Recognizing Excellence

Tuesday, April 20, 2021
UC Santa Barbara’s Academic Senate recognizes faculty members and graduate students each year for excellence in teaching and mentorship. This year, three faculty from the College of Engineering and one graduate student were honored for outstanding achievements in a range of activities that support the research and teaching missions of the university. Committee members selected recipients from a pool of nominations submitted by current graduate students, recent alumni, and colleagues. Winners will be honored by the Faculty Legislature during a virtual ceremony to be held later this spring.
Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award
Mentoring graduate students is an essential component of the mission of a research university such as UC Santa Barbara. Mentoring includes training graduate students for careers in research and teaching, and preparing them to meet the highest professional and ethical standards as scholars and researchers. Two College of Engineering faculty, Frank Zok of the Materials Department and Timothy Sherwood from the Department of Computer Science, have received the Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award for the 2020-21 academic year. The Academic Senate established the annual award in 2006 to encourage and reward faculty whose mentoring is considered exemplary. 
“Because this award is the result of my former students writing in support of what I do here, it is just so incredibly special, and I am honored,” said Sherwood, who conducts research in the area of computer architecture, developing novel high-throughput hardware and software methods to monitor and analyze systems for performance anomalies, software bugs, and energy efficiency. “My personal goal as a professor is to help a new generation of engineers prepare to make meaningful, ethical, and lifelong contributions to society through our ever-evolving understanding of computing.
Since joining UCSB’s faculty, Sherwood has served as the primary advisor for twenty-six PhD and master’s students and has sat on review committees for nearly seventy more. His graduate students have earned numerous best paper awards at top conferences and have gone on to enjoy careers as assistant professors, executives, and software engineers at major tech companies. Mentorship, according to Sherwood, is the gateway to a more mutually rewarding state of affairs — partnership.
“Whether we are partnering on achieving learning objectives in the classroom, making breakthrough discoveries in the lab, or even just meeting a desire to learn and improve together, a successful partnership must be built on a foundation of mutual respect, a desire to truly understand one another and share goals and objectives,” said Sherwood, whose previous honors include the Association for Computing Machinery’s Maurice Wilkes Award for outstanding contributions to computer architecture, numerous best paper awards from top conferences, and the Academic Senate’s Distinguished Teaching Award. “It is an amazing thing to see a student grow well beyond their own expectations, and even better when they see that they can help others do the same! That is why I do it, to help expand our own sense of what is possible and to realize the previously unimaginable.” 
Zok, a distinguished professor of materials, works to address issues in the design, synthesis, and properties of advanced thermostructural materials and systems. His current research activities focus on high-temperature ceramic composites for use in future propulsion systems in aircraft engines and in hypersonic flight vehicles, and protection systems for mitigating blast and ballistic threats. Zok has served as the principal advisor to thirty students, nine of whom are currently pursuing doctorate degrees. He has co-advised fourteen students and mentored twenty-three postdoctoral researchers during his tenure at UCSB, which spans more than thirty years . Zok says that while the award confers professional validation of his mentoring efforts, its larger significance is personal. 
“My graduate students are very much like family,” said Zok, a fellow of the American Ceramic Society. “It’s like this, I get to adopt bright, enthusiastic young adults for about five years, mold them and guide them the best I can, and watch them mature — professionally, intellectually, and emotionally. And even after they leave, these adopted kids remain family. So, the award is indeed personal.”
Zok says the foundations of his mentoring philosophy revolve around the creation, transfer, and responsible use of knowledge. He believes that in the research realm, education is about more than transferring knowledge to students; it’s about preparing them to become knowledge creators. Another crucial element of the knowledge enterprise is communication and converting tacit knowledge — that which resides in our minds — into explicit or formulated knowledge — that which can be transferred to others and produce economic or societal benefit. 
“This knowledge-transfer process requires the highest precision of communication in all its modalities. So providing students with the time, the resources, and the guidance to hone their communication skills has always been a high priority for me,” said Zok, who received the 2020 Nadai Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for “advancing the understanding of the design and performance of structural materials, including ceramic and metal composites as well as lattice materials, through the development of novel test protocols, theoretical and computational models, and combined experimental/modeling techniques.” 
Distinguished Teaching Award
Yogananda Isukapalli, an associate teaching professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, has received the Academic Senate’s 2020-21 Distinguished Teaching Award for demonstrating excellence in teaching and contributing to the teaching mission of the university. 
“I am honored to receive the prestigious award from the Academic Senate,” said Isukapalli, who was selected by graduating seniors as the Computer Engineering Faculty of the Year in 2018-19, and 2019-20. “It gives me great satisfaction to know that students appreciate my teaching and mentoring.”
Isukapalli joined the ECE faculty as a tenure-track teaching professor in winter 2017. His 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 engineer solutions to real-world problems. He says that capstone is unlike any other class that he teaches at UCSB. 
“I work with each team separately, so there is a lot of one-on-one interaction with students. I don’t micromanage the projects, but rather give them freedom, encouragement, and all the resources they need to complete the project,” said Isukapalli. “Each project is unique and requires students to use their imagination and technical rigor to develop working prototypes. Essentially, I think of each capstone project as a mini-startup.” 
Every project is created to ensure that students have an opportunity to be creative and technically proficient in the design and implementation of an embedded computer system. This year, the topics of capstone projects range from designing a portable coagulopathy test, to ensuring a robotic arm’s path remains collision-free, to automating the anti-corrosion process on naval vessels. 
“My hope for the students is that they learn how to work as a team, think creatively, learn how to manage a budget, improve their technical and presentation skills, and feel confident about starting their professional careers,” he says. “It’s great to be recognized with an award from the Academic Senate, and it reinforces my commitment to teaching and mentoring.”
Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
The Academic Senate has selected Shabnam Larimian, a PhD candidate of electrical and computer engineering, to receive the 2020-21 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. Recipients are selected by a committee composed of past award winners, and representatives from the Graduate Council and the Council on Faculty Welfare, Academic Freedom, and Awards. Advised by electrical and computer engineering (ECE) professor Dmitri Strukov, Larimian says that the prestigious award reaffirms her career path. 
“The opportunity to teach and learn from students has strengthened my conviction to pursue a career as an educator,” said Larimian. “This award is a huge motivator and booster for me to stay on the teaching path and contribute to my own learning experience and that of my students.”
Larimian has served as a teaching assistant for the core ECE 10 Series, which teaches students the foundations of analog and digital circuits and systems. Last summer, she was part of a team of ECE instructors and TAs who worked together to transform the in-person 10 Series labs into remote, but still hands-on, learning experiences. They created remote kits that were shipped to each student, working diligently beforehand to program the microcontrollers, so that when the students received the kits, they could download the code to operate them from home. 
“As a teaching assistant, the pandemic made me think about how we can remotely provide students with an in-person experience,” said Larimian. “For example, I tried to provide students with a high-quality learning experience from home by providing much more detailed instructions during a lab experiment to eliminate any questions a student may have.”
Larimian says that the aspects of teaching she enjoys the most are interacting with engaged students, serving as a role model to female students, and helping students understand material for the first time. 
She has accepted a position at Uber as a software engineer, but Larimian plans to apply for faculty positions at universities in the near future. 

CoE award winners (left to right) Shabnam Larimian, Yogananda Isukapalli, Timothy Sherwood, Frank Zok