CoE Announces Outstanding Seniors in Class of 2021

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering has conferred 422 bachelor’s degrees for the 2020-21 academic year, the most awarded in the college’s history. The college awarded 171 degrees in computer science, 69 in mechanical engineering, 68 degrees in computer engineering, 65 degrees in electrical engineering, and 48 for chemical engineering. Among the Class of 2021, 77 students graduated with honors, earning cumulative grade point averages (GPAs) of at least 3.70. Twenty students graduated with highest honors, a distinction awarded to the top 2.5 percent of the class who earned degrees with cumulative GPAs of 3.96 or higher. 

Every spring, the College of Engineering recognizes the graduating senior who has the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA) from each degree program. This year’s Outstanding Seniors are Kevin Mauge (chemical engineering), Andrew Lu (computer engineering), Kerem Celik (computer science), Samuel Dunn (computer science), Tony Sun (computer science), Navid Mir (electrical engineering), Brandon Montano (mechanical engineering), and Dean Passanisi (mechanical engineering). In addition to a three-way tie in computer science and two winners in mechanical engineering, four of the eight awardees are transfer students. 

Kevin Mauge, who earned a cumulative 3.98 GPA, thanked the department’s faculty and staff for going above and beyond to provide an experience that was as complete and interactive as possible during the pandemic. 
“It is impossible to overstate the feeling of accomplishment tied to the culmination of my undergraduate education,” said Mauge, who is graduating from UCSB with highest honors. “The Chemical Engineering Department is wholeheartedly devoted to its undergraduate program, and I cannot take for granted the opportunity to have personally interacted with faculty who are at the top of their respective fields. The chemical engineering degree from UCSB also benefits from its proximity to an outstanding research community, both on campus and stretching into industry.”
During his time at UCSB, Mauge conducted undergraduate research under Professor Michael Gordon on the design of atmospheric pressure plasma jet and dielectric barrier discharge systems for processing multi-functional surfaces.
“My research experience provided an insight into the field of materials processing that I could not have accessed in the classroom,” said Mauge. “I also had the opportunity to interact with graduate students in the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center (SSLEEC) at UCSB. The unique exposure afforded by research has encouraged my decision to pursue further education through the five-year BS/MS program.”
Mauge will intern this summer at Raytheon Vision Systems, where he will work on epitaxial growth of semiconductor materials for infrared photodetectors. He will return to campus in the fall to complete the fifth-year BS/MS program in materials with an emphasis in electronic and photonic devices. After earning his master’s degree, he hopes to enter the semiconductor device industry. 
“This award is meaningful to me since it reflects my dedication to excelling in my coursework, while giving back as much as possible along the way,” said Andrew Lu, who taught himself how to program in high school while designing an app for a dance fundraiser. “I’m proud to receive a degree from a university that values collaboration and has supportive faculty and students, and I could not be happier to dedicate this award to my family and friends, who have fully supported me along the way.”
Lu, who completed the College of Engineering’s Honors Program and is graduating with honors, has paid it forward during his time at UCSB, working as an undergraduate learning assistant for eight classes where he mentored students on crucial project development skills and industry practices. He served as an officer of the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. 
"I would like to thank Professor Phillip Conrad for two years of valuable mentorship and opportunities to work together, especially during the pandemic," said Lu, who will intern at Amazon this summer. "Working with Professor Conrad has allowed me to not only develop my soft skills, but also meet new peers and friends during this challenging time."
Lu will return to UCSB in the fall to complete his master's degree through the five-year BS/MS program. 
Samuel Dunn, Kerem Celik, and Tony Sun all earned cumulative 4.0 GPAs en route to receiving their Outstanding Senior Awards. 
Sun also received the College of Engineering’s Tirrell Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Research in recognition of his excellence and promise as a researcher. His research experience began during his sophomore year as part of the Early Research Scholars Program, a year-long program for undergraduates in the Computer Science Department. Working for Professor William Wang, Sun investigated algorithmic fairness in artificial intelligence, with an emphasis in natural language processing. He has first-authored two papers that were accepted to the top venue for NLP. Within a year of being published, one of the paper’s has become part of the curriculum in courses at Stanford and Princeton. Sun also completed internships with Amazon Science and Google, positions typically reserved for graduate students. Papers he wrote during those internships were also accepted by prestigious conferences. 
“There’s a quote I really like on the left wall of the main entrance in Harold Frank Hall. It reads, ‘The vision to imagine; the means to achieve.’ I’ve taken these words as an approach to thinking big and excelling at the highest level. The lessons I’ve learned and the skills I’ve picked up at UCSB will stick with me for a lifetime,” said Sun, who after graduation will begin working at Google, while simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at Stanford University. 
Dunn, who transferred to UCSB from Foothill College, majored in computer science and minored in mathematics. He also conducted undergraduate research in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Having the opportunity to work with top researchers and professors, he says, helped him learn the importance of collaboration and high standards. 
“I believe that growth through education is a lifelong process and earning my degree from UCSB  has been the most significant milestone in that journey for me thus far,” said Dunn, who will move to Seattle to work as a software engineer for Amazon after graduation. “My experience taught me to be self-sufficient, a creative problem solver, and a team player. UCSB helped transform me as a person and made me more confident in taking that first big step into the professional world.”
Celik conducted undergraduate research in the Research on Adaptive Computing Environments (RACE) Lab. He extended his gratitude to RACELab co-directors and computer science professors Chandra Krintz and Rich Wolski, as well as to professor Amr El Abbadi. Celik, who transferred from De Anza College, will return to UCSB in the fall to complete a master’s degree in computer science through the department’s five-year BS/MS program.  
While earning a 4.0 GPA, Navid Mir was active in the UCSB chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the nation’s largest engineering honor society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
“Receiving this award is a great honor,” said Mir, whose parents both earned graduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering. “I believe that I put my best effort into my academic career, which was helped by the fact that it was so enjoyable to learn new things in electrical engineering. It feels great to be recognized for the work that I put in, and it means that much more coming from one of the top engineering schools in the nation.” 
Mir, who is graduating with highest honors, said that during the pandemic he missed in-class interactions with his peers and professors but tried to stay as engaged as possible by asking questions during virtual classes and attending office hours. After graduation, he will continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at UCLA, where his specific track will be on circuits and embedded systems.  
“My time at UCSB made me realize how much I love EE. I had so much fun and learned so much that I did not want to stop learning. I knew that I had to continue with school and gain more experience,” said Mir, who expressed gratitude to professors Mark Rodwell, Ilan Ben-Yaacov, Forrest Brewer, Yogananda Isukapalli, and Hua Lee for their support over the years. “Being surrounded by enthusiastic and passionate people also made me that much more passionate about what I was doing, too.”
Dean Passanisi and Brandon Montano are both graduating with highest honors and 4.0 cumulative grade point averages. 
“I am extremely proud to earn this award and my degree,” said Passanisi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in dynamics, control, and robotics. “The department faculty are some of the leading experts in the world in their fields. To work alongside them and receive this award makes me feel proud and accomplished.”
Passanisi, who transferred from Foothill College, said that remote learning during the pandemic allowed him to focus more on his courses, maximize his units, and double schedule classes. While at UCSB, Passanisi also conducted undergraduate research for mechanical engineering professors Sumita Pennathur and Enoch Yeung. He thanked Pennathur for teaching him how to write a scientific paper and effectively communicate experimental results, and expressed gratitude to Yeung for his tremendous insight on data science, simulation, and scientific computing.
“These research experiences provided me with critical abilities to work independently and solve tough problems,” said Passanisi, who described both researchers as excellent mentors. “My experiences also allowed me to dive deeper into subjects that I enjoy, helping me really understand what I want to do after graduation.”
Passanisi will return to UCSB in the fall to complete the Mechanical Engineering Department’s five-year BS/MS program, with an emphasis in dynamics, control, and robotics.
A transfer student from Diablo Valley College, Montano says that he feels fortunate to have made friends in class his first few quarters at UCSB, because he ending up collaborating with them throughout the pandemic. The first-generation college student said that his love for learning and his competitive mindset drives him to want to be the best. Montano will return to UCSB in the fall to complete the five-year BS/MS program to receive a master’s degree in materials with an emphasis in structural materials. 
“I am proud of all the knowledge that I’ve acquired at UCSB that I can use for my future endeavors,” said Montano, whose experience as an undergraduate researcher gave him a feel for life as a graduate student and the quest for new discoveries. “The biggest takeaway from my courses is learning how to think and conquer difficult subjects. It gives me confidence that wherever my career takes me, I will be able to constantly learn new things to succeed and solve problems that I will face as a graduate student and a working engineer.”



Class of 2021's Outstanding Seniors (clockwise from top left) Andrew Lu, Tony Sun, Kevin Mauge, Brandon Montano, Kerem Celik, Navid Mir, Samuel Dunn, Dean Passanisi