Friday, June 12, 2020
Four College of Engineering students have been recognized for making outstanding contributions to the lives of other UC Santa Barbara students. Mayela Aldaz Cervantes, Jenna Bovaird, Boning Dong, and Austin Morales were among the twenty-two seniors and graduate students to receive the University Award of Distinction this spring. The award recognizes students who have contributed greatly to the quality of life by providing unselfish service to others within a particular area.
Advised by Mehrabian Distinguished Professor of Materials Carlos G. Levi, Aldaz Cervantes is a PhD candidate in the Materials Department. Her research involves developing a better understanding of how titanium metal reacts with interstitials (small atoms) that are present in the environment. Oxygen and nitrogen, which compose most of our breathing air, are highly soluble in titanium metal which forms a scale that weakens in strength, making it an attractive lightweight material for us in aircraft, turbine engines, and biological implants.
Aldaz Cervantes received the University Award of Distinction for her service as a mentor to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students extensively in and outside of the lab. She also served as an officer in the graduate chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanxs/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and by co-founding Grads for Implicit Bias Education (GIBE). Through GIBE, she collaborated with various graduate student organizations to advocate for the implementation of implicit bias training for faculty, staff, and graduate students; and for greater data collection to support a more inclusive campus climate.
“It is always nice to be honored by an award, especially as a positive influence on communities you care about so much,” said Aldaz Cervantes, who previously has received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Materials’ Regents Fellowship, and the UCSB President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship. “However, recognition for my work implicitly acknowledges that there continue to be inequities on our campus. Science is not usually kind to people who do not conform to the norm and that is what I’ve been and will continue working to change.”
Born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Aldaz Cervantes says that diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives are extremely hot topics in academia. However, she believes the initiatives must also focus on the students’ well-being, support, and sense of belonging within their programs. Despite her time at UCSB nearing an end, Aldaz-Cervantes said her efforts to improve equity are far from over.
“My goal is to improve the culture in STEM to make it an environment where people from all sorts of backgrounds can thrive,” said Aldaz Cervantes, who earned a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical and materials engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso. “I know many talented people who would make brilliant scientists but were actively discouraged from pursuing a scientific career because of who they are. When I think of all the talent we have been wasting and all the suffering we cause the underrepresented students who do pursue science, I am motivated to continue working for a more inclusive field.”
Aldaz Cervantes plans to continue educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers after defending her dissertation in the fall.
Morales, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, has been an active member of the Fifth Grade Chemistry Outreach Program for four years. As part of the program, he taught basic chemistry and experimental techniques to local fifth-grade students, who visited UCSB labs weekly to participate in hands-on physical science activities. The program is designed to develop the children’s interest in science and motivate them to pursue a degree and career in engineering and the sciences. Once a year, he also taught chemistry to high school students from underprivileged areas during a College Link Outreach Program (CLOP) event hosted by Hermanos Unidos, a male-oriented support organization for Chicano/Latino male students.
“I think it is important to help others because the impact is like a ripple in a pond. This is especially true in education,” said Morales, who graduated from Newbury Park High School. “When armed with knowledge and ethics, one has the ability to achieve limitless heights and can, in turn, become very impactful. By provoking curiosity and passing down wisdom, one will not only better their students, but also improve the impact those students will have on others and society. In short, helping others will indirectly help more people than one may realize.”
Morales also served as an undergraduate researcher for chemical engineering professor Phillip Christopher. He assisted in the research group’s work on developing new ways to understand and design catalytic processes, which are chemical reactions driven and expedited by a material known as a catalyst. In addition to focusing on his classes, research, and community outreach, Morales also worked to pay for his education.
“Coming into UCSB, I did not receive any financial aid. Throughout my four years, I had to work a minimum of two jobs, and sometimes three so I could pay for college,” said Morales. “Chemical engineering is something I am very passionate about, and the thought of becoming a qualified chemical engineer helped push me through the financial struggle. Without a doubt, all of the time and effort were well worth it.”
Morales will attend the University of Houston in fall to begin pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering and continue working on heterogeneous catalysis.
Dong, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering this spring, also received the College of Engineering’s Hynes-Wood Award, which recognizes students for outstanding contributions to student activities and helping others with professional growth and development. The award is named for Jacqueline Hynes, former assistant dean for academic programs in engineering, and the late Roger Wood, a beloved electrical and computer engineering professor and former associate dean for academic affairs.
“The awards are an acknowledgement of my work in the university’s chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Student Branch at UCSB,” said Dong, who founded and managed an engineering club in high school. “The recognitions also provide additional motivation and encouragement for me to continue doing more activities that positively influence the engineering community.”
Dong joined the IEEE club as a freshman, becoming a project manager and president the following two years. Club membership grew from forty to nearly two-hundred students during that time.
“While I was president, I tried really hard to redevelop the club. We redesigned the website and launched Instagram and LinkedIn pages to share our work with the outside world,” said Dong. “We also introduced collaborative projects, organized the first-ever IEEE Hackathon which drew nearly one hundred registrants, and we hosted an end-of-the-year ceremony to showcase our progress to our professors and industry partners.”
With a 3.95 cumulative GPA, Dong is graduating with High Honors. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, he also minored in art. Dong will return to campus in fall as a graduate student in ECE’s master’s program.
Bovaird, like Dong, was active with the student branch of IEEE since her freshman year. The electrical engineering student also received the College of Engineering’s John and Sheila Lake Excellence Award, which is named for alumnus John Lake and his wife, Sheila, and recognizes outstanding service and academic scholarship.
“Receiving the awards is an incredible honor,” said Bovaird, whose parents are both engineers. “They recognized my passion for leading and inspiring engineers throughout my life as I continue to learn and explore new topics. As a female in engineering, I am especially proud to set a precedent of achievement and impact in my community.”
As a sophomore, she served as the IEEE club’s publicity chair and Smart Lamp Project Lead, teaching members how to make a Bluetooth-controlled color-changing LED board. She became internal vice president her junior year, helping launch IEEE’s inaugural hackathon. She took over as president as a senior. Bovaird said her dedication has been extremely rewarding in light of the fact that the club now has nearly two hundred members.
“My time in IEEE has been even more rewarding from the personal relationships I’ve gained,” she said. “I am also very passionate about being a role model for other women in my field. I’ve had multiple undergraduate women in STEM tell me that my actions in IEEE helped them feel more comfortable.”
She will return to UCSB in the fall as a graduate student in the electrical and computer engineering’s Bachelor of Science/Master of Science (BS/MS) Degree Program. Her emphasis will be in electronics and photonics.
“Saying I’m proud to graduate from UCSB is an understatement. I couldn’t imagine a better place to earn an engineering degree,” she said. “This is exactly why I’m continuing in the master’s program, to advance my career while still keeping the roots with an incredible school and community that I’m very invested in.”
All University Award recipients were honored during a virtual recognition ceremony on June 7.