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Martin Polz - Engineers, awards, and a band

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering banquet recognizes the Class of 2017 and outstanding members of the CEE community.

Carolyn Schmitt | Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
June 2, 2017

Students, researchers, faculty, and staff celebrated graduating seniors, departmental award winners, and the end of the academic year at the recent Senior Celebration and Awards Banquet of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

"In CEE, we are constantly striving to create new and innovative solutions, and to find ways to improve the world through our research," CEE department head and Jerry McAfee Professor of Engineering Markus Buehler said at the May 18 gathering. "We are able to have such a large impact because of the dedication of community members to our department mission and vision, and to MIT."

The opening hour showcased senior capstone projects from members of the Class of 2017, including research on topics ranging from vehicle emissions to the Mosul Dam in Iraq.

"The capstones showed the potential of using the world as a classroom," said Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Professor Admir Masic. "Many of the projects were connected to CEE fieldwork experiences - like TREX and ONE-MA3 - and I think that's an important direction to follow. By bringing our students around the world and helping them connect their research to real-world challenges, the students are able to have a direct impact. We saw the results of this concept in several of the capstone presentations."

At the banquet, faculty members were invited to vote for the winners of the Capstone Poster Prize, which was ultimately awarded to two teams studying vehicle emissions in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The winners were seniors Rebecca Sugrue, Kali Rosendo, Tiffany Wang, Elaine Cunha, Kathy Dieppa, Ru Mehendale, and Erin Reynolds. Rosendo, Sugrue, and Wang measured roadside emissions and calculated emission factors from cars. Cunha, Dieppa, Mehendale, and Reynolds created a model to quantify vehicle emissions from cars in Cambridge.

"When we won it was just a lot of excitement. We worked really hard, and I think on the inside everyone wanted to win a little bit, but to have it happen and to have Professor [Jesse] Kroll also be recognized was awesome," Sugrue said.

The event was also the community debut of a newly-formed CEE band, featuring graduate students Justin Montgomery, Kelsey Wittels, and Dustin Weigl; postdocs Stefan Thiele, Ruud Janssen, and Diego Lopez; and visiting scholar Balazs Lengyel.

"As the night went on people started getting into the show and they were singing along, cheering, and just generally rocking out," Montgomery said. "The band had been hyped a bit leading up to this, so many people were excited to finally get to hear what we had been practicing."

The band, who call themselves Hell's Beavers, performed intermittently throughout the night and played a variety of styles, from classic rock to reggae. The inclusive group is one of a number of CEE-sponsored initiatives to build a stronger community across the department, and injected an extra boost of fun to the celebration.

"I think we were all pretty excited to have the opportunity to play for friends and colleagues in the department who otherwise would never see this side of us," Montgomery said. "It was great to be able to show them something that we are passionate about and work hard at outside of our research and coursework."

Recognizing outstanding members of the CEE community

Every year, students, researchers, faculty, and staff are encouraged to nominate their peers for CEE Awards. As the academic year concludes, the community honors the winners and celebrates their accomplishments.

The awards portion of the night kicked off by honoring undergraduates. The CEE Best Undergraduate Research Award was given to seniors Elaine Cunha and Tess Hegarty. Cunha was commended for her dedication to research, specifically her work on a collaborative project with Massachusetts General Hospital. Hegarty was honored for her original research into the embodied carbon of structures, which was conducted as part of a two-year Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UROP).

Junior Jillian Dressler received the CEE Leadership and Community Award for her hard work and dedication to CEE. She was recognized for her enthusiasm for the department, particularly through her role as social chair for the Civil and Environmental Engineering Student Association (CEESA).

The Juan Hermosilla (1957) Prize, given to a student demonstrating exceptional talent and potential for future contributions at the intersection of mechanics, materials, structures and design, was awarded to senior George Varnavides. For his senior capstone project, Varnavides worked on a project about the Mosul Dam in Iraq. His project was inspired by a New Yorker article on the dam, which was constructed under Saddam Hussein.

The Leo (Class of 1924) and Mary Grossman Award, which is given annually to an undergraduate student with a strong interest in transportation and a strong academic record, was presented to sophomore Mark Mockett. Mockett was commended for his dedication and thorough research during a UROP in which he worked on a market selection project for the East Japan Railway Company and a market project on a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Senior Rebecca Sugrue was awarded the Paul L. Busch (1958) Prize, an award for an undergraduate student in environmental science and engineering for academic achievement and contributions to the CEE community. Sugrue has been involved with many facets of CEE, from serving as faculty liaison in CEESA to participating in freshmen pre-orientation programs and being active on the Undergraduate Association's Committee on Sustainability.

Senior Bryan Lilley was the recipient of the Tucker-Voss Award, presented to an undergraduate or graduate student who shows particular promise in the field of building construction. For his senior capstone project, Lilley worked with Masic on how to minimize carbon footprint with different materials. The award was created in the 1950s, when the Department of Building Construction merged with the Department of Civil Engineering. The award is named in memory of Professor Ross F. Tucker and Professor Walter C. Voss, who were the first two heads of the Department of Building Construction.

A number of graduate students were also recognized for their various contributions to the department during the year and throughout their time at MIT. Qingjun "Judy" Yang was awarded the Trond Kaalstad (Class of 1957) Fellowship, awarded annually to a graduate student who has displayed leadership and contributed significantly to the well-being of the CEE community. Yang was recognized for being a founding member of MIT Talks on Reliable Environmental Science (TREES), a student organization that aims to make environmental science more accessible to all audiences.

The Maseeh Annual Award for Excellence as a Teaching Assistant was awarded to Xiaojing "Ruby" Fu, a graduate student and highly-rated teaching assistant for 1.000 (Computer Programming for Engineering Applications). Fu is also Chair of the Henry L. Pierce Laboratory Social Committee and an active participant in community events.

The third graduate student award was given to Anna Tarakanova, who was given the CEE Best Doctoral Thesis Award. The award honors scholarly and academic excellence and a high level of distinction of a CEE graduate student, and it was given for her thesis, "Molecular structure, hierarchical assembly and stimuli - responsive mechanics of tropoelastin and elastin biomaterials."

Stefan Thiele, a postdoc in Professor Martin Polz's lab, received the CEE Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring, Teaching, and Excellence Award. The award is given in recognition of mentoring, teaching, and other exceptional contributions by a postdoc. In addition to volunteering as a mentor for the mini-UROP program for freshmen, Thiele has worked tirelessly to ensure the department engages in the most environmentally sustainable options and introduced an initiative to reuse bowls and utensils to reduce waste.

Students, researchers, faculty, and staff were also given the opportunity to nominate faculty members for a number of awards. Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Professor Pedro Reis was awarded the Maseeh Excellence in Teaching Award, presented annually to the most outstanding faculty instructor in the past year. Reis was acknowledged for his energetic teaching style, as well as his willingness to engage with students outside of the classroom.

The CEE Distinguished Service and Leadership Award was given to JR East Professor of Engineering Joseph Sussman. The award recognizes outstanding departmental service and leadership contributions of a member of the CEE faculty, to acknowledge an individual who fosters a culture of diversity, inclusiveness, and innovation, to further the department mission and vision and MIT as a whole. Sussman was honored for his friendship and mentorship to both students and fellow faculty members and for his support of all CEE community events.

"With so many excellent colleagues in implicit competition for this award, I am humbled and honored to be selected," said Sussman, who was unable to attend the event. "I look forward to receiving the certificate which I will display with pride."

Class of 1942 Professor of Architecture and CEE Professor John Ochsendorf was awarded the Samuel M. Seegal Prize, for his engagement with and dedication to his students. The prize alternates annually between CEE and the Sloan School of Management, and is given to a professor who inspires students to pursue and achieve excellence.

The Ole Madsen Mentoring Award, a new award for 2017, was given to associate professor of CEE and chemical engineering Jesse Kroll. The award honors a faculty member for his or her contributions to mentoring and educating CEE students outside the classroom, and to inspire them to pursue a career in the field of civil and environmental engineering. Kroll was recognized for his passion for the environment, his willingness to help and mentor students, and to meet with students for faculty dinners.

Two staff members who have gone above and beyond in their service to the CEE community were awarded the CEE Excellence Award for their excellent contributions to the CEE community, commitment to professionalism, dedication and best practices, as well as fostering a culture of diversity, inclusiveness, and innovation. The awards were presented to Allison Dougherty of CEE Communications and Jackie Foster, an administrative assistant in the Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering.

"In civil and environmental engineering, there are many hard working students, researchers, faculty and staff that consistently strive to foster a strong community and commitment to excellence among our department and throughout MIT," Buehler said. "Our annual CEE Awards Ceremony is a chance to recognize these outstanding individuals and thank them for their contributions to the department."