A Graduation Weekend to Remember

June 15, 2016 – Last weekend was a festive one at the Samueli School, with graduates-to-be celebrating and being celebrated. 

It started with Friday afternoon’s Commencement Celebration. Family and friends flocked to the Engineering Gateway to view their undergraduates’ senior design projects, watch them take the oath of the Order of the Engineer and receive their rings, and don the honor stoles and cords that would adorn their commencement regalia. 

Samueli School Dean Gregory Washington welcomed the graduates and guests to the ceremony. “Today is the day we honor the students who are the best in a very, very good class. When this class came in four years ago, they were the brightest and most talented students to come to the University of California, Irvine,” he said to applause. “It is a tremendous group of students. I am proud today to be able to call myself their dean. I’m even more happy to see some of the terrific outcomes some in this group of students have had.”

Forty-two students were inducted into the Order of the Engineer, which was initiated in the U.S. in 1970 to foster a spirit of pride and responsibility among new engineers. The inductees received stainless steel rings, which they wear on the last finger of their working hand, and recited the Obligation of the Engineer, promising to uphold the profession’s standards and dignity.

Following a short refreshment break during which they feasted on gold- and blue-frosted cupcakes, more than 75 seniors received honor stoles from eight nationally recognized honor societies.

The celebration was capped by a light meal on the Gateway Plaza.

Sunday, June 12’s formal Commencement Ceremony – UCI’s 51st – got underway at 9 a.m. in the UCI Bren Center, with mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree candidate and U.S. Navy veteran Gabrielle Cobos singing a stirring rendition of the national anthem. Nearly 650 students received bachelor’s degrees, while more than 220 received master’s degrees. (Approximately 60 engineering students receiving Ph.D. degrees were hooded in a separate ceremony on Saturday afternoon in the Bren Center.)

Engineering Student Council President Katie Tran, a computer science and engineering major, addressed her fellow graduates at commencement with a moving speech thanking her mother for exposing her to the art within engineering. Tran remembered as a child, telling her mother, a Boeing engineer, that she wanted to be either an artist or an engineer. Her mother assured her she could be both. “I am an engineer and an artist,” Tran’s mother told her. “I make beautiful space shuttles and satellites. There is art in engineering.”

Tran, a Chancellor’s Award of Distinction winner, urged her fellow classmates to apply their engineering education to solve global issues and strive for innovation, reminding them to embrace their creativity in the process. “Creativity connects art and engineering,” she said. “Artists color outside of the lines. Engineers think outside of the box … outside of the microcontroller.”

In closing, she again quoted her mother, who said, “Engineers see the world for how it is, how it could be and how it will be. Engineers make a difference in the world, and for that we make a world of difference. That is the art in engineering.”

Tran was followed by Neel Grover, a UCI alumnus, and founder and CEO of video social network Indi.com, who delivered the commencement address. Grover earned a law degree from University of San Diego and practiced law for three years before quitting “to do something I was passionate about and to ultimately make a difference.”

He advised the graduates to revise their definition of success, telling them, “Success cannot be measured by financial outcomes or solely (by) moving up the corporate ladder. Rather, success should be measured by whether you have accomplished everything you have sought to accomplish… irrespective of financial gain or public recognition.”

Before starting Indi.com, Grover ran online retailer Buy.com, leading the company from monthly losses to a profitable sale. “After that, I got to the point where I didn’t want to run someone else’s company,” he said. “I wanted to build my own, with a team I hand-picked.”

He said he hoped some of the graduates would start companies or work for early-stage startups. “Google, Apple, Yahoo!, EBay, Microsoft, Cisco, YouTube, Facebook … what do all these companies have in common?” he asked. “Their founders were all in their teens or 20s when they started them. Will one of you be next?”

The key, Grover said, is having an “audacious goal,” something he urged the graduates to commit to then and there. “Please use your phone to take a 15-second video of yourself saying the most aspirational goal you hope to achieve with your career,” he told them. “If any group could do this quickly, it should be the graduating engineering class from UCI!”

Grover told the graduates to upload their videos to Indi.com, where they would be available in perpetuity to remind them of their goals. He also offered an internship and/or other prizes to those whose videos garnered the most “Indi Buzz” over the next week. “I truly believe that if you don’t challenge yourself and put it out in the universe, you won’t reach your ultimate peak,” he said.

In closing, Grover told the graduates that he uses his law degree every day as a foundation for pursuing his passions and competing with the world’s largest companies. “I hope you will use this degree to pursue your passions and engineer a better world,” he told the graduates. “I encourage you to be brave, be courageous and be wildly creative as you embark on this next chapter.”

As he did last year, Samueli School Dean Gregory Washington closed the ceremony by leading the crowd in a roaring “Zot, Zot, Zot!”

The Samueli School graduates’ futures are as diverse as the graduates themselves. Some will travel before starting jobs in industry, while others will attend graduate school or launch startup companies.

For most of them, graduation was just starting to sink in. Tam Le, a materials science major, called the experience “bittersweet. On the one hand, all the hard work has paid off,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s hard not to be able to see all these faces of people I’ve relied on for so long.” Le is starting an internship this summer at an aerospace engineering firm.

For Justin Stovner, a biomedical engineering major, the reality “hasn’t really hit me yet.” Stovner will work full-time for a startup company, SYNTR Health Technologies, which he and fellow students started as a senior design project. SYNTR, which has developed a microfluidic device that can extract stem cells from fat tissue for treatment of diabetic foot ulcers, recently won $14,000 in a BioENGINE competition at UC Irvine’s Cove. “I’m really excited,” Stovner said of his post-graduation plans.

And Stephanie Pearlman, a biomedical engineering major, will work toward a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn. “I’m happy to be done and proud of where I am,” Pearlman said. “I learned a lot here.”

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-- Anna Lynn Spitzer; Photos: Debbie Morales

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