News Release

Gordon Center Celebrates 10 years, honors Engineering Leadership Award recipients

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San Diego, Calif., June 7, 2019 -- On Thursday, May 23rd the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center at UC San Diego held its annual awards ceremony, recognizing six outstanding student engineering leaders and three industry professionals who exemplify the qualities of an engineering leader. This year’s celebration marked a particularly special occasion: the Gordon Center’s 10th year of developing strong and effective engineering leaders through its leadership programs and workshops.

Jacobs School of Engineering Associate Dean of Students Karen Christman opened the evening by highlighting the variety of ways students in the Gordon Center’s programs work to become better leaders: think tanks, forums, workshops, and, most importantly, challenge projects.

“Over the past decade, the Center has touched the lives of over 1,400 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” Christman said.

Ebonee Williams, PhD, executive director of the Gordon Center, called her position a “job of passion.” As director, she has led the Center since its founding in 2009, overseeing its growth and guiding students through the Gordon Scholars program, which she said isn’t the end of their leadership training.

“Leadership is a journey,” Williams said. “It’s something you always strive for. You’re on the right path now, and if you continue to work on developing your leadership skills, amazing things will be possible.”

The Center was established in 2009 with the generous support of the Bernard and Sophia Gordon Foundation. The Gordon Center provides hands-on engineering leadership training, technical courses, one-on-one mentoring, forums, challenge projects and think tanks for engineering students who are interested in generating new products and creating jobs for the benefit of society.

“Bernie, Sophia and everyone involved with the Gordon Center, thank you very, very, very much. We could never have done this without you,” said Albert P. Pisano, dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Professional Gordon Fellows

This year’s Professional Gordon Fellows award, which recognizes outstanding engineering industry leaders, was presented to Mark Dankberg, cofounder, CEO, and chairman of the board of Viasat; Arlene Harris, executive chairwoman at Wrethink, founder of GreatCall and Jitterbug, and a member of the Jacobs School’s Dean’s Council of Advisors; and John Fratamico, PhD, former CTO and Group President of Leidos, and a current member of the Jacobs School’s Dean’s Council of Advisors.

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Mark Dankberg

“The role of the leader is to create an environment where the people who do the real work are successful,” Dankberg said of his experience leading satellite and communications firm Viasat. “That’s the most powerful thing.”

Dankberg was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2017 for his contributions to broadband internet communications via satellite and is an industry expert in aerospace and defense.

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Arlene Harris

Harris was the first woman inducted into the Wireless Hall of Fame for her work establishing wireless carrier GreatCall and launching Jitterbug in partnership with Samsung to create a personalized cell phone experience. She is currently working on Wrethink, a home broadband solution for families, and on Wrethinking The Foundation, which aims to support the Me2B initiative for consumer data and privacy and to serve female technology founders.  She remarked on the progress that women have made in the field of engineering.

“It’s amazing that today so many people are working on solutions to the world’s great challenges, and it’s wonderful that so many of them are women that have the opportunity to provide solutions to the problems we have to solve over the next decades,” Harris said. “We should revel in the notion that we have this institute providing students with leadership teaching and practice.”

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John Fratamico

Fratamico is an aerospace executive who has led the industry in developing strategic and ethical engineering leadership and complex systems solutions to problems of national importance. He shared three themes from his career that he hopes will help current Gordon Fellows as they grow as engineering leaders: embrace diverse, multidisciplinary teams; take a systems view of mission effectiveness; and exploit recurring design patterns by embracing open standards.

He also advised students not to wait until they’re well established in their careers to start giving back.

“Don’t wait until you’re 60 to give back—start now by mentoring those interested in STEM careers, and adding diversity to the field,” Fratamico advised. “As I heard your bios read today, all I can say is you're doing fantastic in that. It’s inspiring to see the work you're doing already.”


Graduate Gordon Center Fellows

Three graduate students were honored as Gordon Center Fellows, and received a $10,000 prize.

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Rachel Flanagan

Rachel Flanagan

Rachel Flanagan is leading a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory on a research project performing nanoscale simulations of copper’s dynamic response to by-products of nuclear fusion for the enhancement of fusion reactors. She has won several awards, including Graduate Student of the Year in the UC San Diego Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). As president of the MAE Graduate Women’s Group, Flanagan established a mentoring program for mechanical and aerospace graduate and undergraduate students, using record engagement to triple the group’s annual budget and appoint an executive board.


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Mohsen Imani

Mohsen Imani

Mohsen Imani has authored more than 70 publications in top-tier journals and conferences in the areas of electronic design automation (EDA), computer architecture, embedded systems, and very-large-scale integration (VLSI) design. He has led teams of graduate students to collaborate on several funded grant proposals, including two NSF proposals and a project funded by Semiconductor Research Corporation. He has also won several awards, including a Doctoral Award for Excellence in Research. In addition, Imani has mentored over 20 graduate and undergraduate students this year, and mentors computer science students from Baja California.


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Fernando Soto

Fernando Soto

Fernando Soto’s research is on the cutting edge of nanobiotechnology, where he has developed multiple inventions, including one of the first examples of ultrasound-propelled asymmetric nanostructures which have various biomedical applications. One of Soto’s inventions holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest functional cannon--it serves as a creative tool for nanosurgery and consists of ultrasound-triggered microcannons capable of firing nanobullets deep into diseased tissue. In addition, Soto serves as a bridge for collaboration between the scientific communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and promotes STEM in traditionally underrepresented communities.


Undergraduate Gordon Center Fellows

Three undergraduate students were honored as Gordon Center Fellows, and received a $2,500 prize.

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Bilguun Bulgan

Bilguun Bulgan

Bilguun Bulgan has worked on web and mobile apps at Bentley Systems, Waitz, and Facebook. As the director of HackXX, a women-centric annual hackathon at UC San Diego, she aimed to double the size of the event to reach as many women and members of underrepresented communities as possible, and was a team lead for SDHacks, an 800-person hackathon also held at UC San Diego. Bulgan previously won the HackXX competition and the Computer Science and Engineering undergraduate “Technical Skills” poster session, and served as the head tutor in UC San Diego’s Computer Science and Engineering Department.


Goto FlickrHannah Munguia

Hannah Munguia

Hannah Munguia is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on the Mars 2020 Rover, developing x-ray spectrometer instrumentation for future planetary missions. She established the UC San Diego Sampling Hydrocarbons on Titan (SHOT) team in partnership with JPL to develop a sampling system for use on Saturn’s largest moon. She was the Aesthetics Team Lead of the Vulcan-1 Rocket as part of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), which was the first university group to successfully launch a rocket with a 3D printed metal engine. Munguia was recently one of 40 women from around the world awarded the Brooke Owens Fellowship for women in aerospace.


Goto FlickrEric Shnell

Eric Shnell

Eric Shnell was project manager of a team that won the national Robotic Space Tug design competition for Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and Space & Satellite Professionals International (SSPI). Shnell also served as Recovery Team Lead for the SEDS Vulcan-2 team. He co-founded Craitor, a startup that is developing additive manufacturing solutions in partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a founding member of the EnVisionaries, which advises the directors of the EnVision Arts & Engineering Maker Studio, and he founded the Engineering and Visual Arts Club at UC San Diego.



Before the evening ended, Williams reminded her Gordon Center students that “leadership is a verb, so you must take action to be a leader.” She emphasized how much support they have behind them as they move forward.

“Leadership can be lonely, but not for anyone in this room,” Williams said. “You have a community that you can pull on to talk to about what you’re struggling with. Don’t stop looking for advice from the people that are here. They believe in characteristics of leadership and excellence in engineering. They want to see how we can be better when we excel as engineers.”


~Story by Kritin Karkare

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering