There will be plenty to celebrate when UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering hosts its first in-person Commencement on Saturday, June 11 from 3-4 p.m. on Commencement Green. During the 2021-’22 academic year, 402 engineering bachelor’s degrees have been awarded, including 76 degrees in mechanical engineering.
Read about some of the end-of-the-year awards given to and awarded by graduating seniors from the Mechanical Engineering Department.
John and Sheila Lake Excellence Award
Janson Villanueva is the recipient of the college’s 2022 John and Sheila Lake Excellence Award, for demonstrating outstanding academic performance and an extraordinary level of engagement within the college. The annual award is named for alumnus John Lake and his wife, Sheila.
“It is truly an honor and a privilege to receive this award from my dream university,” said Villanueva, a first-generation college student who is earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “This honor proves that my dreams are alive and that my undying passion to help my family and community are becoming a reality.”
After graduating from Channel Islands High School in Oxnard, Villanueva entered UCSB as an undeclared major. He had a passion for cars and always wanted to work in the automotive industry, so he set his sights on transferring into the heavily impacted mechanical engineering major. With hard work and determination, his goal became a reality, and he was one of a handful of students accepted into the major. Now, he will graduate with a 3.53 cumulative grade point average and start working in product development for the Ford Motor Company as a Ford College Graduate, a program that provides a variety of rotational job assignments for new hires to expand their social networking and exposure to Ford’s culture during their few years with the company.
“Choosing this path was the best thing that has ever happened to me. It showed me my full potential and helped me get my dream job,” said Villanueva, whose parents moved from the Philippines to the United States to provide a better life for him and his brother. “I aspire to be their miracle. They are my motivation to try my absolute best in all that I do. The degree is one of many ways of thanking my parents, who sacrificed a lot for my brother and I to be here in the U.S. I thank them for believing in me and supporting me every step of the way.”
Villanueva was an active member in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)/Los Ingenieros (LI) organization and the Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement (MESA) program at UCSB. He said that MESA helped him understand that underrepresented students can become prominent faces in engineering and diversify the workforce. Mentors that he met through SHPE/LI guided him on a path to success and taught him how to become a better leader.
“To sum them up shortly, they are life changing,” said Villanueva. “Being first-generation and the only Filipino mechanical engineering student in my class, it makes me extremely proud to be a role model for others to look up to.”
Student Commencement Speaker
Xinmiao (Cindy) Liu, who is earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, has been selected to represent the Class of 2022 as the student speaker during the College of Engineering’s Commencement.
“I’m very honored to be selected as the student commencement speaker,”said Liu, who was born in Guangzhou, China and moved to the United States when she was seven years old. “As hectic as life is right now with capstone, finals, student organizations, and career-related obligations, the process of writing this speech has given me time to reflect on my own four years at UCSB, which I have to say were the hardest but most fulfilling years yet.”
While at UCSB, Liu was an active member in the UCSB chapters of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Phi Sigma Rho, a sorority for female STEM majors that seeks to empower and support women in engineering and technical fields where women have been underrepresented historically. Liu served in multiple leadership positions for the organizations, including president of ASME.
“Being president opened my eyes to many new experiences and opportunities and developed my skills in leadership, negotiation, communication, and coordination,” said Liu, who thanked mechanical engineering faculty members Glenn Beltz, Tyler Susko, and Geoffrey Tsai for their encouragement, insight, and mentorship. “UCSB has fostered an environment where I feel comfortable to try new things. This has opened doors for a variety of experiences that have helped me grow as a person. I’ve honed my personal and professional skills here, preparing me for my next step.”
After graduation, Liu plans to continue her career as a product lifecycle engineer at Illumina in San Diego.
Outstanding Seniors of Chemical Engineering Department
Jefferson Cam has always wanted to develop an invention that would change the world. While attending Temple High School in the Los Angeles area, he focused on becoming a mechanical engineer because of its focus on design and manufacturing. Now, he is a graduating as a Regents Scholar with high honors, a cumulative 3.97 cumulative grade point average, and a degree in mechanical engineering from his dream school. He is also the recipient of the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Senior Award, given each year to the graduating senior with the highest cumulative GPA from the degree program.
“UCSB's mechanical engineering program was my first choice because of its incredible faculty, many who are at the top of their research fields,” said Cam, who joined UCSB’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). “This place is an amazing, collaborative engineering environment that emphasizes teamwork and communication.”
Cam says that he has gained invaluable engineering experience and improved his leadership and teamwork skills at UCSB. He conducted undergraduate research for Elliot Hawkes, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, where he helped build and test a prototype of a robotic gripper arm. Cam said that the experience was key to his academic development and pushed him to be more creative when tackling design problems. He also fueled his passion for the space industry by working directly on a space-related project for his senior capstone, serving as the lead designer for a next-generation lunar regolith excavator, which won an award for the Most Innovative Project in Mechanical Engineering.
“I am a first-generation college student and the first engineer in my family,” said Cam, who plans to work as an engineer in the space industry after graduation. “I am extremely proud to be able to graduate as a mechanical engineering and to continue to pursue my dream of designing things to make the world a better place.”
Outstanding Faculty of the Year
Graduating seniors in the Mechanical Engineering Department selected Tyler Susko for the 2022 Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award. An assistant teaching professor, he has received the honor five times in the past seven years.
“It is such an honor to be selected by my students,” said Susko, who is the capstone instructor for mechanical engineering. “Personally, it means that my students recognize and appreciate he reasons that I do what I do.”
This year, Susko oversaw fifteen collaborative capstone teams, whose innovative projects included a rehabilitation robot to deliver remote therapy to students with cerebral palsy, a mast-mounted thermal and visible camera to improve the vision of sailboat captains, and a rig to test a soft-robotic lunar anchor, which will be flow to low-Earth orbit. Susko said that in the past year he uploaded web content and delivered material during in-person classes to double his students’ access to course content. He believes the flexibility and perseverance that graduating seniors have demonstrated during the pandemic will soon pay dividends.
“This class will be exceptionally prepared for the hybrid workforce,” said Susko. “They’re all experts in online tools, but also have had the experience of delivering their own live and in-person talks.”
Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
The day before his thesis defense, mechanical engineering PhD student Brian Dincau received exciting news — he would receive the Mechanical Engineering Department’s 2022 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.
“When I read that I was selected by graduating seniors, I was overcome with literal tears of joy,” said Dincau, who was advised by mechanical engineering assistant professors Emilie Dressaire and Alban Sauret. “I work very hard to try and make sure that all of my students feel respected and understood, sometimes to the detriment of my other endeavors. This award helps to validate my hard work and inspires me to keep pushing myself as an educator and mentor.”
Dincau, who served as a TA for three undergraduate courses this year, said that his students actually helped him during the COVID-19 crisis. A highly collaborative research project he was excited to participate in fell through due to limitations caused by the pandemic. He said that his obligations to his students helped renew his sense of purpose. Listening to his students explain how the pandemic was impacting them allowed him to become a more effective TA, adjusting his expectations and becoming more accommodating and flexible.
“This was uncharted territory for most of us, and my students helped me get through it, perhaps, even more than I helped them,” said Dincau, who also urged students to think critically about the community around them and how they could affect it. “The world has a lot of room for improvement, but it is only through their actions that they can play a role in its transformation. Great change often requires sacrifice, but one thing we must never sacrifice is our humanity.”
Dincau will stay in academia after graduation as the new manager of the Microfluidics Lab and Innovation Workshop of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCSB. Students and faculty from across campus use the lab to design microfluidic devices and other scientific instruments. A major component of his position will be training and overseeing researchers working in the facilities.
“I accepted the position before I received the award. Nevertheless, my desire to teach students played a major role in my decision,” said Dincau, whose research focused on suspension flows under confinement, with applications in filtration and clog mitigation. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching lab classes, where students learn to build experiments, challenge themselves, and contend with the physical world. I believe teaching people how to create and encouraging them to share their creations helps foster more critical consumers.”