12 students recognized for outstanding achievements

Portrait photos of students who received the Dean's Award for Achievement and the Harold Wolf scholarship.

SEAS Scholarship winners (top row): Alex Liu, Kyle Hunt, Jesse Callanan, Nan Hua; (middle row): Hemendra Nath Jaiswal, Sanjeev Tannirkulam Chandrasekaran, Yixiong Zheng, Krista Beranger; (bottom row): Baicheng Chen, Nicholas Deitrich, Alexandra Nordmann, John Toftegaard.

by Nicole Capozziello

Published September 10, 2021

Twelve exceptional engineering students have been recognized with awards from the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“I am immensely proud of our students’ accomplishments and know they’ll continue to make major impacts, whether in further education or in their careers.”
Kemper Lewis, dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Announced annually, 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 graduate and undergraduate students who are doing exemplary research.

“While the 2020-2021 school year presented unique challenges, it didn’t get in the way of our students making significant contributions to their research fields and the UB community,” says Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “I am immensely proud of our students’ accomplishments and know they’ll continue to make a difference, whether in further education or in their careers.”

Alexander Liu, an undergraduate majoring in computer science and Kyle Hunt, a graduate student in industrial engineering, received the Harold O. Wolf Award. Given by Mary Wolf, the award honors her late husband Harold O. Wolf (BA geology 1960)..

Five graduate students, Hemendra Nath Jaiswal and Sanjeev Tannirkulam Chandrasekaran, both electrical engineering, Jesse Callanan, aerospace engineering, Nan Hua, civil engineering, and Yixiong Zheng, materials design and innovation, received the Dean’s Graduate Achievement Award for their significant contributions to the advancement of their fields through the performance of outstanding research.

This year’s Dean’s Undergraduate Achievement Award, which recognizes students who have distinguished themselves through excellence in research and related technical presentations or publications, went to Baicheng Chen, computer science, Nicholas Deitrich, aerospace engineering, John Toftegaard, biomedical engineering, and Krista Beranger and Alexandra Nordman, both mechanical engineering.

“So many outstanding students were nominated this year, especially at the undergraduate level. It was challenging for the committee to narrow it down to the top few, and this recognition really showcases the high quality research work that is being done by our students here at UB,” says Christine Human, SEAS associate dean for accreditation and student affairs.

Harold O. Wolf award recipients

Alex Liu, Harold O. Wolf Award recipient

Alexander Liu graduated in May with a BS in computer science. His most recent research project focused on theoretical topics specifically around the improvement and application of matrix multiplication methods to machine learning models. Working with Atri Rudra, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Liu gained technical skills in fields such as algorithms, machine learning, and abstract algebra, as well as honed both his written and oral communication skills through collaboration.

Rudra says, “Alex was the clear leader on this project, which he started working on in the summer of 2020. The project was unique in that it did not start with clear goals. However, Alex took all the changes in stride, making many of the key observations and writing up the results of the research. He basically worked on a project that would be more appropriate for a senior PhD student, and performed just as well.”

Liu’s past research includes an internship at CUBRC dedicated to applying new machine learning research to the company’s existing prediction pipelines as well as a project in the industrial engineering department in which he helped create scripts eventually used to collect misinformative tweets. 

Liu’s passion for helping others has gone beyond his research contributions. He has been a dedicated teaching assistant for two CSE courses and involved with data collection and analytics for the UB Men’s Basketball team. Earlier this year, Liu founded the Society and Computing Club, an interdisciplinary student organization dedicated to examining the implications of computing on society at large. He is starting a PhD program in Information at the University of Michigan this fall.

Kyle Hunt, Harold O. Wolf Award recipient

Kyle Hunt is a PhD student in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) whose research focuses on the areas of national/homeland security and humanitarian management. Hunt’s research accomplishments to-date include nine accepted journal articles, one conference paper, two magazine articles, and one book chapter, as well as many conference presentations.

Jun Zhuang, a professor of industrial engineering and Hunt’s advisor, says, “I have had the greatest pleasure to work with Kyle since Fall 2017 when he transferred to the ISE department as a sophomore undergraduate student at UB. Besides doing excellent research, Kyle has maintained a very impressive 4.0/4.0 GPA every semester over the past four years!”

In addition to his commitment to research and coursework, Hunt has been dedicated to service on campus, in the local community, and in his field. On campus, he has served as a research mentor for more than 10 minority STEM students as part of the CSTEP and LSAMP programs, as well as an Open House Ambassador for the school. He has served as the vice president of external affairs for the UB-INFORMS student chapter, and is currently the editor-in-chief of their yearly magazine. He also recently served as the vice chair of a UB strategic planning sub-committee, which focused on enhancing infrastructure and reputation within ISE.

In the community, he has been a volunteer engineering consultant with GObike Buffalo in which he analyzed the organization’s crosswalk installment process while also helping to install many crosswalks himself.

Hunt serves as a peer reviewer for many journals in his field, and previously served as a session chair for the 2020 INFORMS Annual Meeting and the 2019 Conference on Risk Analysis, Decision Analysis and Security. Hunt’s past recognitions include the Society for Risk Analysis’ Risk Policy and Law Student Merit Award (2020), the SEAS Dean’s Excellence Scholarship (2020), the Society for Risk Analysis’ Decision Analysis and Risk Student Merit Award (2019), and the SEAS Dean’s Undergraduate Achievement Award (2019). Earlier in 2021, he received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship which will fund the remainder of his PhD. Hunt also just received the 2021 Seth Bonder Scholarship for Applied Operations Research in Military and Security Applications; a highly competitive scholarship that is awarded by INFORMS.

Dean's Graduate Achievement Award recipients

Jesse Callanan, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Jesse Callanan, who recently graduated with a PhD in aerospace engineering, works in the Sound and Vibrations Laboratory under the advisement of Mostafa Nouh, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His research is centered on experimental vibration control and high-precision measurement, with a focus on thermoacoustic energy converters – sound-powered heat engines which have the potential to create highly efficient, reliable, and environmentally sustainable electric power from waste thermal energy.

"The work we do in the Sound and Vibrations Lab has exciting applications in a really wide variety of fields so I've had the opportunity to work on projects that range from testing one-off prototypes for unidirectional wave propagation to designing and building custom microphone arrays to constructing novel thermoacoustic engines," says Callanan.

“From the very first day he joined my team, Jesse has been exceptional in terms of his productivity, research impact, mentoring of other students, and scholarly contributions. I couldn’t be more proud of his accomplishments,” added Nouh.

Callanan's past recognitions include the Mr. Miyagi Award for best mentor in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Summer Research Internship Program (2018), second place in the Best Student Paper Contest at the SPIE Smart Structures Conference (2019), and first place in the UB MAE Graduate Poster Competition (2021).

Since starting as a graduate student in 2016, Callanan has co-authored seven journal articles, presented at three conferences, and completed internships at EWI/Buffalo Manufacturing Works and the Air Force Research Laboratory. He has worked as a teaching assistant for three courses over seven semesters, a research mentor for CSTEP, LSAMP, Zimmer Scholars, or IIT interns each summer, and serves as a volunteer supervisor in the Tech Lab at the Foundry Makerspace in downtown Buffalo, NY.

Nan Hua, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Nan Hua,  a PhD candidate in  civil engineering, is focused on evaluating the structural fire resistance of tunnels. Her recent project has been funded by the Institute of Bridge Engineering and Region II University Transportation Center, and is a collaboration between Negar Elhami-Khorasani and Anthony Tessari, both assistant professors in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. As a part of this work, which brings together the fields of fire safety, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, and materials science, Hua performed large-scale furnace testing as well as finite element modeling to test and simulate the effects of fire scenario, soil conditions, etc. on the fire performance of tunnel liners. Her work on this topic has thus far led to three published journal articles, four conference papers, and numerous presentations at national and international conferences.

“In December 2020, Nan presented her research at the prestigious International Conference on Structures in Fire, and her comprehensive research approach was commended by experts in the field,” says Hua’s advisor Elhami- Khorasani. “It is an understatement to say that I am extremely pleased with her productivity and research contributions.”

In addition to her contributions to novel research, Hua has been a journal reviewer for Engineering Structures, Journal of Structural Fire Engineering, and Geomechanics and Engineering. She has also served as a teaching assistant for three courses, an invited guest lecturer for department classes and mentored two female students in the Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory. She is particularly passionate about nurturing the development of engineers from underrepresented groups.

Hemendra Nath Jaiswal, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Hemendra Nath Jaiswal is a PhD student in electrical engineering, where he conducts research in the Emerging Nanoelectronics Research Lab. His research focuses on developing high-performance energy-efficient nanoelectric devices, harnessing the potential of emerging two-dimensional (2D) materials. As the first author, Jaiswal published research about energy-efficient 2D nanoelectronics in Advanced Materials.. He also co-presented research results concerning the record-setting energy-efficient performance of an atomic-thin 2D transistor at the 2020 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting.

“Hemendra stands out as one of the top PhD students in the field of nanoelectronics internationally, as well as a role model for other PhD student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences,” says Huamin Li, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and Jaiswal’s advisor. “As a graduate student, his research achievements present the highest quality and impact in the field, generating extensive publicity that has greatly improved the school’s reputation in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology.”

In addition to his research contributions, Jaiswal has served as a teaching assistant in the department since 2018. He is a frequent mentor of new undergraduate and graduate students in the lab, as well as an enthusiastic liaison during outreach events. In 2019, he organized the UB-IEEE Nano-Symposium.

Sanjeev Tannirkulam Chandrasekaran, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Sanjeev Tannirkulam Chandrasekaran graduated with a PhD in electrical engineering this past May. While at UB, he researched energy-efficient scalable data converter architectures incorporating time-domain signal processing and low-power analog machine learning circuits. He collaborated with the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), to develop a CMOS reservoir computer that can perform real-time stress detection and predict the early occurrence of coronary heart disease while consuming seven to twenty-seven times lower energy than existing technology. During his graduate career, Chandrasekaran has authored or co-authored 24 papers in journals and at conferences.

“Sanjeev is an exceptionally gifted and motivated Ph.D. student,” says Arindam Sanyal, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and Chandrasekaran’s advisor. “The potential impact of his research can lead to a paradigm shift in the healthcare center by revolutionizing early detection of some of the deadliest preventable diseases in the US, such as heart disease.”

Chandrasekaran has held internships with Silicon Labs and Mythic-AI in Austin, Texas, and GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y. His other recognitions include Best Paper Award at the IBM Third AI Compute Symposium, an MWSCAS Student Participation Grant Award (2019), and CICC Student Travel Grant Award (2019).

Yixiong Zheng, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Yixiong Zheng, a recent graduate of the Department of Materials Design and Innovation’s PhD program, works on the synthesis and characterization of various ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors. In his recent research, he has pioneered a method of heterogeneous integration among next-generation ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors such as diamond and gallium oxide, which are the material building blocks for myriad future electronics and optoelectronic applications. Zheng has published eight journal papers, six of which he was first author.

Jung-Hun Seo, an assistant professor and Zheng’s advisor says, “Yixiong is a sincere, honest, motivated, and hard-working student who not only shows enthusiasm and outstanding achievement in regard to his research but helps his lab mates, bringing a collaborative environment to the group.”

Zheng is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dean's Undergraduate Achievement Award recipients

Krista Beranger, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Krista Beranger, a graduating senior with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in human factors and ergonomics engineering, recently researched how undergraduate students engage in engineering judgment. This research has the potential to impact how undergraduates approach problems in their courses, ultimately encouraging them to take up problems as real engineering problems as opposed to only homework.

“Though Krista joined my lab group in the fall of 2020 with no research experience, she is now excellently analyzing qualitative data in the form of 25 hour-long interviews,” says Jessica Swenson, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education and supervisor of Beranger’s current project. “She has become my best partner in data analysis. Her work is always exceptional and includes findings that provide insight and are a significant contribution to the larger project.

Along with fellow undergraduate researchers, Beranger presented at STEM for Everyone and the Celebration of Student Academic Excellence this past spring. Outside of her research, she was an ambassador of Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), where she volunteered at and ran events that facilitate connection, service and professional development. She was also a member of the University Honors College, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers.

Baicheng Chen, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Baicheng Chen , who graduated in May with a BS in computer science, focused on the development of battery-less wireless temperature monitoring technology. His research, which was part of an NSF sponsored project, has the potential to provide a more compact, low-cost and ecological temperature sensor unit for use in daily life, such as room temperature monitoring. Chen was also involved in an NIH sponsored project in which he worked collaboratively to create smartphone integrated 3D printing technology to aid stroke patients’ in-home rehabilitation.

“Baicheng has been the first author of an ACM MobiCom paper, and co-authored papers presented at competitive venues such as ACM MobiSys, ACM SenSys and IEEE Oakland,” says Wenyao Xu, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Chen’s advisor. “From day one in my research lab, Baicheng has demonstrated a distinctly strong motivation for doing scientific research that has the potential to make a big impact.”

Chen was a finalist for the Computing Research Association's 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. He also won the ACM SenSys Best Paper Award (2019). He was a dedicated volunteer at various outreach events, including SEAS demo days and open houses, and Science Day at local elementary schools. He started a PhD program in computer science at the University of California San Diego this fall.  

Nicholas Deitrich, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Nicholas Deitrich earned his BS in aerospace engineering this past May and is continuing on with his graduate studies at UB. He conducts research in the CRashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Lab, where, he has worked collaboratively on two projects: the Venus sample return mission, which aims to bring atmospheric and soil samples back from Venus in a single launch, and Tension Adjustable Network for Deploying Entry Membrane (TANDEM), a tensegrity robot that can explore Venus’s surface. His work has led to multiple conference presentations and an internship at NASA Langley Research Center.

 Javid Bayandor, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, director of the CRASH Lab and Deitrich’s advisor, says, “Nicholas is an extremely focused and detail-oriented researcher with exceptional diligence and work ethics. His outstanding performance led him to secure an extended position as an intern at NASA since the beginning of the spring semester.”

Deitrich’s work on the Venus sample return mission earned him third place for his conference paper, presented at the 2020 AIAA Region I Student Competition. Deitrich went on to win the 2021 ASME Old Guard Competition as part of ASME E.Fest and will compete at the International Old Guard Competition in November 2021. This fall, he will be continuing with his graduate studies with CRASH Lab at UB, as well as his work at NASA Langley.

Alexandra Nordmann, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

Alexandra Nordmann, a graduating senior majoring in mechanical engineering, conducts research in the CRashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Lab. Her team began developing a cryobot that can penetrate the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa as a part of coursework in 2020. They continued their work after the course was over, eventually leading to a presentation at the AIAA Region I Student Conference, comprised of 14 East Coast states, in which their paper earned second place.

“Lexi was one of the top students in my Space Mission Design course in fall of 2020, and a dedicated member of the CRASH Lab research team since then. She is also an exemplary, highly disciplined and hard-working student athlete,” says Javid Bayandor, director of the CRASH Lab and Nordmann’s advisor.

Nordmann has been an active member of the UB Nanosatellite Laboratory, where she worked on mission operations subsystems for the LinkSat, GLADOS, and Falcon missions. She was the team captain of the UB women’s volleyball team in 2019 and 2020 as well as her team’s representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Nordmann plans to continue her work in the CRASH Lab as a graduate student this fall where she will be working on multiple projects, including a Venus exploration mission.

John Toftegaard, Dean's Award for Achievement recipient

John Toftegaard, a junior in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, currently researches how undergraduate students engage in engineering judgment. As a high school student, Toftegaard gained research experience as a research assistant at Union College. Since coming to UB, he has proactively sought opportunities to grow his research experience and his work has already resulted in a conference publication and journal article.

“John joined my research group in the fall of 2020 and has grown to be an insightful member,” says Jessica Swenson, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education and supervisor of Toftegaard’s current project. “Currently, John is working on his own independent project, examining the effect of scaffolding on students’ engagement in engineering judgment, which will result in a conference publication.”

In addition to his commitment to research, Toftegaard worked with a team on a project to develop a wind turbine. He is also a senior trip leader with the Outdoor Adventure Club. This semester, he plans to join the Optical and Ultrasonic Imaging Laboratory, led by Jun Xia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering.