Top of Their Class

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Every spring, UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering (COE) honors the graduating seniors who have the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA) from each degree program. They are named Outstanding Seniors and recognized during the COE’s Undergraduate Commencement, which this year will take place on Saturday, June 17, from 4-5:15 PM at Commencement Green.

This year’s Outstanding Seniors are Will Borlik (chemical engineering), Tianrui Hu (computer engineering), Nicholas Brown (computer science), Sean Tseng (electrical engineering), Maddie Baalman (mechanical engineering), Kian Ahmadzadeh-Heravi (mechanical engineering), and Steven Nguyen (mechanical engineering). Four recipients have cumulative 4.0 GPAs, and six are graduating with highest honors, a distinction reserved for only the top 2.5 percent of the graduating class. 

Chemical Engineering
Will Borlik has been an active member of the COE community, working as an undergraduate research assistant and joining the campus chapters of Tau Beta Pi, the nation’s oldest engineering honor society, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). He also worked as a research assistant, modifying cell genomes and performing cell and bacterial cultures.

“The opportunities provided by these organizations and undergraduate research have allowed me to develop my own experiences and learn from the experiences of others,” said Borlik, who is graduating with high honors and a cumulative 3.97 GPA. “My time at UCSB has prepared me for my next steps by challenging me to continuously learn and push the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of doing.”

Borlik plans to return to the Bay Area after graduation to work in the biotechnology industry. 

Computer Engineering
Tianrui Hu recalled the challenge of adapting to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Living in Shenzhen, China at the time, where there was a 16-hour time difference with California, he still managed to attend every lecture and complete every homework assignment on time. Months later, he is graduating with high honors, a cumulative 3.99 GPA, and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. 

“I am honored to receive the award, and I humbly believe that this is a recognition of my hard work,” said Hu. “This is just the beginning of my career in engineering. It is too early to celebrate; let us move forward!”

For two years, Hu conducted undergraduate research for Kerem Çamsarı, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), working on probabilistic computing. Under Çamsari’s guidance, Hu said, he developed and refined his skills as a researcher and authored his first academic publication.

“The opportunity to immerse myself in research was truly enlightening,” said Hu, who will enter the ECE PhD program at The University of Texas at Austin in the fall. “The experience played a significant role in shaping my decision to pursue a PhD, introduced me to researchers from all over the world, and allowed me to contribute to cutting-edge research.”

Computer Science
Owning a 4.0 cumulative GPA, Nicholas Brown is graduating with highest honors and a degree in computer science. When reflecting on his time at UCSB, Brown says that he developed valuable collaboration skills through his coursework, and developed valuable technical skills by working as an undergraduate researcher for Yu Feng, an assistant professor of computer science. 

“Professor Feng has been a great mentor to me,” said Brown, who worked as a research assistant in Feng’s lab for nearly one year. “I am very proud to earn a degree from one of the top engineering schools in the nation, and I hope to use my new knowledge to continue learning and growing after graduation.”

Brown will work as a full-time software engineer at Veridise, a company that uses formal methods to enhance security of smart contracts to be deployed on the blockchain.  

Electrical Engineering
Sean Tseng thanked ECE professors Luke Theogarajan, Mark Rodwell, Upamanyu Madhow, and department chair, B.S. Manjunath, for explaining key concepts clearly, which paved the way for his academic success. Tseng, who has earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, is graduating with highest honors and a 3.98 GPA.

“I feel like this award recognizes my efforts at UCSB, and I hope to achieve much more after graduation,” said Tseng. “I am proud to earn my degree from UCSB. To me, it means that I have the necessary skills to be successful in electrical engineering wherever I go.”

Tseng worked as an undergraduate researcher for Hua Lee, a distinguished professor in ECE, processing and transforming radar images. He will begin his career as an engineer at Agilent in the fall.   

Mechanical Engineering
Maddie Baalman, Kian Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, and Steven Nguyen are co-recipients of the Outstanding Senior Award in Mechanical Engineering. The three are graduating with highest honors this spring and cumulative 4.0 GPAs. They will lead the procession of graduates into the College of Engineering’s ceremony. 

Baalman was an active member on campus, serving as president of UCSB’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB), and treasurer of UCSB’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the nation’s oldest and largest engineering honor society. She led EWB fundraising campaigns and helped secure a $10,000 grant from the UCSB Community Volunteer Foundation. She and her teammates traveled to Rwanda last year to install a rainwater catchment system at a boarding school, an experience she described as “impactful and rewarding.” Baalman thanked mechanical engineering lecturer David Bothman and Brian Dincau, lab manager of UCSB’s Microfluidics Laboratory and Innovation Workshop, for supporting the EWB chapter. She also expressed gratitude to Tyler Susko, an associate teaching professor and capstone instructor, for teaching her how to tackle engineering challenges creatively and methodically and for “inspiring greatness in all of his students.” 

“UCSB was my dream school, and I’m thrilled to be a graduate of the College of Engineering,” said Baalman, who plans to work in the biomedical device industry after graduation. “I’m so grateful for the collaborative community in this program and for the connections I’ve made with my professors and peers.”

Nguyen will start the mechanical engineering PhD program at UC San Diego in the fall, where he plans to dive deeper into the field of control theory and high-dimensional systems. He became interested in the area while working as an undergraduate researcher for mechanical engineering professor Igor Mezić, studying data-driven approaches to dynamical modeling through Koopman operator theory.. 

“One of the best parts about UCSB’s College of Engineering is how easy it is to become involved with research and get to know professors,” said Nguyen, who played trombone in UCSB’s Chamber Orchestra. “These opportunities have helped me prepare for graduate school by developing my research skills, and I feel ready to take my next steps as an engineer.”

Graduating at the top of his class once seemed impossible to Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, but thanks to the wealth of knowledge and skills that he gained while at UCSB, he has learned that even the most difficult of tasks are possible. He said that he discovered his passion for analysis  in the aerospace engineering field as a member of the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) at UCSB, a student organization that designs, manufactures, and tests quality rocketry projects developed for and by students. He worked on a team that successfully designed and built a feed system for a static fire rig.

“Working as a feed system engineer in this large student organization helped me realize how much I enjoy working collaboratively to solve engineering problems,” said Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, who after graduating will launch his career as a thermal engineer for SpaceX. “Not only did I get the opportunity to work on intellectually challenging problems with more experienced engineers through RPL, but I got a taste of what I would experience in industry.”

Ahmadzadeh-Heravi thanked the professors who helped him realize his passion, most notably Ted Bennett, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, whose knowledge and mentorship pushed him toward thermal and fluid analysis. He also thanked his parents, who encouraged him to pursue extracurricular activities like RPL, focus on school, and pursue his passion for engineering. 

Seven graduating students are named Outstanding Seniors by the College of Engineering

Outstanding Seniors (Clockwise from top left) Kian Ahmadzadeh-Heravi, Maddie Baalman, Will Borlik, Nicholas Brown, Sean Tseng, Steven Nguyen, Tuanrui Hu