In Recognition of Excellence

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Every spring, UC Santa Barbara's College of Engineering bestows four special honors upon graduating seniors, who excelled both inside and outside of the classroom. Read below to find out who received three prestigious awards and who was selected to represent the Class of 2023 as the student speaker for the college’s Undergraduate Commencement, which is scheduled for Saturday, June 17, at 4 PM on Commencement Green. A few graduating seniors also received prestigious awards from the Academic Senate or the university. 

Tirrell Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Research 
Xiangying Zuo, who is double majoring in mechanical engineering and physics, is the recipient of the College of Engineering’s 2023 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 who showed excellence and promise as a researcher. 

“This recognition further ignites my desire to continue pursuing research, and it reassures me that I am on the right path, and the challenges I face are opportunities for growth and discovery,” said Zuo. “This award reinforces my commitment to pushing the boundaries of quantum science and engineering. I am more inspired than ever to translate frontier technology into real-world innovations and make a meaningful impact on society.”

Her research journey at UCSB included three distinct projects that enriched her understanding of quantum science and engineering. The first, a collaboration with Bolin Liao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, involved developing a Monte Carlo simulation as an introduction to computational modeling and algorithm development. Her second project centered on characterizing nanoscale thermal transport, which allowed her to hone her technical and experimental design skills. The third project was aimed verifying a proposed photomolecular effect. 

“Each opportunity has allowed me not only to gain technical knowledge and skills, but also to foster a resilient and problem-solving mindset, qualities that will undoubtedly prove invaluable in my future research pursuits,” said Zuo, who will attend Harvard University in the fall to pursue a PhD in quantum science and engineering. “UCSB Engineering has been instrumental in shaping me as a scientist, collaborator, and problem solver. The skills, experiences, and mindset I have gained here will undoubtedly be invaluable at Harvard.”

In addition to the Tirrell Award from the College of Engineering, Zuo also received the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Scholarship, Leadership, and Citizenship. The award is presented to a graduating senior who embraces the three principles through activities that enhance UCSB’s academic environment, contribute to a consequential project, or provide extraordinary service to a campus community. 
John and Sheila Lake Excellence Award
Jorge Gutierrez is the recipient of the college’s 2023 John and Sheila Lake Excellence Award, for demonstrating outstanding academic performance and an extraordinary level of engagement within the college. He is earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a specialization in semiconductor and radio frequency engineering. He was an active member of Los Ingenieros (LI), UCSB’s chapter of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement (MESA) Program, and UC LEADS, a two-year program of scientific research and graduate school preparation. While in LI, he served on the executive board as the internal vice-president and co-chair, developing leadership and mentorship skills along the way. Gutierrez says that it has always been his dream to earn a college degree in STEM.

“Being a first-generation Hispanic college student born to a 17-year-old mother and a 19-year-old father motivated me to be a role model for students like me,” said Gutierrez, who graduated from Santa Ana High School. “Neither of my parents went to college, but with their support and my hard work, I am proud to be the first member of my family to graduate from a UC with a STEM degree. I aspire to be someone who others can look up to and find inspiration in to pursue their own aspirations.”

Gutierrez says that he is proudest of the community service that he performed through LI, most notably helping to raise more than $14,000 for MESA Day, the largest community outreach event hosted at UCSB for local Latinx and underrepresented students. He also mentored middle school and high school students, sharing his personal experiences to inspire them to follow their dreams. Through the UC LEADS program, he gained valuable undergraduate research experience for the past two years. He helped optimize the mask layout that could eventually be used to fabricate transistors for microrobotic applications and be utilized to solve medical conditions inside the body. He also tested and analyzed various transistors and semiconductor materials in the Clean Room at the Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility at UC Irvine. As a result, he presented his research in Puerto Rico during the 2022 National Diversity in STEM Conference hosted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity conference. Gutierrez also co-authored a research paper. To top it all off, he paid it forward by mentoring and inspiring other members of LI to become involved with research. 

After graduation, Gutierrez will work as an associate hardware engineer at Northrop Grumman, taking part in a three-year rotational program called Pathways. His first assignment will be at the corporation’s largest semiconductor fabrication facility in Maryland. 

“I believe that UCSB Engineering has prepared me for the next step through its unbelievable programs and the opportunities they provided, most notably the ECE 120 series, which allowed me to get hands-on experience in semiconductor fabrication and apply the concepts that I learned in the teaching cleanroom,” said Gutierrez. 

Hynes-Wood Award
In recognition of her selfless contributions to student activities at UC Santa Barbara, Shivani Sista, a junior computer science major, has received the College of Engineering’s 2023 Hynes-Wood Award. Since her freshman year, Sista has immersed herself in campus organizations to improve the support system and resources available for women in engineering.  

“Receiving this recognition is a wonderful honor,” said Sista, who is also a member of UCSB’s Pops Orchestra. “I feel appreciated to know that my efforts in uplifting our student community and providing a support system for gender minorities in engineering have made a positive impact on so many different people.”

Sista is the current president of UCSB’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), an organization that works to create a lasting network among female engineering students and raise awareness in the campus and surrounding communities. SWE collaborates with other student groups and companies outside of UCSB to help members learn more about career opportunities in research and industry. Members also mentor local K-12 students to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM. Sista joined the organization as a freshman during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The UCSB Society of Women Engineers was such a welcoming environment for incoming students like myself and gave me the opportunity to meet so many people and make new friends,” said Sista. “This motivates me to give back to our community through new SWE programs that continue to encourage and provide resources for students on campus to grow academically and professionally.”

Sista has also conducted undergraduate research the past two years through the Computer Science Department’s Early Research Scholars Program (ERSP), a year-long research apprentice program designed to support students in their first research experience. She worked as a research assistant in the Bionic Vision Lab for computer science assistant professor Michael Beyeler, and she worked with the research group of Matthieu Louis, an associate professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. 

“Both of these research experiences have helped me develop my communication and critical-thinking skills through a supportive team environment,” said Sista. 

After graduating in 2024, she plans to either attend medical school or pursue a graduate degree involving research in the medical and bioengineering fields.  

College of Engineering Commencement Speaker
Aamir Rehman ran Division I track and cross country at UCSB, earning a spot on the 2022 Big West Conference All-Academic Team. He served as external vice president of the UCSB chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a student organization that helps to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged communities by building environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects. This month, he will receive a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and deliver the student address at the College of Engineering’s Undergraduate Commencement. 

“It is an incredible honor to be the student speaker,” said Rehman, who also minored in English. “I have loved my four years at UCSB and have gained so much from my degree, the opportunities present on campus, and the community.”

When he reflects on his time at UCSB, Rehman says that it was an experience of a lifetime to compete as a Division I athlete alongside his teammates and learn what is possible for himself on the track and in the classroom. He described the experience of making a real impact on the outside world as a member of EWB as “truly inspiring.” Rehman is also confident that his coursework prepared him to succeed in whatever he chooses to pursue. 

His message for his fellow graduates will be to underscore how incredibly lucky they are to be Gauchos and UCSB alumni. 

“Gauchos have a unique mix of brilliance, warmth, and joviality that will not only result in a rich life for themselves, but a rich life for everyone around them,” he said. “I have no doubt that every one of my fellow graduates will take a small piece of UCSB with them wherever they go and share with the world what makes being a Gaucho so special.”

Rehman will return to UCSB in the fall in the Master in Technology Management program. 

2023 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research 
At the start of his sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara, Matthew Ho was accepted into the Computer Science Department’s Early Research Scholars Program (ERSP), a year-long research apprentice program designed to support students in their first research experience. Nearly two years later, he has been awarded a 2023 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, a prestigious prize to honor exceptional undergraduate contribution to knowledge created in the discipline. 

“Receiving this award is a tremendous honor and incredibly gratifying,” said Ho, who will complete his bachelor’s degree in computer science in the fall. 

Ho says that he gained foundational research skills through the ERSP, which is run by Diba Mirza, an associate teaching professor of computer science, learning how to review literature, maintain logs, and write proposals. Through the program, he worked on a natural language processing (NLP) project with William Wang, an associate professor of computer science. After completing the ERSP, he continued to work as an undergraduate researcher for Wang and his NLP Group. Eventually, Ho had a research paper accepted by the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) in 2023 and presented his work at the event. 

“From start to finish, my research project had seemingly endless obstacles,” he said. “But, like our eventual research paper acceptance at the ICLR 2023, this award inspires me to trust in my ability to stay the course and overcome adversity.”

Ho plans to apply to graduate school next year and continue working to solve problems in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The novelty and the opportunity to break new ground are what excite him the most about research.

“I owe tremendous thanks to both Professor Wang and Professor Mirza,” said Ho. “They taught me everything I know about research and helped me find my passion. It is because of them that I have my sights set on graduate school.”

UC Santa Barbara Award of Distinction 
For promoting health and wellness across campus with her web design skills and for helping her fellow computer science majors stay on track, Doris Wei has received a UC Santa Barbara Award of Distinction from the Academic Senate. The award is presented to graduating students who have made an outstanding contribution to a particular area of student life and in recognition of in-depth involvement and significant achievement in campus or community activities. 

“I think this award holds a lot of personal significance to me, “said Wei, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science this spring. “It represents external validation, as well as self-fulfillment and purpose.”

Wei’s significant contribution to the university lies in her work as a web development intern for the Health and Wellness (H&W) Program, which promotes the mental, physical, and social health of all students. She and other interns collaborated to incorporate new and compelling content on the H&W website, adding podcasts, zines, and blogs to promote mental well-being and spread H&Ws mission. Wei is grateful for an opportunity to contribute to something larger than herself and crate a better and more supportive environment for others,

“I was often unsure about my efforts in the department because so much of my work took place behind the scenes,” said Wei. “Through this award, I feel affirmation that my contributions have been noticed and valued by my department and community. Beyond that, I am glad that some part of my work was able to positively impact the lives of others and contribute to the betterment of the community.”

In addition to interning with H&W, Wei also worked as an undergraduate learning assistant in the Computer Science (CS) Department, where she had an opportunity to assist her peers understand difficult course material and navigate complex assignments and labs. She also conducted undergraduate research for Jonathan Balkind, an assistant professor of computer science, as part of the CS Department’s Early Research Scholar’s Program

After graduation, Wei plans to start applying for graduate school and exploring job opportunities. 

“The engineering program at UCSB prepared me well, whether I will be pursuing an advanced degree or entering the job market,” she said. “Those courses that I took at UCSB were always rigorous and challenging and will help be in the future.”

 The 2023 recipients of the College of Engineering's most prestigious honors for graduating seniors. ​

2023 College of Engineering award recipients (clockwise from top left) Jorge Gutierrez, Matthew Ho, Aamir Rehman, Xiangying Zuo, Doris Wei, Shivani Sista