Awards of Distinction

Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Six students from the College of Engineering have been recognized for their outstanding contributions by UC Santa Barbara’s Academic Senate and Chancellor Henry Yang. Graduate students Caroline Reilly, George Degen, and Marcela Areyano, as well as graduating seniors Abel Semma, Balfred Carrillo Martinez, and Dawit Aboye received the University Award of Distinction in recognition of unselfish and dedicated service to the university, its students, and the community.  
Semma and Aboye were honored for their contributions while serving as officers of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). As co-presidents of the NSBE this year, they focused on finding ways to ensure that members stayed engaged and involved during the pandemic. Aboye is earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, while Semma is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. 
“I always believed that, we should strive to leave, whatever it is that we are involved in, better than we found it. This applies to NSBE for me,” said Semma, who also received the College of Engineering’s Hynes-Wood Award for his selfless contributions to student activities. “I had a memorable experience my freshman year at UCSB, but I also wanted to see that the next generation of NSBE members have a better experience than I did, so I was motivated to work on new events and bring more of them to NSBE. Receiving this award means a lot to me, because it is a reminder that I achieved my goal.”
Semma also interacted with hundreds of K-12 undergraduate students through the Math/Engineering/Science Achievement (MESA) program, serving as an undergraduate mentor to high school students. He also organized and participated in Science and Technology MESA Day, which brings hundreds of K-12 underrepresented student and their families to campus for activities and presentations. After graduating, Semma will move to Portland, Oregon, to work as a field applications engineer at Intel. 
Balfred Carrillo Martinez, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, was honored for his dedication to empowering others to pursue their dreams. A first-generation college student, he served as an officer of Los Ingenieros, a student organization dedicated to the professional development and empowerment of Latinx students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Carrillo Martinez also planned, participated in, and raised funds for Science and Technology MESA Day, an event that brings scores of middle and high school students from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to UCSB for STEM-related activities, competitions, and college prep workshops. 
“I am honored to receive this award,” said Carrillo Martinez, who hopes to start working for a medical device or 3D printing company. “I love helping people and giving back to the community that has  brought me to where I am today. I really enjoyed my time at UCSB, and I hope to return and give back to both the university and all of the organizations that have helped me along the way.” 
Areyano, a sixth-year mechanical engineering PhD student, was rewarded for her tireless commitment to advancing underrepresented communities in STEM fields. As an undergraduate at UCSB, she was heavily involved with Los Ingenieros and saw how important the organization and the MESA program were to her success. But when she returned to campus as a graduate student, Areyano noticed a need for a STEM-based organization to provide graduate students from non-traditional backgrounds with an inclusive space where they could build a community. Working in collaboration with UCSB’s Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP) and graduate students across several STEM departments, she established the graduate chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanxs and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), an organization dedicated to serving students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM. 
“I knew it was imperative for me to have the same level of support I received as an undergrad if I wanted to be successful,” said Areyano, who has also helped fundraise more than $20,000 in scholarships for MESA students. “I hope that the SACNAS graduate chapter will continue to provide students with a community and the resources they need to succeed. I want it to empower students, but more than anything, I hope this organization helps students build life-long relationships with one another.”
Areyano, who is co-advised by Herbert Waite, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and Robert McMeeking, a distinguished professor of mechanical engineering, plans to work as a material scientist after completing her PhD.
Degen, a sixth-year chemical engineering PhD student, was honored for participating in scientific outreach through the Materials Research Laboratory (MRL). 
“UCSB is a great place, and I am happy to have helped strengthen the connection between the university and the community,” said Degen, whose research focuses on understanding how marine mussels stick to wet surfaces. “Leading outreach activities at local elementary and middle schools is always a highlight of my week, and I hope to have inspired a few future scientists.”
Degen’s previous awards include the UC President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship, the Chemical Engineering Department’s Schlinger Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Co-advised by Joan-Emma Shea, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and materials assistant professor Angela Pitenis, Degen will defend his dissertation later this month, and start a postdoctoral position at MIT in the fall. 
Reilly, a fourth-year materials PhD student who is advised by Professor Steven DenBaars, helped launch the department’s Materials Student Association (MSA) in the middle of the pandemic. The MSA proved instrumental in planning the department’s first all-virtual visit weekend for admitted students and organizing an outreach seminar series for undergraduate students. 
“Forming the MSA was really about bringing a sense of belonging, improving department culture, and increasing the voice of graduate students,” said Reilly, whose research focuses on making semiconductors that can be used for LED, laser, and electronics applications. “The MSA has given the students a more cohesive voice to speak up on everything from recruitment of prospective students to social aspects and communication pathways among faculty, students, and staff. I hope that more materials students continue to get involved and support one another going forward.”
Reilly also served as president of the Photonics Society, a student group that served to unite the local photonics, optics, and lighting communities. During the pandemic, she led the group’s efforts to test, assemble, and deliver STEM activity kits to local children and the families, hoping to make the days of the children and their families a little brighter. 

2021 University Award of Distinction recipients from the College of Engineering (clockwise from top left) Balfred Carrilo Martinez, Marcela Areyano, Abel Semma, Caroline Reilly, George Degen, Dawit Aboye