Class of 2023 Selects Faculty of the Year

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Graduating seniors in every undergraduate degree program in UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering select one outstanding faculty member each spring. The Class of 2023’s Outstanding Faculty are Todd Squires (chemical engineering), Yoga Isukapalli (computer engineering), Diba Mirza (computer science), Mark Rodwell (electrical engineering), and Elliot Hawkes (mechanical engineering). Read below about what the recipients say the recognition means to them. 

Todd Squires joined the Chemical Engineering Department in 2005. Since then, the chemical engineering professor has amassed numerous recognitions, including an Early CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, the Mid-Career Award from the American Electrophoresis Society, and election as a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Graduating seniors added another honor to Squire’s list, selecting him for the 2023 Outstanding Chemical Engineering Faculty Award. 

"What a surprise this was," said Squires, who joked that he had an advantage over his colleagues because he never had to teach the 2023 class by Zoom. "I am really grateful. Teaching, advising, and mentoring undergraduates is one of my greatest privileges — particularly with this group of talented, engaged, and fun students."

Squires investigates a range of topics in micro-scale fluid mechanics and transport, both experimentally and theoretically. His specific areas of interests include linear, nonlinear, and interfacial microheology, and theoretical, experimental, and computational studies of electrokinetics and ion transport for flow manipulation and energy storage. 

For the fifth year in a row, graduating seniors selected Yoga Isukapalli for the Outstanding Computer Engineering Faculty Award. Isukapalli joined UCSB’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department as a tenure-track teaching professor in winter 2017, after several years working as a staff scientist in the Wi-Fi division at Broadcom, a semiconductor manufacturing company. 

“Receiving the Outstanding Faculty Award from graduating computer engineering seniors, whom I have taught in multiple classes, is a significant recognition for me,” said Isukapalli, who also received the university’s 2020-21 Distinguished Teaching Award from the Academic Senate in recognition of his excellence in teaching and contributing to the teaching mission of the university. 

Isukapalli’s primary role is running the undergraduate capstone program for computer engineering, which focuses on developing students into professionals by pairing them with industry or academic experts to create an engineered solution for real problems. 
This year, the topics of capstone projects ranged from an anomaly detector for products on a conveyor belt and a system to collect and display live vehicle data on a dashboard, to a system that consolidates sensors on drones. 

“I enjoyed seeing them mature as professional engineers,” he said. “It is gratifying to know that they feel I have positively impacted their growth and development as computer engineers. I am honored to have had the opportunity to contribute to their educational experience.”

Graduating seniors selected Diba Mirza, an associate teaching professor, to receive the 2022-23 Computer Science Department’s Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award. This marked the fourth time in the past five years that Mirza has received the commendation. 

“The award means a great deal to me because it comes from the graduating seniors as they reflect on their time at UCSB,” said Mirza. “It also reaffirms my belief in supporting and mentoring students during their most formative years, although I am surprised that they remember those early interactions!” 

The early interaction that Mirza mentioned likely referred to the Early Research Scholars Program (ERSP), a year-long research apprenticeship program that she started at UCSB in 2018 to help first- and second-year undergraduates, especially women and underrepresented students, gain foundational knowledge and skills for research. Students work directly with computer science faculty on a project that ties into the professor’s research area. The National Center for Women Information Technology recognized Mirza in 2021, selecting her with the Mentoring Award for Undergraduate Research. She also received a Distinguished Teaching Award from UCSB’s Academic Senate in 2021. 

Mirza salutes the Class of 2023, who overcame early adversity in their time at UCSB.

“The computer science graduating seniors have shown tremendous resilience through the pandemic. I can only hope that the friendships that they made outweigh the negative impact of the pandemic,” she said. “I wish them a very bright future and successful careers. I hope they continue to stand strong in the face of adversity and use failures as stepping stones to success. Cheers to Class of 2023!”

Mark Rodwell joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UCSB in 1988. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the recipient of IEEE’s David Sarnoff Award for exceptional contributions to electronics, and the 2022 University Research Award recipient from the Semiconductor Industry Association and the Semiconductor Research Corporation. He teaches several undergraduate core classes, including the junior-level courses on transistor circuits and a sophomore-level course on circuits and systems. 

This year marks the eighth time that graduating seniors have selected Rodwell for the Outstanding Electrical Engineering Faculty Award. 

“It is a pleasure to teach the undergraduates and to help them develop their interest in electrical engineering into their careers,” said Rodwell. 

The work of Elliot Hawkes, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, sits at the intersection of design, mechanics, and materials. His group develops innovative design concepts and applies non-traditional materials to solve challenging problems in robotics, medicine, and biomechanics. The group soared into the global spotlight last year by creating a device capable of jumping 32.9 meters, three times the previous record for a jumping robot. The Hawkes lab also develops soft robots that grow from the tip, similar to vines and fungi, for use in the medical and search and rescue fields. 

Hawkes, who teaches an undergraduate course on mechanical design, says that he is honored and excited to be chosen by the graduating class as the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Faculty of the Year recipient.

“This means so much to me, having spent so much time working with students in this class,” said Hawkes. “Some began researching in my lab as early as their freshman year, and weathered COVID together, trying to figure out how to keep research moving forward, and many more have joined in the last couple of years. And it seems like just yesterday that we were all in ME153 together, with all of the creative and impressive projects tackling problems from all aspects of life. And I had a blast teaching Soft Robotics to a small group of this class just last quarter. I want to say congrats to the whole class, and best of luck with whatever comes next!”

Hawkes previously won the award in 2019. Additional honors received by Hawkes include an Early CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation and inclusion in the Top 100 Technologies of the Year by Discover magazine, and Top Ten Robotics Technologies of the Year for 2018 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Graduating seniors selected recipients of the UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering's Faculty of the Year honors.

2023 Outstanding Faculty Award recipients (clockwise from top left) Elliot Hawke, Diba Mirza, Todd Squires, Mark Rodwell, Yoga Isukapalli