Class of 2017 Anteater Engineers Celebrates Commencement

UC Irvine Samueli School graduation 2017 Bren CenterJune 21, 2017 - Last weekend, UC Irvine celebrated its 52nd annual Commencement Ceremony, awarding more than 10,000 diplomas, with 54 percent going to first-generation college students. Approximately 1,000 of those graduates were from the Samueli School of Engineering, with more than 700 undergraduate degrees awarded. Two hundred engineering students received master’s degrees, the most awarded to any UCI school.

The engineering school launched its festivities Friday morning, June 16, with a celebration on Gateway Plaza. About 250 undergrads braved a hot, sunny morning to display their senior design projects and answer questions from onlookers.

Biomedical engineering students Najla Hafez, Mahrukh Fatima and Amairani Lopez explained that their project involves integrating microfluidic technology into a device to perform a polymerase chain reaction. “The experience gave us a sense of what it would be like working with a company,” said Hafez.

The autonomous boat team had taken their project out for a test run to Catalina Island that very morning. The boat made it only a few miles before the system overheated and the GPS stopped working, but the student engineers were undeterred. Mechanical engineering undergraduate Chris Bennett said that next year, the team plans to improve the boat’s solar panel design and satellite control in order to meet their goal of crossing the Atlantic Ocean with it. Justin Ringhofer, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, said the project gave him a good understanding of working with different metals and other materials. He hopes the team can make good progress next year.

The morning concluded with the Order of the Engineer ceremony, with electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Michael Green explaining its history. The Order of the Engineer began in 1970, Green said, to foster a spirit of pride and responsibility in the engineering profession. The 64 inductees proudly donned their stainless steel rings as a publicly visible symbol.

Then Dean Gregory Washington administered the oath and the new engineers recited the Obligation of the Engineer, promising to uphold the profession’s standards and dignity. Washington praised the students’ efforts, saying, “You have all done an exceptional job getting to this point; you can see it in the quality of your projects. I feel honored to be able to congratulate you today on a job well done and welcome you into the Order of the Engineer.

 “Best wishes for a future career in which you and your profession can be proud,” Washington summarized.

Honor Stole Ceremony

The celebration moved inside later Friday afternoon, to the CALIT2 Auditorium, where Washington presided over the honor stole ceremony. Fifty undergraduates, representing eight national and international engineering honor societies, were recognized with stoles to wear with their graduation regalia. Washington congratulated the students on their accomplishments, noting that they were the “brightest of the brightest,” and telling them to give themselves a round of applause. “You represent the best of a really, really good group of smart people,” he said.

The dean told the honorees he can already see the impact they are having on the engineering profession. “We’re looking forward to great things from you as you leave and start your careers,” he said. “When you do become wealthy and successful, don’t forget us,” he added, to audience laughter.

Advice and diplomas

Saturday morning, June 17, began early for the school’s graduates: a 9 a.m. commencement ceremony at UCI’s Bren Center. Student speaker Jenna Lynn Obenshain, an environmental engineering major, addressed the class of 2017. She advised her classmates not to stress over their life plans, because “we all are entering a world of infinite possibilities, ideas and continuous changes.

“Careers are no longer ladders, but jungle gyms,” she said. “There is no straight path from your seat today to where you are going. Don’t stress about the big picture, just focus on the daily tasks and it will all come together.”

Obershain also told her fellow students to cherish their failures because that’s how they will gain important skills, and to stand up for themselves and for the values they want to see in the world. “Finally,” she said, “Sing in the shower. The single most valuable thing I think we should remember is to be happy. Be present. Be open to all the moments that are unfolding before you.”

She then turned around, held up her cell phone and took a selfie with her graduating class.

Maria Tirabassi, vice president of engineering space systems at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, delivered the commencement address. “From the Great Pyramids to the Roman Aqueducts, from the Industrial Revolution to today's modern digital era, I believe that engineering is the foundation of our civilized world,” Tirabassi said. “I urge you to use it to secure our world and collaborate across the globe.”

She emphasized three principles that have helped her through her 32-year career, telling the new graduates to follow their passion, be great leaders and remain ethical and true to themselves.

Tirabassi, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 1985, told the new graduates that digital technology was in its infancy when she graduated. The Apple Macintosh and Dell personal computers had just launched, the National Science Foundation was brand new and the digital handheld cell phone did not yet exist. She commented on how the diversity of the new generation of engineers sitting before her would continue to change society.

“I see many women and men, black and white, and people of all color. Your diversity of thought will propel your generation beyond the digital age into an era we can only imagine. You can and will shape our world,” she said.

“As Issac Newton once said, ‘We stand on the shoulders of giants,’” Tirabassi concluded. “I'm proud to be an engineer, and I'm proud of each and every one of you, today, who followed your passion in STEM. You, too, are giants.”

Upholding a time-honored tradition, Dean Washington invited the graduates and their guests to join him in closing the ceremony. The Bren Center shook with a thunderous “Zot, Zot, Zot,” as another class of engineers prepared to leave UCI – hard-earned diplomas in hand and countless future experiences awaiting them.

- Anna Lynn Spitzer