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A celebration of community and research accomplishments

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Senior Celebration and Awards Banquet honors the Class of 2018 and outstanding community members.
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Seniors Alexa Jaeger (right) and Chelsea Chitty (center) present their capstone research project at the CEE Senior Celebration and Awards Night.
Seniors Alexa Jaeger (right) and Chelsea Chitty (center) present their capstone research project at the CEE Senior Celebration and Awards Night.
Photo: Allison Dougherty/Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Senior Will Popov discusses the results of his capstone project with CEE Professor Jesse Kroll.
Senior Will Popov discusses the results of his capstone project with CEE Professor Jesse Kroll.
Photo: Allison Dougherty/Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
The three winners from the senior capstone poster session, from left: Mikayla Murphy; Clio Macrakis; and Jillian Dressler.
The three winners from the senior capstone poster session, from left: Mikayla Murphy; Clio Macrakis; and Jillian Dressler.
Photo: Allison Dougherty/Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Before members of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Class of 2018 don their caps and gowns and process down Killian Court, the department came together to celebrate the graduates, the winners of departmental awards, and the conclusion of another academic year at the CEE Senior Celebration and Awards Banquet on May 17.

“The Senior Celebration and Awards Banquet is one of my favorite events of the year because we get to recognize the outstanding members of our community who make CEE so vibrant and inviting,” says Markus Buehler, the McAfee Professor of Engineering and department head. “It’s a really special time because we also get to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2018 and their contributions to MIT and the department over the past four years."

The event offered a forum for the Class of 2018 to present the results of their senior capstone research projects. The projects were created as part of 1.013 (Senior Civil and Environmental Engineering Design), and were designed to integrate and apply the many skills and lessons learned in the CEE undergraduate program.

During an electronic poster session, seniors spoke about their projects, which were completed both individually and in pairs over the past semester. Projects included applying machine learning to transportation systems, using unpiloted aerial vehicles to measure of methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from soil, and designing flood barriers for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority subway stations.   

“This is actually a culmination of three and a half years of UROP [Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program] research that I’ve done here, so it was pretty important to bring it all together, wrap it up, and be able to share what I’ve been doing with everyone,” said senior Mikayla Murphy, who researched the evolution of the bacterial genome, during the poster session. Although she initially didn’t imagine her mini-UROP project as a first year would evolve as far as it did, her project ultimately combined her interests in environmental science and computer science through an added bioinformatics component, Murphy explained.

For senior William Popov, the capstone project was a chance to try something new. Popov worked with Professor Benedetto Marelli to induce a relationship between bacteria and plants by creating a biopolymer coating that protects the bacteria. “This is more getting into the weeds with biological work that I didn’t really expect to do, but it was still really cool to try,” Popov said. “There’s a lot of potential to do something really valuable with this research.”

The posters were evaluated by faculty in attendance, who judged the presentations and helped to determine the winning prizes. Buehler presented Jillian Dressler with the first place prize; Clio Macrakis with the second place prize; and Murphy with the third place prize.

Following the poster session, the night was filled with music, food and departmental awards. Graduate student Jeffrey Liu of Professor Saurabh Amin’s Resilient Infrastructure Networks Lab, was the deejay for the evening. Liu took song requests and made sure that attendees were having a great time.

To recognize outstanding teachers, mentors, thesis projects, and collaborators, members of the community submitted nominations for their peers for a wide range of CEE Awards. At the CEE Senior Celebration and Awards Banquet, the winners were revealed and awarded certificates for their dedication to the department.

The awards component began by honoring the contributions of a number of undergraduate students. Co-presidents of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Student Association (CEESA), juniors Amber VanHemel and Meghan Reisenauer, both received the CEE Leadership and Community Award for their positivity and proactive nature in leading CEESA.

First-year student Rayna Higuchi received the CEE Best Undergraduate Research Award for her exceptional academic record, significant contributions to research projects, and for her mature intellectual and communication skills.

The Leo (Class of 1924) and Mary Grossman Award, given annually to an undergraduate student with a strong interest in transportation and a strong academic record, was presented to junior David Wu. Wu was recognized for taking a new big data-approach to a traditional transportation problem, and also for asking and answering challenging questions in the classroom.

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 junior Stephanie Chin. Chin was lauded for her exceptional research record; through her structures and materials UROP project with Professor Oral Buyukozturk, Chin has published three peer-reviewed papers this year.

Mikayla Murphy 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. Murphy was honored for her unique research interests at the intersection of environmental science and engineering, biology and computer science, and specifically for her contributions during CEE’s Traveling Research Environmental eXperiences (TREX) program in 2017.

Some awards, such as the Tucker-Voss Award, are open to both undergraduate and graduate students. MEng candidate Jackson-Lee Jewett 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. Jewett was commended for his dedication to building more efficient structures and for his exceptional performance during the MEng program. The Tucker-Voss Award was created when the Department of Building Construction merged with the Department of Civil Engineering in the 1950s. 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.

The Trond Kaalstad (Class of 1957) Fellowship, awarded annually to a graduate student who displayed leadership and contributed significantly to the well-being of the CEE community, was awarded to Sidhant Pai. Pai was an instrumental leader of the 2018 mini-UROP program, serves on the CEE Graduate Committee, and was recognized for being an active advocate for graduate students.

The Maseeh Annual Award for Excellence as a Teaching Assistant was awarded to Adam Bockelie for his role in 1.010 (Uncertainty in Engineering). Bockelie was lauded for his development of course materials and for thinking of new ways to teach material.

Alison Hoyt PhD ’17 was awarded with the CEE Best Doctoral Thesis Award for her project, “Carbon Fluxes from Tropical Peatlands: Methane, Carbon Dioxide and Peatland Subsidence.” The award honors scholarly and academic excellence and a high level of distinction of a CEE graduate student. Hoyt’s graduate advisor, Professor Charlie Harvey, accepted the award on her behalf.  

The CEE Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring, Teaching, and Excellence Award was presented to Katie Travis. The award is given in recognition of mentoring, teaching, and other exceptional contributions by a postdoc. Travis was extoled for her willingness to help others, for her investment to the community, and for giving advice to others about her academic experience.

Faculty were not exempt from receiving awards of their own. A number of students nominated faculty to honor their dedication to students and the community. Donald and Martha Harleman Professor Heidi Nepf was awarded the Maseeh Excellence in Teaching Award, presented annually to the most outstanding faculty instructor in the past year. Nepf was acknowledged for her use of various learning materials and for drawing from examples from nature and engineering to clarify concepts in fluid mechanics.

The CEE Distinguished Service and Leadership Award was presented to Professor Oral Buyukozturk for his contributions to the department over many decades. Buyukozturk was central to the creation of the revised civil engineering education program in the department, which launched in 2014. He also leads the Henry L. Pierce Seminar Series, which brings distinguished faculty from areas of civil, structural and infrastructure science and engineering to campus.

Professor Herbert Einstein received a standing ovation as he received the Ole Madsen Mentoring Award, an award that honors a faculty member for his or her contributions to mentoring and educating CEE students outside the classroom, and for inspiring them to pursue a career in the field of civil and environmental engineering. Einstein was commended for mantra, “to change the world, you need to be truly involved with it,” and for his dedication to his students and their overall well-being. He was also honored for sharing his enthusiasm for geotechnical engineering and for being a source of inspiration for his students and lab members.

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 Roberta Pizzinato, a financial coordinator of sponsored activity, and to program manager Donna Hudson.

The department also honored Angela Odoari Mickunas, CEE’s administrative officer, for receiving the Ellen G. Mandigo Award for Outstanding Service from the School of Engineering.

“This year’s CEE Senior Celebration and Awards Banquet truly showcased the dedication of members of our community to the overall success of the department,” Buehler says. “It was great to see the department come together, celebrate this past academic year and have a good time.”

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