Egerstedt Presents 2023 Faculty Awards

The 2023 Faculty Award winners are pictured with Samueli School Dean Magnus Egerstedt (center); from left are Stacy Copp, Ali Mohraz, Elliot Botvinick, Beth Lopour, Athina Markopoulou, Salma Elmalaki, Yoonjin Won and Brett Sanders.

June 14, 2023 - Samueli School Dean Magnus Egerstedt recognized eight faculty members with awards at an end-of-the-year celebration, June 12, at the Donald Bren Hall and Patio.

This is the 10th year for the awards, which acknowledge and honor the valued contributions of faculty. Nominations for each category -- teaching, research, innovation and service --  must meet specific criteria and are submitted through department chairs. Awardees are selected by a voting committee that consists of the dean and associate deans.

Egerstedt welcomed faculty and staff to the gathering and shared that the school has had a good year overall. “We’ve had a few speed bumps, but broadly there have been a lot of positives. Our sponsored research continues to go extremely well, our rankings were the highest they’ve ever been, student selectivity is the highest its ever been.

“We’ve also just gone through a successful, strategic planning exercise, centered on the theme of Engineering plus. Our strategic plan and idea of engineering plus has become transformative with a $50 million gift from Henry and Susan Samueli to the engineering school. But for today, really the best strategic plan you need at a university is this: hire amazing people, give them tools and resources they need to be successful, and get out of their way. And when they do well, celebrate their successes. That’s it, and that’s what we are doing today.”

Before announcing this year’s awardees, Egerstedt called up outgoing department chair Roger Rangel, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who served two terms (2005-09, 2020-23) as chair, and Mike Green, who has served as associate dean for undergraduate student affairs since July 2017, with a year as interim dean 2019-2020 during the COVID pandemic. Both are stepping down and replacements have been named. Egerstedt thanked them for their dedication, hard work and outstanding service to students, faculty and the school.

Here are the 2023 faculty award winners.

Excellence in Research Awards

Early Career: Stacy Copp, assistant professor, MSE

Copp specializes in the development of bioinspired materials that combine biomolecular engineering, nanochemistry and photonics to advance technologies for bioimaging, sensing and energy efficiency. She and her students developed a novel category of nanoclusters that enable noninvasive near-infrared  biomedical imaging. As an assistant professor, she has already made a significant impact in her field, having authored 22 peer-reviewed articles that have garnered over 700 citations throughout her career. She received the AFOSR Young Investigator Program award and is the lead PI on a DURIP grant, which enabled the acquisition of a state-of-the-art circular dichroism spectrometer, an instrument that has greatly enhanced the laboratory's capacity for biomolecular structural characterization. Copp is an emerging superstar.

Mid-Career: Yoonjin Won, associate professor, MAE

Won is pioneering the application of computer vision and machine learning methods for two-phase heat transfer and has developed remarkable, fundamentally new technologies. Her work has achieved exceptional results with efficiency enhancements in thermal energy transport and manufacturing processes. Her intellectual leadership and extensive publication record have significantly contributed to her profession and garnered numerous awards including the NSF CAREER and ASME Women Engineer and Early Career awards. Won has published 40 journal articles, received 20 research funding awards and obtained three patents. She holds courtesy appointments in EECS, CBE, MSE and MMT, which reflects the interdisciplinary nature of her research and willingness to collaborate with colleagues across different fields, enhancing the impact of her work.

Senior: Athina Markopoulou, professor, EECS

Markopoulou is an undisputed leader, making continuous contributions in network measurement and privacy, an area that touches all our lives and will continue to do so. She is director of ProperData, a five-year, $10 million NSF project that addresses the urgent need for protection of personal data flow on the internet. Under her leadership, a multidisciplinary team of researchers is building fundamentals, creating new technologies and informing policy to improve the transparency and control of personal data. She is an IEEE Fellow and ACM Distinguished Member. During her three years as department chair of EECS, Markopoulou saw the ECE program improve in US News rankings and established full funding guarantees for all Ph.D. students. She now continues to serve the school as associate dean for Graduate & Professional Studies. Markopoulou's sustained performance has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Innovation in Teaching Awards

Early Career: Salma Elmalaki, assistant professor of teaching, EECS  

Elmalaki has contributed to curriculum development by leading the effort to ensure the department has a strong offering in the foundation of machine learning and optimization on both graduate and undergraduate levels. She taught the first new class on the topic, Machine Learning for Engineers, which is being considered as a core class for computer engineering students. Elmalaki has a strong record of mentoring and advising students. One of her undergraduates first authored a paper and won a Gold Medal in the ACM SIGBED Student Research Competition. Another student successfully built a testbed for a driving simulator from scratch, and the testbed is currently being used in three EECS labs. Elmalaki also contributes significantly to the mentoring of Senior Design Projects and designed a template for a weekly progress report to help students organize their work. She organizes the EECS seminar series and introduced a student hour where invited speakers interact with graduate students; launched a reading group to reinforce learning; and incorporated concepts of the Flipped Classroom and student feedback in her teaching to practice continuous improvement. Her contributions to our students’ learning experiences are countless.

Mid-Career: Beth Lopour, associate professor, BME

With a thoughtful approach, Lopour delivers outstanding courses that are extremely well received by both undergraduate and graduate students. She is committed to integrating pedagogical research and educational best practices into her teaching. During her first year at UCI, Lopour surveyed students mid-quarter and learned there was a wide range in their abilities to keep up with her lectures. She then created “skeleton” lecture notes that contain an outline of the material, key terms and complex diagrams. A follow-up survey showed students found the notes useful, and she continues to receive overwhelmingly positive comments. For the shift to remote learning during the pandemic, Lopour transformed her core Biomedical Engineering Sensory and Motor Systems course into a successful active learning experience. She developed a flipped classroom and deftly integrated many active learning features and used video lectures to allow asynchronous learning. With class periods freed up from traditional lectures, she used class time for weekly small-group activities to integrate peer learning. Lopour serves as an exemplar in teaching, by identifying areas that require improvement, revising her practices and formally assessing the outcomes.

Senior: Elliot Botvinick, professor, BME

Botvinick developed a one-year course focused on creating a forensic tool to detect and determine the age of bruises on darkly pigmented skin. This course is on top of his assigned BME teaching load and was started partly because of his promise to students whose hands-on education was affected by the pandemic. This tool is meant to aid in collecting evidence for domestic abuse cases. Students formed three teams: one working on a multispectral camera, another on algorithms for spatial and spectral analyses, and the third looking at tissue phantoms. The team is writing a clinical protocol to prepare for a human study with the developed device, and the project will continue as a senior design project next year. With this year-long sequence, Botvinick has provided these students with a hands-on engineering experience addressing an important real-world problem and that is expected to increase their competency in multiple important engineering and professional skills.

Innovator of the Year Award

Brett Sanders, professor, CEE

Sander’s original and transformative research in hydrodynamics, hydrology and water resources engineering has resulted in major scientific, engineering and societal impacts. He has catalyzed a team at UCI from engineering, social ecology and physical sciences as well as collaborators from UCSD, UCR, UCLA, University of  Miami and local, state and federal agencies to work on a series of projects that tackle the grand challenge of urban flooding. He’s found that many more people face significant flood risk in Los Angeles than previously thought, and that those at risk are disproportionately Black, Hispanic and disadvantaged from an economic perspective. He’s created transformative new methods to model compound flood hazards and overcome the computational bottlenecks holding back greater participation in flood modeling at community to regional scales. This work is crucial for helping communities equitably address sustainability and resilience needs in a warming climate. He has also become a media star. Sanders is a sought-after spokesperson for communicating flood risks to the public. He was featured in an award-winning documentary, “Coastal Crisis, California’s Vanishing Beaches,” on ABC7 Eyewitness Newsmakers discussing the challenges and opportunities for capturing stormwater in Los Angeles, and in dozens of news reports across radio, television, newspapers and social media.

Faculty Service Award

Ali Mohraz, professor, CBE

Mohraz has made substantial service contributions to the department, school and campus with impacts spanning graduate education, departmental climate, undergraduate studies, academic integrity and recruitment of school and campus leadership. He consciously engages in assignments to make a difference. Some of these roles: 10 years as advisor for the ChEMS graduate program, four years as CBE vice chair of Graduate Studies, 15 years as member of the CBE Undergraduate Studies Committee and faculty advisor for CBE Student Groups. As chair of the CBE Climate Committee, he initiated a process for anonymous reporting of incidents that relate to departmental climate. Starting next year, he will serve as SSoE representative to the Academic Senate’s Graduate Council. In each of these roles, Mohraz is invariably thorough and diligent, displays great dedication, maintains high standards and places the interests of students and our institution first and foremost. He also has an amazing stage voice and has called out student names at commencement for many years.

– Lori Brandt