UCLA Engineering 2020 Award Recipients

Profiles of the Rising Professional Achievement Award winner, Faculty Awardees and the Rice Outstanding Student Awardees

Feb 18, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

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Every year, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering selects and recognizes the outstanding achievements by a number of its alumni, faculty members and students who have excelled in various fields. Alex Capecelatro will be honored with the 2020 Rising Professional Achievement Award for his work as founder and CEO of Josh.ai, a company that makes voice-controlled home-automation technology. Faculty members Adrienne Lavine, Yongjie Hu, Robert Candler and Stephanie Seidlits will be receiving awards for excellence in service, research and teaching. Parinaz Abiri, Faisal Alshafei and Kai Yang will be honored with student awards for their accomplishments while studying at UCLA.


Rising Professional Achievement Award

Alex Capecelatro ’10

Alex Capecelatro is founder and CEO of Josh.ai, a voice-controlled home-automation platform with a focus on artificial intelligence. Josh.ai utilizes a proprietary natural language-understanding engine with state-of-the-art home control integrations for a powerful smart-home experience. Founded in 2015 and based in Santa Monica, Josh.ai has received favorable reviews, employs more than 30 individuals and recently opened a second office in Denver.

Capecelatro started his career as a research scientist for NASA, the Naval Research Lab and Sandia National Laboratory. He then ventured into consumer technology, first as a sustainability engineer with electric car manufacturer Fisker Automotive, then as founder and CEO of two social software products, At The Pool and Yeti, with members in more than 120 countries. Capecelatro focuses on using elegant design, cutting-edges software and purposeful hardware to offer transformational smart-home experiences. He received the CEDIA Young Professional of the Year award in 2017, and was recently appointed to the board of directions for CEDIA, a trade association specializing in home technology.

In addition to running his business, Capecelatro has been a strong advocate for UCLA by volunteering his time and financial support. He has been a member of the UCLA Alumni Association Governing Board since 2013, and has participated in the Engineering Open House for admitted freshmen, the Engineering Senior Class Dinner and the Engineering Society of UCLA.

He also served as the alumni speaker at the 2017 Engineering Welcome Day for new first-year students and speaker at the Summer Speaker Series for Startup UCLA, where he is a mentor.

“His inspiring speech to these incoming freshmen was among the best I have heard over the many years I have attended this event,” said William Goodin, an alumni advisor to engineering student groups at UCLA and a member of the UCLA Engineering Alumni Association. “Alex has devoted significant time supporting the school and demonstrates the academic, leadership and interpersonal qualities that UCLA Engineering seeks in its most outstanding alumni.”

Capecelatro received a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from UCLA in 2010.


University Service Award

Adrienne Lavine

Adrienne Lavine is a professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and associate vice provost of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. She has served as chair of both her department and the Academic Senate.

She also has served as director of Education and Outreach for the National Science Foundation-sponsored Center for Scalable and Integrated Nano-Manufacturing, and chaired the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) committee.

“I am so delighted to recognize Adrienne. She has been an exemplary teacher-scholar, and has taken on so many important roles on campus,” said Jayathi Murthy, dean of the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “Without people like her — intelligent, committed, passionate — our system of shared governance simply could not work.”

Lavine received the Samueli Teaching Award in her department and co-authored an internationally respected heat transfer textbook. Her research addresses various aspects of heat transfer, including solar thermal energy storage and thermal aspects of manufacturing processes.

A fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Lavine received the Taylor Medal of CIRP and the NSF’s Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Lavine received a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and B.S. from Brown University, both in mechanical engineering.


V. M. Watanabe Excellence in Research Award

Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA. His research focuses on interdisciplinary experimental and theoretical approaches to investigate energy transport mechanisms and device applications, with an emphasis on developing advanced materials and experimental metrologies to characterize nanoscale energy processes.

According to Department Chair Tim Fisher, “Professor Hu is one of the most innovative young scholars I have met during the last decade. He stands out as truly exceptional with regard to choice of research topics, ingenuity of approach, effectiveness in completion of the research projects, and quality of publications and productivity.”

Hu has received the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the Bergles-Rohsenow Young Investigator Award in Heat Transfer from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the U.S. Air Force Young Investigator Award.

Before joining UCLA faculty, Hu was a Battelle Postdoctoral Fellow in thermal science at MIT. He received a Ph.D. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from Harvard University, and a B.S. in physics from the University of Science and Technology of China.


Lockheed Martin Excellence in Teaching Award

Robert Candler

Robert Candler is a professor of electrical and computer engineering, with joint appointments in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the California NanoSystems Institute

Candler researches micro- and nano-electromechanical systems, including control of magnetism at the small scale using multiferroics, sensing systems for robotic surgical tools and microscale magnetic devices for electron beam manipulation. His teaching portfolio spans undergraduate courses in engineering physics and electromagnetics, semiconductor fabrication and graduate courses in sensor design.

A common theme in his instruction is the use of active learning for student engagement. Department Chair Greg Pottie shared, “Rob led the charge to bring active learning to UCLA engineering. Active learning is a set of teaching techniques designed to engage students during class. It helps students work with their classmates to explore complex material and allows them space to ask questions when they do not understand.”

His research and teaching have been recognized with the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Army Research Office Young Investigator Award, election as a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award.

Candler received a Ph.D. and an M.S. from Stanford University, and a B.S. from Auburn University, all in electrical engineering.


Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award

Stephanie Seidlits

Stephanie Seidlits is an assistant professor in the bioengineering department at UCLA. Her research seeks to develop multifaceted therapies for the central nervous system that utilize biomaterial platforms to both model and directly alter the pathological microenvironment. She has taught multiple lab courses in bioengineering at UCLA, including Senior Capstone Design.

Commenting on her teaching expertise, Department Chair Song Li said, “Professor Seidlits works to develop students’ independence and confidence in themselves as competent engineers and scientists. In her courses, she emphasizes learning to interpret and communicate science, as well as to perform lab techniques. Science communication is a critical skill that is often undervalued in engineering education.”

Seidlits has been honored with the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the 2019 Society for Biomaterials Young Investigator Award, the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering Journal 2019 Young Innovator Award, and the 2019 BMES Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering Rising Star Award.

Prior to joining UCLA, Seidlits trained as a National Institutes of Health’s National Research Service Award post-doctoral fellow in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. She received both an M.S. and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in bioengineering from Rice University.


Edward K. Rice Outstanding Doctoral Student Award

Parinaz Abiri MS ’16, PhD ’19, MD ’21

During her graduate work, Parinaz Abiri worked on several published and patented projects, including a wireless stimulator for deep tissue micro-implants, a sensor to detect unstable arterial plaque, a wearable belt to monitor fatty liver disease, a virtual reality platform for simulating cardiac morphology and a tracking system for catheters.

She also founded PulseMed, a startup that converts any conventional stethoscope into a wireless and tubeless device capable of real-time communication with a smartphone or computer.

Abiri’s advisor, bioengineering professor Tzung Hsiai, views her as an exemplary student and engineer, as well as an “unflappable and visionary leader.”

“Her scholarship, entrepreneurship and humanism position her as an up-and coming driver to make an impact on our biomedical and global communities. Dr. Abiri is also a role model to inspire and empower underrepresented trainees to pursue leadership positions in both academia and industry,” said Hsiai.

Abiri recently graduated with a Ph.D. in bioengineering from UCLA and is completing her M.D. as a Geffen Scholar at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. She graduated from UC Irvine with a B.S. in biomedical engineering.


Edward K. Rice Outstanding Master’s Student Award

Faisal Alshafei MS ’18

Faisal Alshafei conducted his graduate research in chemical engineering under the supervision of Dante Simonetti, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Alshafei has worked in research and development, as well as other engineering services internationally. He co-authored several articles, participated in more than 15 conferences and is a co-inventor on 6 U.S. patents.

In working with Alshafei, Simonetti observed Faisal “has performed at the level of a postdoctoral researcher. He has taken over projects that have expanded my lab’s areas of expertise while significantly contributing at the first author level to multiple projects.”

Alshafei’s laboratory accomplishments also have extended to mentorship. During his first year,

Faisal was the lab supervisor for two undergraduate researchers, a task he handled remarkably well. He actively participated in the students’ career development and encouraged them to participate in the 2017 American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ undergraduate student poster session, which resulted in an award for each student.

Alshafei is currently a chemical engineering Ph.D. candidate at Caltech. He received his M.S. in chemical engineering from UCLA and B.S. in chemical/petroleum engineering from USC.


Edward K. Rice Outstanding Bachelor’s Student Award

Kai Yang ’18, MS ’20

Kai Yang earned his bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from UCLA. During his undergraduate study, Yang’s main project aimed to predict the stiffness of silicate glasses by molecular dynamics simulations and machine learning.

He performed his research under the supervision of Mathieu Bauchy, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who was impressed with Yang’s rare achievement of publishing five scientific papers as an undergraduate — three as first author and two as co-author.

“I first met Kai as he spontaneously stopped by my office in Fall 2016 to ask some questions about the role of materials and modeling in civil engineering. From early on, I was impressed by Kai’s maturity, natural curiosity and academic excellence,” shared Bauchy.

Currently, Yang is continuing his graduate study in civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, and is expected to earn a master’s degree in 2020.

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