2016 UCLA Engineering Award Winners at Commencement

Jun 9, 2016

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Each year the seven departments of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the school as a whole, bestow honors on top graduates and those students made special contributions during their collegiate careers. Below are profiles of a few of this year’s school-wide winners, including Michael J. Wu, winner of the Outstanding Bachelor of Science Award winner; Gregory Caguimbal, the Student Commencement Speaker; Sierra Kennison, the undergraduate winner of the Harry M. Showman Prize and the national anthem singer Juhyun Lee, the doctoral student winner of the Harry M. Showman Prize;; Zachary McFann, the Russell R. O’Neill Distinguished Service Award winner; and Philip Kwan, a recipient of the UCLA-wide Chancellor’s Service Award.

2016 Outstanding Bachelor of Science Award
Michael J. Wu, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

What was your favorite class at UCLA and why?
The first class that allowed me to study machinery was Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 162A, Introduction to Mechanisms and Mechanical Systems, with Professor Jonathan Hopkins. We learned to analyze the kinematics, dynamics, and mechanical advantages of linkages and gears, as well as how to synthesize mechanical systems.

I have always been curious as to how machines work, so learning about degrees of freedom and how links move in specific patterns made me immediately fall in love with robotics and mechanisms. I believe robotics has the potential to improve the world, from building unmanned aerial vehicles that protect our country to developing exoskeletons for patients who lack mobility.

What’s next for you after graduation?
When I started here at UCLA, I was not sure if I was going to attend graduate school or begin working full-time after I complete my bachelor’s degree. However, my research project allowed me to explore concepts far beyond the complexity of my undergraduate curriculum and inspired me to further my education.

I will be attending UC Berkeley to pursue a master of engineering in mechanical engineering, with a concentration in product design. The program teaches us how to design, prototype, and market new products to meet industry demand. I want to explore a variety of hands-on classes that traditional Master of Science programs do not offer, while becoming an expert in robotics and mechanisms so I can help develop cutting-edge technologies.

After I complete my master’s degree next May, I will begin full-time employment for the Space and Missile Systems Center at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

What was the research project?
Under the guidance of Professor Ajit Mal, I was the project lead for a joint research effort between the Aerospace Corporation and UCLA to investigate impact damage on 3-D fiber reinforced foam core composite sandwich structures.

Your favorite UCLA memory?
As an executive board member of Bruin Scouts for three years, I helped plan our annual “College Day,” where we invited over 150 under-served scouts to UCLA, hosted several college-readiness workshops, and provided a tour of our beautiful campus. At College Day, I taught a workshop about searching, planning, and executing service projects to help the scouts earn their Eagle or Gold Award and improve their chances of getting into college. I am so grateful to have been able to give back to the scouting community while forming lifelong bonds with the members of Bruin Scouts.

Were you a part of any other clubs or student organizations?
In addition to Bruin Scouts, I visited a local elementary school as a distinguished member of Tau Beta Pi to provide interactive science lessons to underprivileged children in an afterschool program. The afterschool program provides a safe place for children to stay during the day when their parents are at work. The science lessons expose school children to engineering concepts and cultivate an interest in learning STEM topics. It was a pleasure watching the children have fun while experiencing hands-on engineering and I am glad that I had the opportunity to positively impact their education and future.

Finally, I wouldn’t be where I am today with the support and guidance of my fraternity. Delta Tau Delta provided me with a special brotherhood and I’ll never forget the memories I have with them.

2016 Undergraduate Harry M. Showman Prize Winner,
National Anthem Singer

Sierra Kennison, B.S. Civil Engineering

The Showman Prize recognizes students who have effectively communicated the achievements, research, results or social significance of any aspect of engineering.  Kennison was also selected to sing the National Anthem at commencement.

The Showman Prize recognizes undergraduate research. What did you work on and in whose lab?
During my sophomore year I worked in Professor Gaurav Sant’s lab on several projects relating to the study of cementitious materials. To name a few, I performed thermogravimetric analysis (which measures the change in mass of a material at increasingly high temperatures) to help determine the influence of water activity on hydration rates of tricalcium silicate as well as to help develop a standard procedure for thermal analysis of cementitious materials. I also used calorimetry (which measures the heat given off during a reaction) to determine the optimum pH range for dissolution reactions involving silica and alumina.

This past year I have been working in Professor Jennifer Jay’s lab as part of a project to extract the extracellular polysaccharide matrix (EPS) – a compound through which bacteria are thought to communicate and exchange genes – from samples of soil bacteria.  I also was able to help with a project that examined the possible link between exposure to metals and increased antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

How did you get interested in these areas?
Professor Sant reached out to me, actually. I had done well in his Statics and Dynamics class (CEE 101) during fall quarter, and he asked if I would be interested in working in his lab. A main focus of his research involved developing alternative building materials that were less carbon intensive than cement and concrete.  Being the environmental enthusiast I am, I was excited to help in any way I could.

I became interested in Professor Jay’s research after taking her Chemical Fate and Transport class (CEE 154), which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I wanted to get a deeper understanding of environmental applications for engineering. So I sent her an email asking if there was any space available in her lab, and luckily there was.

What’s next?
I’m moving to England! In fall I will be starting a graduate program in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford. I have also been accepted into one of their MBA programs, which I will likely enroll in following the completion of the first degree. My main interest is the conservation of natural habitats to ensure the well-being of wildlife, and ultimately I hope to work with the World Wildlife Fund or a similar organization to make a global impact in this field.

How did you become interested in singing?
I don’t think there has ever been a time when I wasn’t interested in singing. I first started singing with a group in my high school’s chorus and jazz choir, and I joined YOUTHphonics A Cappella during fall quarter of my freshman year here at UCLA.  But I have sung in the shower and in almost every spare waking moment for as long as I can remember.  Growing up watching Disney movies probably had some influence in instilling a love of music and singing from a young age.

Your favorite artist and/or song right now is?
That’s a tough one. I typically listen to music from the 60’s through 80’s. My favorite is probably “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. If we’re talking current music, Adele might be my favorite artist; I especially love her song “When We Were Young,” though honestly all of her songs are amazing.

2016 Russell R. O’Neill Distinguished Service Award
Zachary McFann, B.S., Civil Engineering


McFann was this year’s president of ASCE at UCLA. The organization had an excellent year, capped by a first place at the ASCE Pacific Southwest Region conference. McFann will be working at Kimley-Horn, in Oakland, as a transportation analyst.

ASCE at UCLA had a really good year. Anything stand out to you as to why?
I think the main thing was that we all worked towards a common goal. Our entire officer board wrote a new mission statement this year: “Creating relationships to build a strong, welcoming community.” Everything we did worked towards being welcoming towards new members and wanting to create a strong sense of community within ASCE.  People felt comfortable expressing ideas and working as part of the team, whether it was for one of our projects or for any of the events we put on.

What was your favorite class and why?
I’ll say two: one in engineering and one outside. I loved Music History 68: The Beatles. I saw this class my first quarter and as a big Beatles fan have wanted to take it ever since. I was holding off on that GE requirement until now and was fortunate enough that it worked for my schedule in my last quarter. I became a much bigger fan of them and their music throughout the course.

In engineering, my favorite course was CEE 123: Advanced Geotechnical Design. This was my capstone design course, and we got to design a levee system for our final project. We had to figure out everything about the site we were building at through soil sampling and testing. We used a variety of geotechnical engineering software, and it was very cool to learn how to use software we would use in industry. Along the way, I learned so much about the process of geotechnical design, a lot through figuring out what didn’t work. Professor Scott Brandenberg is one of my favorite professors at UCLA; he is extremely kind, helpful, and funny and wants to help us learn as much as we can about the material, something I think the design project he created helped with immensely. Both he and the course really helped me to get even more interested in the field, to the point that I am strongly considering getting a master’s degree in geotechincal engineering in the future.

Do you have advice for engineering students who also want to participate in student organizations or activities?
Find what you are passionate about and enjoy doing and find the people who are doing this same thing. My greatest experiences and friends at UCLA have come from being involved with ASCE, and I know so many people say the same thing about the student groups they are involved with. Yes, it can be intimidating a bit when you are a freshmen trying to get involved (this was me three years ago), but try to put yourself out there. If you do that, someone will reach back out to you and help you find your place.

2016 Student Speaker
Gregory Caguimbal, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

The student speaker represents all 2016 graduates at commencement and is selected through a competitive process.  In August, Caguimbal will start at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale.

Can you say a little about your speech?
The main portion of my speech is about unicorns. Yes, I said unicorns. It’s tied into a good message, I promise. My main motivation of doing this speech is doing it for my family, as I am the first to go to and graduate from college. I come from a family of immigrants whose lives consisted of working in the fields or working in the fast-food industry. Their education was very limited due to the fact they had to sacrifice their education to support their family and did not have the financial means pursue higher education. They have been through a lot and I wanted to show them their sacrifices have culminated into something great. I think the best part is they don’t know I’m speaking, so it will be a nice surprise for them to see me graduate and be on stage speaking.

What was your favorite class and why?
I don’t have a specific favorite class, but I have favorite subjects: heat transfer, mass transfer, and fluids. I LOVE the math behind it and I had amazing professors: Professor (Webb) Marner and Professor (Jeff) Eldredge. Their passion for the subjects and awesome teaching made the classes very enjoyable for me.

You were part of Society of Latino Engineers and Scientists (SOLES) and the Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity (CEED). How did that enhance your experience at UCLA?
Both these organizations have allowed me travel all across the U.S., taught me how to be a better leader, how to network, and how to effectively present myself in front of professionals. I’ve made a lot of great friends because of these organizations and I would not have my job if it were not for them. I cannot thank them enough, specifically Dr. Audrey Pool O’Neal. She was a big reason why I stuck to mechanical engineering and that is something I can never pay back.

What sccholarships did you receive and how did they help?
I received quite of few scholarships from UCLA, the Chancellor’s Scholarship and Achievement Scholarship to name a few. But the big scholarship I received was the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and that scholarship can go beyond my undergraduate education and pay up to my PhD, if I choose to pursue one. These scholarships allotted me to further my education beyond high school and pursue something that I enjoy. I am very grateful for being able to go to school and graduate debt-free. My biggest worry about attending college was not being able to afford it and I didn’t want to burden my parents financially, so being in this circumstance I am very lucky.

You have some plans to give back yourself, yes?
I plan to co-found a STEM based organization at my old high school with my sister. She is in her third year at UC Davis, studying biochemistry and molecular biology. Our high school did not allow us many opportunities to branch out in STEM, and we want to create something that can help these future chemists, biologists, engineers, you name it. We both have experienced what STEM fields can offer and we want to share the awesomeness by reaching out to those kids that need that extra push. I also plan on growing out my scholarship foundation, the GAC Foundation, and plan on giving out multiple scholarships to my old high school as opposed to the single one I give currently.

2016 Doctoral Student Harry M. Showman Prize
Juhyun Lee,
Ph.D., Bioengineering

The Showman Prize recognizes students who have effectively communicated the achievements, research, results or social significance of any aspect of engineering. Lee is a member of UCLA’s Cardiovascular Engineering Research Laboratory, led by Dr. Tzung Hsiai. Lee is a recipient of the American Heart Association Pre-doctoral Fellowship.

Can you explain your research in general terms?
I am studying cardiac trabeculae development induced by blood flow. Trebaculae are irregular bundles of muscle that project from the inner ventricular wall. This trabecular network is important to maintain the contractility of the heart. In a zebrafish model, we are using a custom-built optical systems and mathematical algorithms to image in 3-D and in time (4-D) the animal model’s heart. We’re further using computational fluid dynamics in our study to simulate the intracadiac mechanical properties. And we’re also trying to figure which genes and their expression levels are related in proper cardiac trabeculation development.

How will this be applied?
Problems in cardiac trabeculation development are among the most common congenital heart diseases in the pediatric population. Our imaging techniques could pave the way to study dynamic biological samples, such as a live heart.

What appealed to you about pursuing your doctorate at UCLA?
UCLA is one of the best research universities in the world. It’s also in a great location, so we can easily find experts near UCLA. As a bioengineer, it is also always helpful that we have a great medical school here. Additionally, my advisor, Dr. Tzung Hsiai, is has always been supportive on my research and listens what I have proposed my research direction. Since he has both M.D. and engineering Ph.D. degrees, he has been very helpful in learning to communicate between people from the medical school and from engineering school. I really wanted to work with person like my advisor, and I found him here.

How did you get interested in your field?
I was a mechanical engineering major when I was an undergraduate. And I was always interested in computational fluid mechanics. Therefore, I joined the computational fluid mechanics lab when I was undergrad. There, I met a grad student who told me about a new direction in the field which applies to biology, especially the heart. This conversation really impressed me and helped me choose bioengineering as my field.

2016 UCLA Chancellor’s Service Award
Philip Kwan, B.S. Electrical Engineering


The Chancellor’s Service Award honors graduating seniors who have made significant contributions to UCLA and/or the surrounding Los Angeles community through a sustained record of outstanding leadership and service. Kwan was involved with the campus chapter of Circle K,a college service, leadership and friendship organization affiliated with Kiwanis International. Kwan was   a family head with the organization this year. He was also part of UCLA’s Volunteer Income Tax Association, which helps low-income families and individuals prepare their tax return; and was a tutor with UCLA Bruin Corps in 2014.

What appealed to you about becoming involved with Circle K while at UCLA?
What initially appealed to me was how much the board members and older members committed to the new members. They’d spark up conversations at meetings, introduce us to other members, and overall have down-to-earth and welcoming personalities. I am much more shy and reserved, and they were the type of people I wanted to be someday. Because I wasn’t heavily involved in any organization before then, I wasn’t exactly sure what I expected to get out of Circle K. I just wanted a place to belong. Now, I understand the opportunities Circle K provides for those who are willing to develop themselves as people and learn to help others do the same, all while serving and understanding the numerous types of people who welcome our service.

What was your favorite class at UCLA and why?
My favorite class was CS 32 with Carey Nachenberg. We reinforced theory with difficult but fun and rewarding projects.

What would you recommend for an incoming freshman who’s looking to find a niche on campus and get the most UCLA?
I’d recommend thinking about what it is you wish to accomplish at UCLA   – actually think about it and make a list  – and dedicate yourself to achieving those goals. It could be starting a project, taking on a leadership role, or even just making some friends. Take initiative. If you don’t know specifically how to do so, ask around because there are many who are willing to help. There are many chances for growth and success if you’re willing to put the effort into it. I believe it’s important to commit to something that you know you’ll enjoy and get a lot out of, but I’d also strongly recommend trying new things if you can and adding some variety to college life. It’ll make the experience much more memorable.

Your most memorable UCLA experience?
Among my most memorable experiences is one of the first Circle K meetings I went to. There were at least 100 members in the room that day, and a board member went out of his way to talk to me and help me mingle with the other members. There was a more interactive icebreaker that day as well where we had to move to a side of the room based on our answers to certain questions, such as “Do you like country music or pop music?” That made me much more comfortable and gave me the chance to talk to different people, and ultimately led to my choice to stay with the organization. This was all from the small action of initiating conversation. Small actions can end up doing a lot for people.

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