Meet COE's Class of 2024 Outstanding Seniors

Monday, June 10, 2024

UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering (COE) annually honors the graduating seniors who have the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA) from each of its five degree programs. They are named Outstanding Seniors and recognized during the COE Undergraduate Commencement, which will take place on Saturday, June 15, from 4-5:30 PM at Commencement Green.

This year’s Outstanding Seniors are Yuxiang Wan (chemical engineering), Yufei Song (computer engineering), Jonathan Cheng (computer science), Arik Cheslog (computer science), Andy Ouyang (computer science), Ivy Wang (computer science), Arun Khanna (electrical engineering), and Kai Nambu (mechanical engineering). Song and the four Outstanding Seniors from computer science are on pace to graduate with 4.0 GPAs. In recognition of graduating at the top of the class, the five students will serve as banner carriers and lead the line of graduates into the ceremony.

Chemical Engineering
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yuxiang Wan spent his entire freshman year at UCSB taking classes remotely from Beijing, attending classes at night and sleeping during the day. Despite the hardships, he arrived on campus his sophomore year with two improved skills, time-management and conversational English, both of which were essential throughout his undergraduate career. Wan says that receiving the Outstanding Senior Award reaffirms his dedication and commitment to earning a degree.

“I feel deeply honored to be recognized in our esteemed and competitive Department of Chemical Engineering,” said Wan. “It acknowledges the hard work I’ve put into my academic journey and motivates me to achieve much more in my future career.”

Wan conducted undergraduate research for chemistry professor Thuc-Quen Nguyen, investigating new materials for organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs). Professor Nguyen’s research group develops organic semiconducting materials and investigates the physics of organic photovoltaics to mitigate climate change. Wan believes that the Chemical Engineering Department’s rigorous and comprehensive curriculum and his invaluable undergraduate research experience have greatly prepared him for his next step — pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering with a focus on sustainable materials and electronics at Princeton University. 

“My decision stems from my passion for addressing environmental challenges through innovative solutions,” said Wan. “I aim to contribute to the development of sustainable technologies that can revolutionize chemical industries. My journey represents not only a personal goal, but also a commitment to advancing science for the betterment of society.”

Computer Engineering
Yufei Song grew up in Shanghai, China, graduating from Shanghai Datong High School. Months after starting classes as a computer engineering major at UCSB, he and thousands of other students across the nation were forced to transition to remote learning during the pandemic. Through it all, he emerged a stronger and more confident student.

“The transition to online classes made it hard to connect with professors and peers, but it also showcased the transformative power of technology in education, making me more confident in pursuing a computer engineering degree,” said Song, who also earned the opportunity to lead the Class of 2024 into the ceremony by carrying a 4.0 cumulative GPA. “The experience taught me valuable lessons in time management, self-discipline, and problem solving. It prepared me to face future challenges with confidence and underscored the importance of community support, even when virtual.” 

Song will enter the electrical and computer engineering master’s program next fall at UC Los Angeles. He feels confident that the education he received at UCSB has prepared him for a successful career in computer engineering, citing the knowledge and skills that he gained in software and hardware, computer theory, machine learning, programming, and embedded systems. 

Song thanked teaching professor Yogananda Isukapalli for his invaluable support and advice, as well as electrical and computer engineering professor Peng Li.  

“As a member of his research lab, I had the privilege of working with Professor Li, and his dedication to his research group was evident through his meticulous editing of our research papers, when he invested significant time and effort to ensure their quality and clarity,” he said. 

Computer Science
The Computer Science Department will be represented at this year’s commencement by four Outstanding Seniors, each of whom is on pace to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and has been selected to lead the Class of 2024 into the ceremony.

“I am truly honored and thrilled to receive this award,” said Jonathan Chang, who will return to UCSB in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in computer science through the department’s BS/MS program. “I hope to continue challenging myself and exceeding my own expectations in the future.”

Cheng thanked computer science professor Tao Yang for his patience and ability to make search algorithms so interesting and accessible. 

Andy Ouyang adds that he sees the award as an acknowledgement and validation of his hard work, dedication, and passion for his studies. He shares the honor with his family, mentors, and peers, who have supported him throughout his academic journey. Ouyang thanked computer science associate teaching professor Diba Mirza, director of the department’s Early Research Scholar’s Program. As part of the program, Ouyang worked in the research lab of professor William Wang and applied what he learned in the classroom to solve intricate research problems within the natural language processing field. 

“The Early Research Scholar’s Program provided first-hand experience in computer science research and allowed me to learn in-depth about so many different topics,” said Ouyang, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Stanford University before beginning a career as a machine learning researcher in industry. “I would like to thank Professor William Wang for his mentorship, because he helped me discover my passion and curiosity for machine learning and natural language processing. He also gave me an opportunity to attend and present research at international conferences.”

All four students admitted that shifting to online classes during the pandemic as freshmen was challenging, but that it taught them about resilience and facilitated growth. Arik Cheslog changed his major to computer science during the pandemic, but he persevered and will graduate this year with a bachelor’s degree in CS and a minor in mathematics. He plans to explore research opportunities after graduation before pursuing a graduate degree.

“I feel that UCSB has prepared me for my next steps. I took a plethora of computer science courses. One course in particular, CS 156, helped me understand how software is developed in industry,” said Cheslog. “I want to also thank all of my professors for creating an amazing learning environment.”

After just three years at UCSB, Ivy Wang will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in classics, becoming the first person in her family to earn an undergraduate degree from a university in the U.S. While at UCSB, Wang also participated in undergraduate research, working for computer science associate professor Michael Beyeler. As a member of his lab, she is working to preserve object-recognition performance in neural networks. 

“I am grateful to have received so much instruction, guidance, and support from computer science faculty, especially from Professors Daniel Lokshtanov, Frederic Gibou, Michael Beyeler, Jonathan Balkind, and Tao Yang,” said Wang, who will return to campus in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in computer science. “I’d also like to thank Professor Ralph Gallucci, who cultivated my interest in classical Greek and Roman history and literature and sponsored my independent studies. They are all brilliant researchers, excellent teachers, and kind people, who I am privileged to have been able to learn from.”    

Electrical Engineering
Arun Khanna describes his first year at UCSB, which happened to be during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as being a period of adjustment, but one that taught him valuable lessons in adaptability and resilience. A first-generation college student, Khanna says that he is proud to receive the 2024 Outstanding Senior Award in Electrical Engineering. 

“It’s truly humbling,” said Khanna, who participated in UCSB’s Excursion and Fencing Clubs. “This honor reflects not just my efforts but also the collective support and inspiration that I’ve received from my professors, peers, and family.”

After completing a summer internship at the Livermore National Laboratory, Khanna will begin working in a global rotational role for Ørsted in the offshore wind turbine industry. 

“Both of these opportunities align perfectly with my passion for sustainable energy, and my goal of making a positive impact on the environment,” said Khanna. “I feel well prepared.”

He also expressed his gratitude to professors Jason Marden, Clint Schow, and Mahnoosh Alizadeh. He said that their guidance went beyond the classroom, and they provided invaluable mentorship and support that shaped his educational journey.

Mechanical Engineering
Kai Nambu received the Outstanding Senior Award in Mechanical Engineering, a distinction that he described as, “an honor and a cool personal accomplishment.” He has spent the past two years conducting undergraduate research for materials and mechanical engineering professor Matt Begley, developing composite materials and creating microscale patterning by using sound waves to move particles. 

“I am grateful for the support of Professor Matt Begley, who has provided me with great opportunities for undergraduate research in a nurturing lab environment,” said Nambu, who was introduced to research through the Materials Research Laboratory’s Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) Program. “These opportunities made a big impact on my academic career and my decision to pursue a path to become a materials scientist.”

As part of the Mechanical Engineering Department’s BS/MS program, Nambu will return to UCSB in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in materials science with an emphasis in structural materials. He will continue working with Professor Begley, using acoustics to develop battery materials.  

Related People: 
Yogananda Isukapalli, Matthew R. Begley, Jason Marden, Clint Schow, Mahnoosh Alizadeh, Michael Beyeler, Daniel Lokshtanov, Frédéric Gibou, Jonathan Balkind, Tao Yang, William Wang, Diba Mirza
Outstanding Seniors (clockwise from top left) Ivy Wang, Arik Cheslog, Arun Khanna, Yufei Song, Andy Ouyang, Jonathan Cheng, Yuxiang Wan, Kai Mambu

Outstanding Seniors (clockwise from top left) Ivy Wang, Arik Cheslog, Arun Khanna, Yufei Song, Andy Ouyang, Jonathan Cheng, Yuxiang Wan, Kai Mambu