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Several in Tickle College of Engineering Recognized at UT Honors Banquet

The Chancellor’s Honors Banquet and Academic Honors Banquet is UT’s annual night to salute its faculty, staff, and students for their accomplishments, and the recent 2023 edition included several members of the Tickle College of Engineering’s campus community.

As part of their selection, each individual honoree was asked “What does being a Volunteer mean to you? How has UT empowered you to make a difference in a way you might not have imagined elsewhere?”

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) was home to both an Undergraduate Researcher of the Year and an Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year, as senior Alexander Greenhalgh and Professor and Associate Department Head David Keffer took the honors.

Greenhalgh’s research involves the intersection of material and computer sciences, using computational methods to discover the next generation of sustainable high-performing materials. He will begin work at the Army’s Research and Analysis Center through the Department of Defense’s SMART program this fall and plans to eventually pursue a PhD in computer science.

“Being a Volunteer means to selflessly pioneer the way forward, whether through advancements in academia, service to society, or kindness in community. My time on Rocky Top has been defined by the students and faculty I’ve met who personify this idea,” said Greenhalgh, an Oak Ridge native who is earning minors in in math and computer science. “Throughout the last four years, the examples of these role models have allowed me to reframe what I know I am capable of. In what comes next, I hope to illuminate a path for others just as these true volunteers have provided their light to me.”

Keffer has worked at UT since 1998 in MSE, where he leads a computational research group interested in materials relevant to the pursuit of sustainable energy and collaborates with numerous experimentalists to develop new materials.

He regularly integrates undergraduate researchers into his group to participate in the materials discovery process for mitigation of climate change through materials for renewable energy.

“It has been my good fortune to find a home at the University of Tennessee where, on a daily basis, I interact with smart and creative young people,” said Keffer. “It is my hope that I am able to equip the next generation of engineers with a technical tool kit and philosophical perspective that enable and motivate them to go out into Tennessee and beyond to make the world a better place.”

Extraordinary Campus Leadership and Service awards recognize graduating students who are go out of their way to show significant service to others, with Department of Nuclear Engineering doctoral candidate Anthony Tom and Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical senior Sejal Jinturkar gaining recognition.

Tom completed his undergraduate degree in honors nuclear engineering in the fall of 2022.

He has served as president of UT’s chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, a Tickle College of Engineering Ambassador, and a member of the American Nuclear Society.

“To me, being a Volunteer means undertaking new opportunities. Throughout my time at UT, volunteering has exposed me to things I otherwise would not have done,” he said. “I have been able to restore cemeteries through my fraternity, assist with the cycling road national championships through the city, and plenty more through the university. UT giving me the tools to experience all these things has been one of my favorite parts about being a Volunteer.”

Jinturkar will graduate in May with a degree in mechanical engineering.

At UT, she is a member of the Heath Integrated Business and Engineering Program’s 2023 cohort, is involved with the Jones Center for Leadership and Service, and interns at Technology Integration Services in the Haslam College of Business.

“Being a Volunteer means serving others and creating an inclusive environment. One of my favorite parts of my college experience has been the strong emphasis that the university places on student leadership and community engagement,” she said. “Throughout the leadership and service opportunities in Knoxville, I have been able to interact with people of so many different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. I have openly represented my identity and culture in order to cultivate productive conversations about diversity. To me, even the smallest opportunities—with those outside of and within different aspects of my identity—towards helping others learn and become more open-minded embodies the Volunteer spirit.

“It is important to me to ensure every voice is heard and create a space where people feel safe to be themselves. UT has empowered me to grow into the leader I am today. With my experiences over the last few years, I am now able to pinpoint what I am truly passionate about and how I want to integrate my passions into my daily life.”

Dan Doulet Faculty Fellow and Professor Xueping Li, of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Dongarra Professor Michela Taufer, of the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) each won Research and Creative Achievement honors, which are bestowed to senior faculty in recognition of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.

Li, co-director of the Health Innovation Technology and Simulation Lab and director of the Ideation Laboratory, has research including complex system modeling, simulation, and optimization with broad application in supply chain logistics, health care, and energy systems.

His research has been sponsored including NSF, NIH, DOE, and HRSA, and a variety of industry partners. He holds nine creation disclosures with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

“Being a Volunteer means making an impact on the Big Orange Family and being a part of a community that values service, leadership, and excellence,” Li said. “UT has provided me with numerous opportunities to explore my passions and to make a difference in my field of study, enabling me to push the boundaries of my research and develop my skills as a scientist.”

Taufer is an ACM Distinguished Scientist who earned her undergraduate degrees in computer engineering from the University of Padova (Italy) and her doctoral degree in computer science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology or ETH (Switzerland).

She has a long history of interdisciplinary work with scientists and research mentorship, including through National Science Foundation grants and with collaborators at other universities or national laboratories.

“To be a Vol is to hold the torch, shadowing oneself to give light to others,” she said. “At UT, my mentors have enlightened me, and I’ve given light to others. I feel very fortunate to have received such inspiring mentorship from Jack Dongarra; he has been a true role model as I conduct my research. UT has also allowed me to give light to others as I’ve continued my work to broaden participation in high-performance computing among traditionally underrepresented communities at UT and worldwide.”

Professional Promise in Research and Creative Achievement, which also come in recognition of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement, but this time in the case of faculty earlier in their careers.

Assistant Professors Shuai Li and Katharine Page, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and MSE, respectively, were selected for the honor.

Li, who joined the UT in 2017, undertakes use-inspired research focused on developing AI-enabled, community-engaged, human-centric cyber-physical systems.

These systems advance future manufacturing and robotic construction paradigms, and revolutionize the design, operation, and management of civil infrastructure systems and communities to make them smarter, safer, more sustainable, and socially inclusive and equitable.

“Being a Volunteer embodies dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to the UT community, Tennessee, and beyond,” said Li. “As a Volunteer, UT has enriched my journey by nurturing an interdisciplinary atmosphere that fosters collaboration with diverse professionals and inspiring me to tackle complex and pressing challenges faced by our community and society. I am deeply honored to contribute to the advancement of education, research, and service within UT and throughout Tennessee.”

Page is a joint faculty member with the Neutron Scattering Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She is a first-generation college graduate, earning her BS in chemical engineering at the University of Maine and her PhD in materials from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

She is a recipient of Early Career Awards from both the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2019.

“As part of the Vol nation, I feel emboldened to ‘think big,’” Page said. “I’m driven to help transform the East Tennessee region through materials and manufacturing innovations and STEM education and outreach. ‘Vol is a verb!’ The allies, collaborators, and mentors I’ve gained within UT’s departments and institutes make anything possible.”

The Success in Multidisciplinary Research award is given to a team of faculty members in more than one academic college who have succeeded in gaining major external resources and recognition for multidisciplinary research.

EECS Professor Michael Langston was co-leader of a team with Associate Professor Vitaly Ganusov from the Department of Microbiology in the College of Arts and Sciences that is focused on the study of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which remains one of the leading infectious killers worldwide. Ganusov provided mathematical modelling, Langston and EECS graduate research assistant Viktor Zenkov provided computational and data expertise, and experimental immunologists from Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington (Kevin Urdahl, David Sherman) provide their unique viewpoints.