Awarding Excellence

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Every spring, UC Santa Barbara's College of Engineering bestows a handful of prestigious awards upon graduating seniors, who excelled both inside and outside the classroom. Each recipient will be honored during the college’s Undergraduate Commencement, scheduled for Saturday, June 15, at 4 PM on the Commencement Greens. 

Tirrell Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Research 
Two mechanical engineering students, Sacha Escudier and Chiyo McMullin, are the recipients of the College of Engineering’s 2024 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 for showing excellence and promise as a researcher. The award serves as motivation and validation for both of this year’s recipients. 

“I’m deeply honored. There are many other graduating seniors across the College of Engineering, who have done tremendous work and are pursuing research careers,” said Escudier, who graduated from Granada Hills Charter High School. “I would like to extend this award to them as well; they deserve recognition as much as I do.”

“I am so honored to be recognized as a promising researcher,” said McMullin, who graduated from Cupertino High School. “Research has always been very exciting to me, but I never felt like my personal impact was very large. Receiving this award makes me realize that the long hours in the lab were important and my efforts did not go unnoticed.”

McMullin joined materials professor Tresa Pollock’s research lab as an undergraduate researcher in May 2022. For eighteen months, she worked under postdoctoral researcher Sebastian Kube, designing multi-principal metal alloys having a BCC-B2 crystal structure intended to increase operating temperatures of aerospace and nuclear materials. The experience allowed her to build a strong foundation of research principles and sample preparation techniques, as well as contribute to a published paper. For the past six months, and under the guidance of materials graduate student Melina Endsley and postdoctoral researcher Collin Holgate, McMullin has designed and synthesized new intermetallic bond-coat-alloy systems aimed at overcoming fundamental barriers to higher-temperature operation in gas turbines. 

“Research excites me, because it gives me the opportunity to be at the forefront of something revolutionary,” said McMullin, who also held officer positions in the UCSB chapters of Engineers Without Borders and Theta Tau. “As a problem-solver, research lets me investigate root causes and brainstorm solutions where there is no right answer, allowing me to be creative and imaginative. As a lover of learning, there is no boundary to the knowledge I can acquire, which is beautiful and captivating.”   

McMullin says that it has been thrilling to work with people who are experts in their field and understand concepts that are far beyond the scope of what is covered in class. In addition to her research supervisors, she also thanked mechanical engineering associate teaching professor Tyler Susko, mechanical engineering professor Sam Daly, and Trevor Marks, a research and development engineer for helping her believe in herself and realize her potential. After graduation, McMullin will start working as a reliability engineer in Medtronic’s Structural Heart and Aortic Department, performing test-method validations and failure analysis on next-generation cardiovascular devices. 

“I have always been passionate about working in the medical-device industry, so I am overjoyed to say that my dream is coming true!” said McMullin, who plans to eventually pursue a PhD in cardiovascular or rehabilitation medical devices with a materials emphasis. “UCSB has provided me with endless skills and experiences that make me confident in my abilities to succeed in my future career and research projects.”

Escudier will enter the mechanical engineering PhD program at Princeton University in the fall. He will continue working in the area of fluid mechanics, the field in which he entered the Multiphase and Multiscale Flow Lab of Alban Sauret, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB, as an undergraduate researcher in summer 2022. Escudier feels confident that his time at UCSB will allow him to succeed at his next step. 

“As a researcher in engineering, it is essential to be able to bridge the gap between the abstract and the theoretical nature of research problems and their potential engineering applications,” said Escudier. “I believe that UCSB has done an excellent job at that. Through the diverse backgrounds of various faculty members and their respective experiences, I feel that I have developed the ability to tackle such problems in the context of research, and I look forward to applying those skills in the future!”

During the past two years as an undergraduate, Escudier first collaborated with a visiting graduate student, modeling the probability of clogging in confined channels of monodisperse suspensions. Later, he worked independently on projects pertaining to flow in millifluidic channels. He co-authored papers on two of those projects and presented the group’s findings at two major conferences.

“I have been able to immerse myself fully in the fluids community and learn more about people’s interests as a whole, which only reinforced my desire to pursue a career in research,” he said. “All of these experiences have enabled me to develop confidence as a researcher, and have ultimately given me an invaluable skill set for conducting novel research projects in the future.”

Hynes-Wood Award
Phineas Lehan, a chemical engineering major, has received the College of Engineering’s 2024 Hynes-Wood Award, which recognizes a student for outstanding contributions to student activities and helping others with professional growth and development. The award is named for Jacqueline Hynes, former assistant dean for academic programs in engineering, and the late Roger Wood, a beloved electrical and computer engineering professor and former associate dean for academic affairs. 
“I am proud that I helped to inspire and teach the next generation of engineers,” said Lehan, who graduated from Half Moon Bay High School. “I am thankful for all of the opportunities to develop and display my passion for engineering and research.”
For nearly three years, Lehan has worked as an undergraduate researcher for chemical engineering professor and current department chair Michael Gordon, investigating metasurfaces and clean hydrogen production. Last November, he presented his research during the AVS International Symposium.
“Performing undergraduate research in Professor Gordon’s lab helped me realize that I want to do research and development well into the future,” said Lehan. “Despite being an undergraduate, he gave me a lot of freedom to design my own experiments and build my own reactor setups.”
In addition to undergraduate research, Lehan also interned and later started working as a technical staff member at the Nanofabrication Facility, the university’s state-of-the-art cleanroom and innovation center. He also spent a summer conducting research at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, as part of a program overseen by UCSB’s Materials Research Laboratory. Lehan also assisted students taking lower-division engineering courses throughout his time at UCSB.
“I’m proudest when I see the students that I mentor take initiative,” said Lehan, who also served as an officer of the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and captain of the UCSB Chess Team. “My proudest moment was when a first-year student interested in research approached me after a class I helped teach. I told him about the projects in the Gordon lab, and how to get involved. A month later, he was working alongside me in the lab.”
Lehan expressed his thanks to Gordon, Oleksandr Polonskyi, a postdoctoral researcher in Gordon’s lab, and Graham Reitz, a graduate student in the group, for their advice, for teaching him how to succeed in a research environment, and for inspiring him to further his education. After graduation, Lehan will begin pursuing a PhD in materials science at Caltech.
“I had some of the greatest mentors during my undergraduate years, who not only guided and supported my research and studies, but inspired me to challenge myself further and ultimately led to me choosing to pursue a PhD,” said Lehan. “UCSB has provided me with a broad pool of knowledge that allows me to approach and solve research problems from many different angles, which is vital for innovation.”
Lehan says that staying busy through school has helped him cope with the tragic passing of his older brother, Maxwell Lehan, who passed away last October at the age of 25. His brother’s five-year old daughter, Ruby, will be in the stands watching Phineas graduate and receive this award on stage.
“Ruby has been my biggest inspiration throughout college,” said Lehan. “I will do everything that I can to help her succeed in her education.”

Commencement Student Speaker
A record-breaking year will culminate on Saturday, June 15, with UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering (COE) Undergraduate Commencement. The college will confer a record 462 total bachelor’s degrees in 2023-’24, surpassing the previous best of 422 set in 2020-’21. When the students gather in caps and gowns to celebrate their accomplishments, the Class of 2024 will be saluted by Harry Jung, who was selected by college staff to be the student speaker.

“I’m extremely honored to represent the most brilliant minds of this generation, and I am proud of myself for achieving my goals and exceeding my expectations,” said Jung, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on photonics and artificial intelligence. “I graduated high school in 2020 and did not have a ceremony because of the pandemic. So, it means the world to me to represent my graduating class and participate in an actual ceremony.”

To truly appreciate and understand the magnitude of this milestone for Jung, one needs to learn about his journey. He grew up in South Korea, where his family lost nearly everything during the country’s economic crisis in 2009. His father, Soo Yong Jung, moved to the United States by himself the following year, while Jung and his mother stayed in South Korea. They immigrated to the U.S. in 2016 to reunite with Harry’s father, who had earned enough money working as a sushi chef to prepare for his family’s arrival. Fifteen-years old at the time, Jung enrolled in eighth grade, and learned how to speak and write English proficiently. Eight years later, he has persevered, overcoming numerous hurdles —  a language barrier, cultural differences, a pandemic, and working two jobs to help pay for his college education. 

“I’m extremely proud to earn a degree from one of the top engineering schools in the world,” said Jung. “It’s a testament to my ability, grit, and dedication to learn more about the world to satisfy my curiosity. It’s also proof that my parents’ hard work and sacrifices were not for nothing.”

Jung traces his success at UCSB to the Summer Institute in Mathematics and Sciences (SIMS) Scholars Program, a three-week academic preparation and research training program offered to incoming freshmen by the university’s Center for Science and Engineering Partnership (CSEP). As part of the program, he received mentoring, academic skills development, and participated in undergraduate research, working on digital image correlation and control systems engineering. 

“SIMS was one of the most impactful programs in my academic career. It helped me make strong connections in CSEP, and I started working with them right away,” said Jung, who provided information-technology services and worked on websites for CSEP. “This experience also led me to participate in UCSB’s IT Internship Program, which focuses on sustainable technology repair and offers free services to UCSB students.”

Jung says that his time at UCSB prepared him for future success by constantly challenging and pushing him to be a more effective communicator, and a more consistent, confident, and dedicated engineer. 

“My message to my fellow graduates will be that the College of Engineering not only prepared us to be great engineers, but also distinguished human beings,” said Jung. “All of our struggles and sacrifices, as well as those made by those in our support systems were worth it. And now, it’s our turn to return the favor by making the world a better place.”

The most important message that Jung wants to relay is to his parents, who gave up everything to give him an opportunity at a better life and a college education in the U.S.

“I want my parents to know that none of my accomplishments would be possible without their hard work and sacrifices,” said Jung. “My engineering degree, which will help me live a prosperous life in the U.S., is as much theirs as it is mine.”

Jung plans to drive across the country this summer, before starting his career in the electric vehicle industry as a test engineer for Senata Technologies.

Related People: 
Tresa Pollock, Samantha Daly, Tyler Susko, Alban Sauret, Michael Gordon
COE Award Recipients (clockwise from top left) Chiyo McMullin, Sacha Escudier, Harry Jung, Phineas Lehan

COE Award Recipients (clockwise from top left) Chiyo McMullin, Sacha Escudier, Harry Jung, Phineas Lehan