Maddie Baalman, Kian Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, and Steven Nguyen are co-recipients of the Outstanding Senior Award in Mechanical Engineering. The three have the highest cumulative grade point average in their degree program at 4.0, and they are graduating with highest honors. They will help lead the procession of graduates into the College of Engineering’s Undergraduate Commencement.
Baalman was an active member on campus, serving as president of UCSB’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB), and treasurer of UCSB’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the nation’s oldest and largest engineering honor society. She led EWB fundraising campaigns and helped secure a $10,000 grant from the UCSB Community Volunteer Foundation. She and her teammates traveled to Rwanda last year to install a rainwater catchment system at a boarding school, an experience she described as “impactful and rewarding.” Baalman thanked mechanical engineering lecturer David Bothman and Brian Dincau, lab manager of UCSB’s Microfluidics Laboratory and Innovation Workshop, for supporting the EWB chapter. She also expressed gratitude to Tyler Susko, an associate teaching professor and capstone instructor, for teaching her how to tackle engineering challenges creatively and methodically and for “inspiring greatness in all of his students.”
“UCSB was my dream school, and I’m thrilled to be a graduate of the College of Engineering,” said Baalman, who plans to work in the biomedical device industry after graduation. “I’m so grateful for the collaborative community in this program and for the connections I’ve made with my professors and peers.”
Nguyen will start the mechanical engineering PhD program at UC San Diego in the fall, where he plans to dive deeper into the field of control theory and high-dimensional systems. He became interested in the area while working as an undergraduate researcher for mechanical engineering professor Igor Mezić, studying data-driven approaches to dynamical modeling through Koopman operator theory..
“One of the best parts about UCSB’s College of Engineering is how easy it is to become involved with research and get to know professors,” said Nguyen, who played trombone in UCSB’s Chamber Orchestra. “These opportunities have helped me prepare for graduate school by developing my research skills, and I feel ready to take my next steps as an engineer.”
Graduating at the top of his class once seemed impossible to Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, but thanks to the wealth of knowledge and skills that he gained while at UCSB, he has learned that even the most difficult of tasks are possible. He said that he discovered his passion for analysis in the aerospace engineering field as a member of the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) at UCSB, a student organization that designs, manufactures, and tests quality rocketry projects developed for and by students. He worked on a team that successfully designed and built a feed system for a static fire rig.
“Working as a feed system engineer in this large student organization helped me realize how much I enjoy working collaboratively to solve engineering problems,” said Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, who after graduating will launch his career as a thermal engineer for SpaceX. “Not only did I get the opportunity to work on intellectually challenging problems with more experienced engineers through RPL, but I got a taste of what I would experience in industry.”
Ahmadzadeh-Heravi thanked the professors who helped him realize his passion, most notably Ted Bennett, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, whose knowledge and mentorship pushed him toward thermal and fluid analysis. He also thanked his parents, who encouraged him to pursue extracurricular activities like RPL, focus on school, and pursue his passion for engineering.
Tirrell Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Research
Xiangying Zuo, who is double majoring in mechanical engineering and physics, is the recipient of the College of Engineering’s 2023 Tirrell Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Research. The annual award, named in honor of the college’s former dean, Matthew Tirrell, recognizes a graduating senior who showed excellence and promise as a researcher.
“This recognition further ignites my desire to continue pursuing research, and it reassures me that I am on the right path, and the challenges I face are opportunities for growth and discovery,” said Zuo. “This award reinforces my commitment to pushing the boundaries of quantum science and engineering. I am more inspired than ever to translate frontier technology into real-world innovations and make a meaningful impact on society.”
Her research journey at UCSB included three distinct projects that enriched her understanding of quantum science and engineering. The first, a collaboration with Bolin Liao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, involved developing a Monte Carlo simulation as an introduction to computational modeling and algorithm development. Her second project centered on characterizing nanoscale thermal transport, which allowed her to hone her technical and experimental design skills. The third project was aimed verifying a proposed photomolecular effect.
“Each opportunity has allowed me not only to gain technical knowledge and skills, but also to foster a resilient and problem-solving mindset, qualities that will undoubtedly prove invaluable in my future research pursuits,” said Zuo, who will attend Harvard University in the fall to pursue a PhD in quantum science and engineering. “UCSB Engineering has been instrumental in shaping me as a scientist, collaborator, and problem solver. The skills, experiences, and mindset I have gained here will undoubtedly be invaluable at Harvard.”
In addition to the Tirrell Award from the College of Engineering, Zuo also received the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Scholarship, Leadership, and Citizenship. The award is presented to a graduating senior who embraces the three principles through activities that enhance UCSB’s academic environment, contribute to a consequential project, or provide extraordinary service to a campus community.
College of Engineering Commencement Speaker
Aamir Rehman ran Division I track and cross country at UCSB, earning a spot on the 2022 Big West Conference All-Academic Team. He served as external vice president of the UCSB chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a student organization that helps to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged communities by building environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects. This month, he will receive a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and deliver the student address at the College of Engineering’s Undergraduate Commencement.
“It is an incredible honor to be the student speaker,” said Rehman, who also minored in English. “I have loved my four years at UCSB and have gained so much from my degree, the opportunities present on campus, and the community.”
When he reflects on his time at UCSB, Rehman says that it was an experience of a lifetime to compete as a Division I athlete alongside his teammates and learn what is possible for himself on the track and in the classroom. He described the experience of making a real impact on the outside world as a member of EWB as “truly inspiring.” Rehman is also confident that his coursework prepared him to succeed in whatever he chooses to pursue.
His message for his fellow graduates will be to underscore how incredibly lucky they are to be Gauchos and UCSB alumni.
“Gauchos have a unique mix of brilliance, warmth, and joviality that will not only result in a rich life for themselves, but a rich life for everyone around them,” he said. “I have no doubt that every one of my fellow graduates will take a small piece of UCSB with them wherever they go and share with the world what makes being a Gaucho so special.”
Rehman will return to UCSB in the fall in the Master in Technology Management program.