part of that collaborative spirit as a tutor, mentor and even teacher, all while maintaining a strong academic record, and was recognized for these achievements as the 2018 Computer Science and Engineering Student of the Year.

“One of the things that keeps me pursuing computer science is the idea that your creativity is really the limit,” Chen said. “When you have a certain amount of knowledge and technological skill, you can pretty much take any idea, and with enough time and effort, make it into reality.”

Chen was a computer science tutor for six quarters, and is the current co-lead of the Autograder website that students use to request help from a tutor. He’s also been involved with Women in Computing on campus, serving as a mentor to other students and sharing his expertise with internship interviews and general computer science advice.

Chen even taught a class called Mastering the Internship Interview, drawing on his experience from the many interviews he’s done and the five internships he’s had at Vessel Science, SAP, Google, Snapchat and Quora.

A third year student, he’ll be returning to campus next year to complete his master’s degree in computer science in his fourth year, after which he said he’d like to work as a software engineer in industry for a while, potentially with a focus on machine learning or security.

His advice for underclassman and future students?

“Don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice,” Chen said. “There’s always someone who has more experience and more knowledge, and especially at UCSD, a lot of people are willing to help if you ask.”


Electrical and Computer Engineering Student of the Year— Samuel Sunarjo

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Samuel Sunarjo

Electrical engineer Samuel Sunarjo has been a pillar of the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) community at UC San Diego during his undergraduate career. From serving as president of the IEEE honor society Eta Kappa Nu (HKN), to being a tutor at the ECE Tutoring Center for two years and a member of Students for the Exploration and Discovery of Space for a year, he’ll be hard to replace. But there’s good news: he’ll be back next year to earn his master’s degree in electrical engineering, and take his leadership in these organizations to the next level. Sunarjo will be the lead tutor at the ECE Tutoring Center— leading the effort to expand the program— and serve as a graduate advisor for HKN.

Sunarjo is particularly proud of an initiative he spearheaded as president of HKN to introduce a mentorship program that would more effectively engage new members. The results speak for themselves: this year, the group added the highest number of new members since the founding of the chapter in 2005.


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Student of the Year— Jacob Rutheiser

Mechanical engineering student Jacob Rutheiser was selected for the department’s Student of the Year honor for his work as a teaching assistant in the Intro to Design course, his strong effort in the MAE156 course, and for integrating what he learned during a year-long co-op at Apple into his studies and tutoring jobs.

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Jacob Rutheiser

Rutheiser spent the year after his sophomore year working on Mac product design at Apple, and will return to the same team with a full-time position after graduation.

In addition to serving as a teaching assistant for courses within the department, he worked as a tutor during his undergraduate career, as well.

For now, he’s excited to get back to Apple and contribute his engineering skills to the Mac team, but in the future would like to move up to a managerial role with a larger scope of reference.

“I want to experience the whole engineering cycle, how things run, and get intimately familiar with that,” Rutheiser said. “Then, I’ve thought about pursuing an MBA or something similar to further my knowledge and allow me to transition into something more encompassing, with a broader overview of the company.”

His advice to MAE students? Take all the hands-on classes!


NanoEngineering— Eduardo Marin

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Eduardo Marin

First generation college student Eduardo Marin wanted to study mechanical engineering at UC San Diego, but the major was full and he wasn’t accepted when he first applied. What did he do? Put his nose to the grindstone as a physics major, and reapplied to the Jacobs School the summer after his freshman year. That second attempt was a success, and the rest is history.

Marin chose to pursue nanoengineering because he thought it seemed like a growing field with lots of potential. He worked at the alumni telephone outreach program for a year, then worked with the archives team at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for roughly two years before taking a materials science course taught by Professor Kenneth Vecchio that would change his trajectory. The class interested him so much that he was able to secure a research position in Prof. Vecchio’s lab, helping prepare samples, conducting chemical analysis and mechanical property testing for various projects.

In addition to his research pursuits, Marin was active in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and a member of Tau Beta Pi, while receiving academic Provost Honors every single quarter.

He’ll continue to conduct research in Prof. Vecchio’s lab for the summer, and plans to gain some industry experience before pursuing a graduate degree in mechanical engineering or materials science to broaden his scope of knowledge.

Marin was a fountain of advice for future students. His number one tip? Sleep!

“A big tip for anyone going into engineering is to manage your time so you can actually sleep,” Marin said. “Your body needs it. I don’t drink coffee and somehow I’m surviving.”

He also cautioned students to keep school a priority, but not the only priority.

“School is important, but it’s also good to have experiences while you’re here,” he said. “It’s important to have a balanced lifestyle. Get involved and go to class, but also enjoy yourself—it’s important to keep your grades up but there has to be balance. If you just focus on school, you won’t be happy.”


Structural Engineering Student of the Year— Arash Rohani

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Arash Rohani

Structural engineering is in Arash Rohani’s blood. His dad is a civil engineer, so Rohani said he knew he wanted to pursue structural engineering in college, but surprised himself with his love of the aerospace side of structural engineering.

“Once I found out about the aerospace side of structures, I fell in love with it and knew it’s what I wanted to do and stuck with it,” he said.

A transfer student from DeAnza College in the Bay Area, Rohani has been a member of the Triton Rocket Club, Tau Beta Pi, and Engineers Without Borders during his time on campus.

He’ll be working for Boeing over the summer, and returning to campus in the fall to earn his master’s degree in structural engineering. After that, he plans to pursue a career in the aerospace industry.

His advice to engineering students?

“Take advantage of all the resources here,” he said. “Being a transfer student coming from community college, you really see firsthand that this school has so much to offer. So many clubs, faculty willing to help you—so get involved in research labs, always look for something to do. There’s plenty of opportunities out there. Stay involved.”

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering