News Release

Class of 2021 students honored at Ring Ceremony

The recipients of the 2021 Jacobs School of Engineering Awards of Excellence

June 8, 2021-- In addition to UC San Diego’s commencement ceremonies, the Jacobs School of Engineering will honor the class of 2021 at its annual Ring Ceremony on Saturday, June 12. During the Ceremony, graduating engineering and computer science students will receive their class ring, and recite together the Jacobs School of Engineering oath, vowing to practice engineering with integrity and high ethical standards. 

Six students who have made significant contributions to their department and the Jacobs School community, will also be honored with Awards of Excellence. 

Watch the Ring Ceremony live here:  And learn more about these impressive graduates below. 

Bioengineering: Aoife O’Farrell

 Aoife O’Farrell was drawn to bioengineering because of the excitement of the field; there is still so much to discover about how our bodies work, and how we can treat disease. She wanted to find ways to transfer medical discoveries from the lab to patients that need them, and had the opportunity to do so as an undergraduate researcher at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

“I am most excited by the opportunities in the field of immunoengineering - designing novel therapeutics to modulate the immune system to treat cancer and autoimmune disease. I currently work at the Moores Cancer Center, studying how immune checkpoint blockade inhibitors can best be used to treat certain types of cancer, and hope to continue similar work in the future to aid patients currently unresponsive to standard of care.”

After graduating, she’s pursuing a PhD in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, with funding from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She plans to continue her immunoengineering and immo-oncology research, and hopes to eventually become a professor at a public university. 

Aside from coursework and hands-on research with Dr. Robert Saddawi-Konefka in the Gutkind Lab at Moores, O’Farrell was involved in several organizations that helped shape her time on campus: she worked as a Campus Ambassador (tour guide) for three years; and served as an officer in both Engineers without Borders and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES).

As the project lead for Engineers Without Borders’  Project FogCatchers, O'Farrell led a team of 15 students to develop technology to aid those without access to clear water, and authored two successful research grants to fund this work. As BMES’ Vice President External, she helped run Bioengineering Day in 2020, including a quick pivot to a virtual event, and planned the Bioengineering Career Fair in 2021. 

Her advice to students is to be willing to try things that make you uncomfortable.

“It sounds cliche, but I think the best advice I can give is to say “yes” to things,” O’Farrell said. “There were a lot of times where I felt uncomfortable about jumping into something (like leading an engineering-based project team, or writing a research grant to ask for funding) but being willing to try anyways opened so many doors that I never would have experienced otherwise. There’s a lot of support on campus at UC San Diego to help with  whatever it is you want to learn.”


Computer Science and Engineering: Priyal Suneja

Priyal Suneja’s favorite class was always math, until a basic programming class in high school got her curious about how the words she was typing could make the computer perform certain functions. 

“In order to learn exactly how that pipeline worked, I decided to pursue CS as a major,” Suneja said.

After graduating with the Department’s Award of Excellence, Suneja is heading to the University of Washington, Seattle, for a PhD in Systems and Networking. 

While at UC San Diego, she served as a computer science tutor, conducted research in operating systems, and was involved in the Women in Computing student organization, serving as president this year.

“I started out as a member of WIC and then proceeded to serve as a board member. I had the privilege to serve as WIC’s president over this last year.”

Her advice for students is to get to know your peers and professors.

“My journey at UC San Diego would have been starkly different had I not met the friends and mentors that I met. They made me realize the importance of enjoying what I do, and helped me believe that I could do anything that I set my mind to. I owe all the fun parts of my four years at UC San Diego to the people that I met here.”


Electrical and Computer Engineering: Geeling Chau

To computer engineering student Geeling Chau, electrical and computer engineering is magic. 

“Electrical engineering is the magic that has enabled the life changing technological advancements we've seen in the past few decades. Through doing robotics in high school and taking a hands-on interactive device design course, I was fortunate to see first hand the utility of studying this field and gain the confidence that I could take a step into understanding this magic.”

At UC San Diego, she’s applied this magic to brain computer interface work, through research in Professor Vikash Gilja’s Translational Neuroengineering Lab. She specifically worked on a project trying to detect emotional signals from a user playing video games. Chau also conducted research in the Voytek Lab on a data science project on parameterizing power spectral features on working memory neural signals, and with the de Sa Lab on building real-time BCIs for detecting focus levels.

In addition to research, Chau has been involved in the IEEE Honor Society, Eta Kappa Nu (HKN), serving as an officer for three years. While president of HKN, she co-founded the NeuroTech club, which has grown to span more than seven departments at UC San Diego. As a computer engineering student, she also worked as a tutor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department. 

After graduating with the ECE Award for Excellence, Chau is heading to CalTech to pursue a PhD in Computation and Neural Systems. She hopes to contribute to the field of neural engineering, and the next generation of brain computer interface technologies.

Her advice to students?

“There's a lot you can do as an engineering student at UC San Diego - be strategic in what opportunities you choose, and remember why you chose it -- this really helped me get through times that felt tough. You will be pushed to your limits, but remember that being in that uncomfortable state is how you will grow the fastest.”


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: Luca Scotzniovsky

Luca Scotzniovsky was amazed by planes as a child, and was intrigued by how an object so large and heavy could even get off the ground. This translated into a serious interest in physics in high school, and eventually to aerospace engineering. After being involved in aerospace engineering organizations and conducting research in two different labs at the Jacobs School, he found his calling.

“Upon working in the Large-Scale Design Optimization Lab, I found the path I wanted to follow once I finished my undergraduate career,” Scotzniovsky said.

He will return to UC San Diego next year to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, working in Professor John Hwang’s Large-Scale Design Optimization Lab, conducting fluid mechanics-based optimization and modeling for urban air mobility vehicles.

During his undergraduate years, Scotzniovsky played on the Men’s Club Soccer Team, including two years as president and captain. He was also a member of Design-Build-Fly, and conducted research in Hwang’s lab, as well in Professor David Saintillan’s lab, where he focused on data analysis of a DNA Loop Extrusion model. 

Scotzniovsky makes no bones about it--engineering is challenging. But focusing on the basics and having a support network will make the journey possible, and enjoyable.

“You can ask anyone in the Jacobs School of Engineering and they will agree that engineering is plain hard, and everyone has had a tough time with it at some point. My experiences have shown me that you really get out what you put into it and that the basic concepts are crucial to really understand the more complex subtopics within engineering. Another thing, which I wish I knew earlier, is that the experience of joining major-related organizations is not only interesting but just as important when it comes to learning and gaining relevant expertise. The one thing that shouldn't stop you from applying for a club, lab, or internship is your course-related experience, especially since the opportunity will provide the proper tools to succeed.”


Nanoengineering: Zoe Li

Chemical engineering student Zoe Li came to campus with a career plan in place: she wanted to be a teacher. Working as a teaching assistant in the nanoengineering and math departments, as well as working as a physics tutor in the PATHS program, helped her decide she would specialize in science and STEM education.

 After graduating with the Department of Nanoengineering’s Award of Excellence, Li, who double majored in psychology with a minor in education, will return to UC San Diego for the one-year master’s of education plus teaching credential program, before shaping the next generation of scientists and engineers as a secondary science teacher. 

“I’ve had a lot of jobs in education; I’ve taught pretty much everything from theater when I was younger, and writing, and now I’m teaching more of the STEM subjects like math, science and computer science,” she said. “So it’s been a shift for me. I thought I was going to be an English teacher when I was in high school, but now I’m like ‘Science is cool too’!”

In addition to these teaching roles, on campus Li also worked as a Resident Assistant for three years in Marshall and Revelle colleges, and is an EcoNaut for Housing, Dining and Hospitality, educating students on their latest sustainability goals and calls to action. This year, that included educating students about HDH’s new reusable to-go containers. 

Her advice for students is to find a group of friends you can commiserate with--which can include professors! 

“What got me through these years was having a good group of friends in all my classes. Every time I felt like I could just drop out of chemical engineering and just be a psychology major, my friends would say ‘No, we need to take these classes together!’ In chemical engineering we take almost all our classes with the same cohort so you get to know thm super well. That’s what got me through it, getting to know friends. My other advice is be friends with your professors. They get you through it too.”

Structural Engineering: Janelle Coleen Dela Cueva

In high school, Janelle Coleen Dela Cueva was involved in extracurriculars including auto mechanics and woodshop, where she got to work on cars and build birdhouses. 

“ I had so much fun working on these projects that I felt pursuing a degree in structural engineering would allow me to continue designing and creating throughout my entire life. When it comes to coursework, I found that solving problems with a practical application of theory solidified my love for engineering.”

After graduating with the Award of Excellence, Dela Cueva will return to UC San Diego to pursue a PhD in structural engineering, researching advanced aerospace composites.

As an undergraduate, Dela Cueva was involved with the Society of Civil and Structural Engineers (SCSE), serving as Social Chair and VP Internal, and also conducted research as a UC Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) undergraduate fellowship, having the opportunity to be first author on a paper characterizing fracture in carbon fiber composites. 

Through her roles with SCSE, Dela Cueva had a particular focus on outreach to younger students, and creating a supportive environment for all students at UC San Diego. 

“I found that plan and action go hand in hand to push forward solutions for issues affecting students of color.  In my many roles, I led a team of 5 students to create and promote professional development opportunities for students in my department. Transforming ideas into many initiatives, I created opportunities for young engineers through general body meetings, scientific writing workshops, and industry panels. Through SCSE, I started out teaching local middle schoolers about seismic engineering with our Seismic Outreach initiative and moved onto building houses in Tijuana. I experienced firsthand the integral role engineering plays in impacting the community and I wanted to continue being a part of that throughout my career.”

Her advice to students is to take advantage of every opportunity available, but not at the expense of your own well-being. 

“Over the four years that I have spent studying at UC San Diego, I learned that taking the time to rest will really let your work shine. I also believe that it’s important to not be disheartened by failures, but rather take the chance to learn from them. There will inevitably be times that you don’t succeed at first, but with great effort and support from the people around you things will always work out in the end.”

Doing this allowed her to not only survive her undergraduate years, but enjoy the process too.

“I had a lot of fun. The Jacobs School of Engineering has one the most diverse set of opportunities to grow in engineering. The hands-on experience and education that I received on advanced aerospace composite manufacturing was a rare opportunity that is seldom found at other schools. I feel genuinely lucky and grateful to be able to complete my undergraduate at this institution."

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering