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For decades, the College of Engineering annually has honored faculty and staff for their exemplary work in research, education or service. On March 28, 2023, we recognized nine members of our community.

Byron Bird Award for Excellence in a Research Publication: Hongrui Jiang, the Lynn H. Matthias Professor in electrical and computer engineering

In 2006, Jiang and collaborators published a paper in the journal Nature describing smart liquid microlenses that sense their surroundings and self-adaptively vary their focal lengths. This “MEMS” invention is particularly significant because in addition to sensing capabilities, it also demonstrates actuation materials that respond to environmental stimuli, and reactively actuate. Researchers have accessed the paper online more than 11,000 times. It has spurred many new research areas and applications involving smart, soft materials; the work also underpins more than 20 of Jiang’s own patented or patent-pending inventions. The advance launched and since has cemented Jiang’s research leadership in smart, soft materials; in microscale optical imaging; and in a merger of the two fields through applications such as micro-optical imaging tools for surgical cameras and accommodative contact lenses.

Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Research: Radu Serban, mechanical engineering senior scientist

Presented with something highly complex and dynamic, Serban can simulate it. Notes a colleague: “He sits at the intersection of mechanical engineering, applied math, and computer science, and is in a position to undertake challenging research and software development projects that very few other individuals are equipped to pursue.” Serban is a pioneer and renowned scholar in multibody dynamics—developing formulations, methods and widely used software for simulating complex problems in multi- and many-body dynamics; for example, how a NASA rover navigates the lunar soil. He’s among the leading developers of Chrono, a sophisticated open-source simulation engine that can handle complex and large dynamic systems, and SUNDIALS, an open-source software suite for solving ordinary and differential algebraic equations. He has delivered keynote lectures at the most prominent conferences in his areas of research and holds leadership positions in organizations, committees and conferences in those areas. As an educator and mentor, his impact also is far-reaching: He has taught students at all levels at UW-Madison and at a polytechnic university in Italy, as well as scientists in the U.S. Army.

PPG Industries Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Award: Gabriel Zayas-Caban, the Jane R. and Jack G. Mandula Assistant Professor in industrial and systems engineering

Dating back to when he was a doctoral student, Zayas-Caban has made ongoing investments in the success of students underrepresented in STEM. He has been a tutor, peer mentor and advisor; here at UW-Madison, and in roles at the national level, he now focuses on broadening undergraduate and graduate student participation in engineering. In particular, he recruits students for graduate study from the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, and at the Math Alliance Field of Dreams Conference. He is a graduate student mentor through our own Graduate Engineering Research Scholars program and has served on the program’s executive committee. He is a member of his department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Task Force and is a co-principal investigator of our NSF-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program. Through the professional society INFORMS, Zayas-Caban also is leading initiatives that support and encourage underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students in their educational and professional pursuits.

PPG Industries Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Award: Keeley Meier, college scholarship officer

Every day, Meier seeks ways to directly impact our engineering students’ experience. While awarding hundreds of scholarships is one aspect of her work, she also collaborates on LEED Scholars programming and design of our new Badger Engineer Campus Overnight Multicultural Experience program. Importantly, she oversees the Strategic Targeted Achievers Recognition scholarship program, which invests in talented students from across the country who bring a diverse range of identities, perspectives and lived experiences to engineering. Meier recruits those STAR scholars, then supports them throughout their undergraduate careers through advising, programming, community-building, professional development and leadership experiences. She’s constantly looking to improve the ways in which she serves her students and builds their sense of belonging. STAR scholars say, “I felt like they valued me and saw me for my worth,” “Keeley’s been a huge help in allowing me to keep my passion and motivation,” and “With the guidance I have received, I believe I am one step closer to achieving my goals.”

Harvey Spangler Award for Innovative Teaching and Learning Practices: Hannah Blum, the Alain H. Peyrot Fellow in Structural Engineering in civil and environmental engineering

For structural engineering students, it’s rarely possible or practical to tour a steel skyscraper under construction—yet such experiences are vital to their education. Instead, Blum uses virtual and augmented reality to bring skyscrapers, steel connections and structural elements to her students. These immersive, interactive technologies provide students an accessible, realistic experience and also improve their understanding and retention of structural engineering concepts. Blum also is a leader here in the college and across our profession, encouraging and inspiring other instructors to adopt virtual teaching tools. She’s created the Virtual and Mixed Reality Teaching Laboratory in our makerspace, hosted a workshop to help instructors learn how to implement these tools, and published results of her immersive education innovations.

Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching: Jacob Notbohm, an associate professor of mechanical engineering

Teaching Statics to 400 first-year students is a big job for anyone. Despite other teaching and research responsibilities, Notbohm recently volunteered to teach the course in the middle of the semester, when its original instructor became unable to teach. Notbohm’s willingness to step in at a moment’s notice not only provided continuity in our students’ Statics education, but also reinforced the importance of teamwork in engineering. In fact, Notbohm worked closely with colleagues and campus experts to implement an integrated team-based learning pedagogy in Statics as well as in Mechanics of Materials, another high-enrollment course. Coupled with his organized approach, engaging teaching style and rapport with students, these and other undergraduate and graduate-level courses center around active experiences, demonstrate the value of teamwork, and improve student learning.

James G. Woodburn Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching: Amanda Smith, an assistant teaching professor in industrial and systems engineering

Smith’s colleagues call her contributions in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering transformational. At the height of the COVID pandemic, she scheduled additional office hours so that students who needed to chat could do so, and she surveyed industrial engineering students to measure the impact of online learning. She oversees all ABET assessment efforts for her department. She has designed and taught large and small courses throughout the industrial engineering undergraduate curriculum. She led the industrial engineering undergraduate curriculum redesign effort, as well as the creation of an honors in research track that trains students to do research an connects them with research opportunities. Most importantly, Smith has spearheaded and catalyzed multiple efforts to enhance undergraduate students’ experience—building community, illuminating career paths, teaching new skills, and introducing resources to aid in their success as engineers.

University and Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award: James Lazarcik, an instrumentation technologist in civil and environmental engineering

In nearly five years as manager of the Water Science and Engineering Laboratory, a facility that supports laboratory and fieldwork for multiple units across campus, Lazarcik has made invaluable contributions to the lab’s safety, instrumentation, user access, COVID response, and training regimen. In particular, he was critical in establishing the lab’s Core Facility for Advanced Water Analysis, which annually serves more than 140 researchers from 20 departments and three colleges. Foundational to each one of these areas is his strong commitment to supporting the numerous faculty, staff, students and other users who rely on the lab—and his technical expertise—in many ways. Ultimately, all of Lazarcik’s work underpins successful research and education and a lab culture that is positive and welcoming.

Ragnar E. Onstad Service to Society Award: Douglas Wiegmann, a professor of industrial and systems engineering

Wiegmann’s research on topics related to human factors and systems safety spans applications as diverse as aviation, space travel, cybersecurity, healthcare, mining, manufacturing and others. For example, his work is helping NASA reshape its approach to major safety initiatives. He’s working with the U.S. Department of Defense to support its adoption of human factors methods to improve operational safety; in fact, all mishap investigations in each of the armed services branches now use human factors analysis and classification system methods developed by Wiegmann. He has consulted for entities ranging from Madison-area hospitals to the Singapore Ministry of Health on patient safety, medical errors and risk management. As an international expert in human factors and aviation safety, he has advised major aircraft manufacturers and North American airlines on how to understand and prevent errors that cause accidents. Quite simply, he bridges the gap between theory and practice for the benefit of humanity.

Featured image caption: Radu Serban, a Distinguished Scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, receives the 2023 Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Research. Credit: Renee Meiller.