Ten engineering students recognized for outstanding scholarship

by Nicole Capozziello

Published August 14, 2020

Ten high achieving engineering students have been recognized with prestigious awards from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“On behalf of the entire faculty and staff in SEAS, I congratulate the recipients of these prestigious awards, who embody the scholarly excellence that characterizes our school.”
Kemper Lewis, Dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The Harold O. Wolf award recognizes high achieving students who distinguish themselves through research, academic coursework and extracurricular activities, and the Dean’s Award for Achievement recognizes students who are doing exemplary research.

“On behalf of the entire faculty and staff in SEAS, I congratulate the recipients of these prestigious awards, who embody the scholarly excellence that characterizes our school,” says Kemper Lewis, Dean of the School of Engiineering and Applied Sciences. “Their research and educational achievements are incredibly impressive and we are extremely proud of all of their accomplishments.”

Two students, Makayla Roma, an undergraduate majoring in industrial engineering, and Cameron Grace, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, received the Harold O. Wolf Award. Given by Mary Wolf, the award honors her late husband Harold O. Wolf (BA geology 1960), and gives a prize of $1,000 and a commemorative plaque.

Five graduate students, Wei-Chiao Huang, biomedical engineering, Arvid Masud and Jiale Xu, environmental engineering, and Yong Hu and Payam Ghassemi, mechanical engineering, received the Dean’s Graduate Achievement Award for their significant contributions to the advancement of their fields through the performance of outstanding research.

Three students, Mary Rola and Esther Jose, industrial engineering, and Charles Barnes, mechanical and aerospace engineering, received the Dean’s Undergraduate Achievement Award, which recognizes students who have distinguished themselves through excellence in research and related technical presentations or publications.

The awards provide a prize of $200 and a commemorative plaque.

“This year’s awards were highly competitive. Faculty nominated 24 outstanding students for recognition at the graduate level alone. It was very challenging for the faculty committee to narrow it down to the top few,” said Christine Human, SEAS associate dean for accreditation and student affairs.

“I am deeply grateful for our partners and donors who make these awards even possible,” says Lewis. “It is their generosity that allows our students and their outstanding accomplishments to be recognized in this way.”

Meet the award recipients

Cameron Grace.

Cameron Grace, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is currently working as a CRASH Lab researcher on developing a flight hardware with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), for launch by NASA in 2026. One of his developed systems has the potential to be among the first 3D printed key structural systems intended specifically for load mitigation inside of a NASA Mars mission.

“With his work on the Earth Entry Vehicle of the Mars Sample Return Mission, Cameron has been a great ambassador for UB and CRASH Lab at NASA,” says Javid Bayandor, Grace’s advisor and Director of CRASHLab. “In addition, he does everything from his many social contributions to his professional commitments to perfection, with no expectations or need for recognition.”

On top of his contributions to the department as an exemplary researcher, teaching assistant, tutor and mentor, Grace was the NY State Captain of the 2019 AIAA visit to the U.S. Congress, leading a record number of UB participants on visits to 16 New York congressional district offices. He serves on the student organizing committee of the International Planetary Probe workshop and is a CRASH Lab member of the newly formed Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium at Applied Physics Lab. He also volunteers in Buffalo Public Schools with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences' outreach program. He is the recipient of a NASA-JPL Grant for Academic Research, awarded to CRASH Lab.

Makayla Roma.

Makayla Roma, a senior in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), is triple majoring in industrial engineering, economics and political science. Her current research focuses on predicting when an elderly person will experience a change in level of care, such as transitioning from independent living to an assisted living, nursing home, or hospice environment. Working with Sabrina Casucci, assistant professor of teaching in ISE, and Suzanne Sullivan of the School of Nursing, she is currently building a model that predicts this change, creating a tool to aid care planning decisions in primary care, and preparing a manuscript for publication.

Casucci, Roma’s advisor, says, “Makayla and I have worked together on research for the past two years. While she’s not even a senior, her dedication, drive and research abilities are on par with many of the best PhD students I’ve worked with.”

Roma was a research intern at iSEED (Institute for Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity) Summer Research Experience in 2019. She is an active member of oSTEM (out in STEM) and Tau Beta Pi, as well as previous president of the UB Debate Society, and one of the founding members of UB’s UAV working group.

For the summer of 2020, she was selected for a highly competitive internship at the Regenstrief Institute at Purdue, where she is doing research on aging populations in the healthcare field. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a PhD in Industrial Engineering.

Charles Barnes.

Charles Barnes, a graduating senior in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), conducts research in the field of space debris removal, which addresses important, growing problems in space exploration.

“Charles has been very proactive in research ever since he started working with me,” says Eleonora Botta, assistant professor in MAE and Barnes’ advisor. “I am particularly proud that his work led to a conference paper, which he presented at the second International Academy of Astronautics Conference on Space Situational Awareness, where he received the Best Student Paper Award.” Barnes also published a paper with Botta in Acta Astronautica.

Barnes is interested in spacecraft dynamics and attitude eetermination as well as space situational awareness and the future of all space work. He was a teaching assistant in the Engineering Materials Laboratory and completed an internship with E-J Electric Installation Co. during the summer of 2019.

Payam Ghassemi.

Payam Ghassemi, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), researches how artificial intelligence and robotics, specifically swarm robotics, can provide effective and low-risk solutions to environmental issues and disasters. His work led to two first-authored published journal papers in 2019, with three more currently under review. He carries out his research in the Adaptive Design Algorithms, Models & Systems (ADAMS) Lab under Souma Chowdhury, an assistant professor in MAE.

"I believe Payam not only displays exceptional scholarly productivity and persistence, but also a rare aptitude for leadership that will allow him to uniquely impact both academic research and proliferation of knowledge to the next generation," says Souma Chowdhury, Assistant Professor in MAE and Ghassemi's advisor.

Ghassemi’s other recent accomplishments include winning 3rd place in a student paper competition at the AIAA Aviation 2019 conference and a National Science Foundation Travel Award to attend IEEE MRS 2019 (International Symposium on Multi-Robot and Multi-Agent Systems) conference, where he presented one paper and one poster.

Ghassemi has also served as a teaching assistant in MAE and is a graduate of the SEAS 360 Certificate of Professional Development Program. He has volunteered in STEM outreach with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences' outreach program, and from 2017-2019, was a project manager for an engineering intramural project, in which he coached 20 undergraduate students in the development of an autonomous snow removal vehicle.

Yong Hu.

Yong Hu, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), is from Anhui, China. His research focuses on strongly-correlated molecular materials and their applications in electronics, optics and energy conversion. Yong’s work bridges different subdisciplines of additive manufacturing, supramolecular chemistry, materials science and cooperative quantum solids, and has led to eight journal publications, including high impact journals like Advanced Materials.

Shenqiang Ren, a professor in MAE and Hu’s advisor, says, “I believe that Yong is a promising, highly productive and creative young researcher who undoubtedly will become an independent innovative investigator and talented teacher.”

Outside of academia, Yong likes to exercise as a way to stay healthy, reduce stress and increase productivity in all areas of life. Yong plans to be a full-time researcher and aims to work on developing advanced molecular materials that can change our lives.

Wei-Chiao Huang.

Wei-Chiao Huang, a PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), researches the development of vaccines to address diseases including malaria, flu, HIV, and the coronavirus. Her work on a liposomal vaccine for malaria led to a first author article published in Nature Nanotechnologies in 2018, as well as collaborations with multiple biotech companies.

“Wei-Chiao blazed the trail for a project in the field of malaria vaccines, which we knew was important, but was something our lab hadn't worked on before. Her work has led to international collaborations with global health organizations, including PATH and GHIT, and we are hoping that her research can move towards clinical translation,” said Jonathan Lovell, Huang’s advisor and an associate professor in BME. “As a student, she is willing to learn and try new approaches; as a colleague she is always happy to help others, and as a researcher, she is driven and focused to go the extra mile to generate the data required to get to the bottom of the problem at hand.”

Huang currently serves as the Head of the Vaccine Development for POP Biotechnologies. She has also been active in UB’s Taiwanese Student Association and was the team leader of her college volleyball team.

Esther Jose.

Esther Jose, a graduating senior in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), researches prescribed fires in the U.S. Her significant contributions to the field have been recognized on and off-campus; one of her papers won second place at the IISE Northeast regional conference in February of 2020 and her poster received first place at this year’s UB Industrial Engineering Undergrad Research Poster competition.

“Esther is a top student in our department,” said Jun Zhuang, Esther’s advisor and a professor in ISE. “Her all-around academic excellence, quality of research, and passion for collaboration are all deserving of recognition.”

On campus, she was proud to be an RA in Governor’s Hall for two years, as well as a member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering. She also worked at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences' Advisement Office as a student assistant and tour leader, and was a student leader for EAS 199/ EAS 202. She collaborated with UB Facilities and the Jacobs Medical School on an intramural project, winning the Silent Crane and Hoist Competition two times, and a third time this spring as in partnership with Buffalo Games, where she was a manufacturing engineering intern.

In fall of 2020, she will be starting her PhD at the University at Buffalo in industrial engineering, with a focus on operations research.

Arvid Masud.

Arvid Mohammad Masud, a PhD student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering (CSEE), works on synthesizing next generation carbon-metal nanohybrid materials for water treatment, including utilizing 3D printing to fabricate devices used for real-scale application in the water treatment sector. His work led to seven co-authored journal articles, as well as two book chapters.

“Arvid is by far one of the most sincere and talented graduate students I have ever come across,” says Nirupam Aich, an assistant professor in CSEE and Masud’s advisor. “He is not only enthusiastic about his research but extremely collaborative and well-rounded, generously mentoring undergraduate and junior graduate students in my lab over the last four years."

Masud has been active in the Environmental and Water Resources Institute graduate student chapter, where he served as treasurer. He has been a dedicated and well-liked teaching assistant throughout his career, assisting in six classes under seven different instructors, and was named best teaching assistant by the department for the academic year 2019-2020. He also won first place at the CSEE poster competition in 2019.

Mary Rola.

Mary Rola, an incoming senior in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), is passionate about human factors, which she is minoring in. Over the past school year, she assisted in the Department of Engineering Education, where she worked on a research project investigating the concept of engineering judgment among undergraduate engineering students. This work led to two co-authored conference publications.

“Mary has taken on reading and learning about the emerging field of engineering education,” says Jessica Swenson, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education and Rola’s research advisor. “In addition, the responsibilities I have given her in leading data analysis for our two conference papers is at the level that I would typically expect of a masters student, but Mary has stepped up and been an integral part to both papers.”

Rola serves as outreach coordinator on the E-Board of UB’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She is currently working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- NIOSH in Spokane, Washington, as an intern.

Jiale Xu.

Jiale Xu, a PhD student in the Department of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering (CSEE), investigates the risk of toxic contaminant disinfection byproducts in wastewater recycling. Xu’s work has been published in the Journal of Membrane Science, Environmental Science & Technology and Water Research.

“Aside from his main research projects, Jiale actively contributes to and collaborates with research groups in CSEE and SEAS, attesting to his scientific curiosity, leadership and teamwork skills, and dedication to a career as a researcher in environmental chemistry and engineering,” says Ning Dai, an associate professor in CSEE and Jiale’s advisor.

Xu has also been active in the Environmental & Water Resources Institute graduate student chapter, which he helped found in 2018. He received the selective Graduate Student Award in Environmental Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 2020, as well as the Graduate Research Award from CSEE. He was also a recipient of the Mark Diamond Research grant.