Top of Their Class: COE Announces Outstanding Seniors

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Every spring, the College of Engineering recognizes the graduating seniors who have the highest cumulative grade point average (GPA) from each degree program. This year’s Outstanding Seniors are Ines Bilkić and Keith Lau (chemical engineering); Siyu (Steven) Lin (computer engineering); Siddharth Deshpande, Alex Mei, Chaofan Shou, Eric Yuan, and Henry Zhang (computer science); Arthur Wang (electrical engineering); and Jefferson Cam (mechanical engineering). 

Ines Bilkić and Keith Lau, who are both graduating with high honors, have been named the Outstanding Seniors of the Chemical Engineering Department.  

“This award is meaningful to me because it shows that I was able to be successful among such a talented and intelligent group of students,” said Bilkić, who has a 3.96 cumulative grade point average (GPA). “Every person I have met in my graduating class in chemical engineering is incredibly smart and capable, and I am honored to be graduating with them.”

Bilkić was an active member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at UCSB, serving as vice president for the past two years. Participating in SWE allowed her to develop leadership skills, form a network with other women in engineering, and attend professional networking events. She also spent two years as an undergraduate researcher, working under Enoch Yeung, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, whom she credits with motivating her to explore interesting research problems and giving her the freedom and guidance to develop her research skills. Bilkić also expressed gratitude to the dedicated chemical engineering faculty for placing emphasis on teaching the theoretical background behind traditional chemical engineering concepts. 

“I found this style of learning worked well for me, because I like to understand all aspects of a problem,” said Bilkić, who will start a job as a consultant engineer with FM Global after graduation. “Especially in our senior design class, we were challenged to explain why we made certain design decisions. I feel that this will make me more qualified to solve problems and make decisions in the future.”

A first-generation college student, Lau says that he did not know much English when he moved to the United States six years ago. Now, he is days away from earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with a 3.96 cumulative GPA. 

“I would never have imagined receiving such an exclusive award,” said Lau, who graduated from Terra Nova High School in Pacifica, California. “This honor acknowledges the effort that I put into both academics and socializing, because I think that a majority of my growth is attributed to my friends. The award also further fuels my passion for learning.”

Lau said that working in groups and reaching out to his peers helped him succeed during the pandemic. He has conducted undergraduate research for Arnab Mukherjee, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. The Mukherjee lab develops molecular reporters to look, noninvasively, at biochemical activities and cellular targets in living systems. 
“The experience opened a lot of job opportunities and taught me valuable skills that will be applicable to my future career,” said Lau, who plans to work as a bioprocessing engineer for a few years before heading to graduate school. “UCSB engineering has equipped me with unique critical thinking skills and an ability to seek the optimal solution. The opportunity to take a variety of engineering technical electives also broadened my general knowledge and guided me to the career path that I wish to pursue.”

Siyu (Steven) Lin, the 2022 Outstanding Graduate of Computer Engineering, is graduating with highest honors and a 4.0 cumulative GPA. Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Lin said he shares the award with his family and friends, who supported him during some difficult times throughout the pandemic. 

“There is no word to describe my delight receiving this award in recognition of my dedication and hard work,” said Lin. “I am extremely proud to graduate from our Computer Engineering Department, which is dedicated to providing students with a diverse and interdisciplinary environment that allows us to discover our own research interests.”

As part of his capstone project, Lin conducted optical neural network research with Spencer Smith, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. His team built a hybrid structure that combined optical and silicon computations to perform image classification using relatively little energy. He said that the experience strengthened his leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. 

“UCSB engineering provided me with solid fundamental knowledge through both hands-on labs and conceptual work,” he said. “Together with the capstone project and research-oriented courses, UCSB has set me up to be a driven and well-rounded student equipped to pursue future innovative research.”

Lin will start the PhD program the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the fall, where he plans to focus his research on biomedical imaging.

Five students, Siddharth Deshpande, Alex Mei, Chaofan Shou, Eric Yuan, and Henry Zhang, have been named the 2022 Outstanding Seniors of Computer Science. All five are graduating with highest honors and entered the spring quarter with 4.0 cumulative GPAs. 

Born and raised in Nanjing, China, Eric Yuan, came to the United States three years ago to attend UCSB. Despite knowing very little English at the time, Yuan embraced the chance to earn a computer science degree from one of the best engineering colleges in the nation. 

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to study with cutting-edge researchers and excellent peers,” said Yuan, who spent two years working as a resident assistant. “This was my first time in America, and I was afraid to communicate with people in the beginning. However, the diverse and welcoming environment within the College of Engineering helped me step out of my comfort zone, speak up, gain confidence, and succeed.”  

Yuan was part of a capstone team that built a web application to serve as a one-stop shop for prospective property renters; the senior project was aimed at helping solve the local housing shortage. The project provided a real-world experience with modern deep learning methods and web app development, and taught him how to work on a team and develop soft skills like public speaking. After earning a bachelor’s degree in three years, he plans to work for one year before attending graduate school. 

Henry Zhang opted to take a heavier course load than normal during the pandemic after he realized that many of the computer sciences translated well to an online environment. The decision allowed him to take fewer classes during his senior year and participate in extracurricular clubs, like the Kendo Club and the Jasmine Echo Chinese Orchestra. The Santa Clara native described earning a computer science degree and recognition as an outstanding senior as great accomplishments.

“Receiving this award is a testament to the effort that I have put into my college studies and the challenges that I have overcome,” said Zhang. “The honor encourages me to continue asking questions and pushing myself, and, hopefully one day, I can create new knowledge from what is already out there.”  

Zhang will return to campus in the fall to pursue his master’s degree through the department’s BS/MS program. He thanked Ziad Matni, a lecturer in the Computer Science Department, for helping him through the process of deciding whether or not to attend graduate school or work in industry.  

A major turning point in Alex Mei’s UCSB experience came when, as a second-year student, he participated in the Early Research Scholars Program (ERSP), a year-long research apprenticeship program designed to support students in their first research experience. Through the program, he conducted undergraduate research for the Natural Language Process (NLP) Group, working on responsible machine learning (ML), with a focus on transparency and text safety. Mei first-authored an academic paper that was published and others that are currently under review. He also landed internships with Amazon Web Services, Benchling, Two Sigma, and Procore Technologies.

“My research contributions played a big role in landing the opportunities that I have today, and I am extremely grateful to see the success of my hard work,” said Mei, who was also an active member of the Robotics Club and co-founded the UCSB Division of CodePath. “I would like to also express my deepest gratitude to Professor Diba Mirza, whose passion for computer science is infectious. And it cannot be understated how her contributions to the department through the ERSP and the Undergraduate Learning Assistance Program have improved the quality of our department.”

Mei plans to pursue full-time opportunities in industry relating to quantitative research, ML, NLP, or data science. 

At just twenty years of age, Siddarth Deshpande is graduating with highest honors and bachelor’s degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. He completed the degrees in just three years. 

“It means a lot for me to earn this award,” said Deshpande, who came to the United Sates during his sophomore year of high school. “I had a late start compared to my peers, which prevented me from reaching my full potential during high school. Seeing myself get this award in college means a lot to me, because I’ve proved to myself that I can do anything if I try.”

Deshpande says that he is grateful to his COE professor for not only teaching him about the course topic, but also various approaches to solving problems. He thanked computer science professor Rich Wolski for teaching him to look at the big picture and electrical and computer engineering professor Pradeep Sen for helping him learn what it means to preserve and take ownership of his projects. He believes that several of his classes will be applicable to his full-time job. 

“In particular, Computer Science Computer Science 156, led by Professor Phill Conrad, was the most impactful when it came to teaching me about real-world work experience,” said Deshpande, who plans to work in industry before applying for graduate school. “Other conceptual classes have also prepared me very well to further my education with a master’s degree and, perhaps, a PhD.”

Chaofan Shou gained experience in industry and undergraduate research while at UCSB, focusing on modern application security and program analysis.  While working for Tevfik Bultan, a computer science professor and department chair, he was part of a team that uncovered two network side-channel vulnerabilities that led to the leakage of users’ medical data and credentials. He co-authored multiple published papers on their findings. Shou also worked for computer science assistant professor Arpit Gupta, exploring blockchain, big data analysis, and machine learning. He thanked both professor for their guidance and mentorship. 

“Without Professor Bultan’s guidance, I would not have been able to complete any research project. He also made me interested in software engineering, pushing me to pursue a PhD,” said Shou. “Professor Gupta’s class made me interested in networking. Under his advisement, I contributed to multiple impactful projects, and I finalized my decision to go to graduate school to explore the missing link between networking, verification, and distributed systems.” 

Since completing his degree in fall 2021, Shou entered the work force as a software engineer at Salesforce. He will start a new position this summer as a researcher and security engineering at Veridise, a local start-up company that focuses on blockchain security. In the fall, he will begin pursuing his PhD at UC Berkeley. 

With a 3.98 cumulative GPA, Cheng-Yi (Arthur) Wang will graduate in June with highest honors and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. 

Wang was an active team member of GoGaucho, a mobile app developed by UCSB students, for UCSB students. The app, which is used by more than ten thousand students each month, serves as a one-stop for dining menus, course schedules, and registration information. He was also part of a capstone team that developed Beehive, an algorithm used to manage a fleet of autonomous vehicles for ridesharing services. 

He thanked Electrical and Computer Engineering Department faculty members Mahnoosh Alizadeh, Luke Theogarajan, Andrew Teel, Mark Rodwell, and Ramtin Pedarsani.  

“They helped me to go beyond my comfort zone and learn about the frontline of research,” said Wang, who will return to UCSB in the fall to earn a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering as part of the department’s BS/MS program. 

Jefferson Cam has always wanted to develop an invention that would change the world. While attending Temple High School in the Los Angeles area, he focused on becoming a mechanical engineer because of its focus on design and manufacturing. Now, he is a graduating as a Regents Scholar with high honors, a cumulative 3.97 cumulative grade point average, and a degree in mechanical engineering from his dream school. 

“UCSB's mechanical engineering program was my first choice because of its incredible faculty, many who are at the top of their research fields,” said Cam, who joined UCSB’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). “This place is an amazing, collaborative engineering environment that emphasizes teamwork and communication.”

Cam says that he has gained invaluable engineering experience and improved his leadership and teamwork skills at UCSB. He conducted undergraduate research for Elliot Hawkes, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, where he helped build and test a prototype of a robotic gripper arm. Cam said that the experience was key to his academic development and pushed him to be more creative when tackling design problems. He also fueled his passion for the space industry by working directly on a space-related project for his senior capstone, serving as the lead designer for a next-generation lunar regolith excavator, which won an award for the Most Innovative Project in Mechanical Engineering. 

“I am a first-generation college student and the first engineer in my family,” said Cam, who plans to work as an engineer in the space industry after graduation. “I am extremely proud to be able to graduate as a mechanical engineering and to continue to pursue my dream of designing things to make the world a better place.”

Class of 2022's Outstanding Seniors (clockwise from top left) Jefferson Cam, Ines Bilkić, Steven Lin, Arthur Wang, Keith Lau, Alex Mei, Chaofan Shou, Henry Zhang, Eric Yuan, and Siddharth Deshpande