Graduating seniors in every undergraduate degree program in UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering select an outstanding faculty member each spring. The Class of 2022’s Outstanding Faculty are Joe Chada (chemical engineering), Yoga Isukapalli (computer engineering), Diba Mirza (computer science), Spencer Smith (electrical engineering), and Tyler Susko (mechanical engineering). Read below what the recipients say the award means to them.
For the third year in a row, seniors have selected Joe Chada to receive the Chemical Engineering Department’s Outstanding Faculty Award. He joined UCSB’s Chemical Engineering Department in fall 2018 as an assistant teaching professor.
“It’s always an honor to be recognized by the students,” said Chada, whose primary focus is to design and construct experiments for undergraduates that reflect the latest in the chemical engineering field. “I am fortunate to have a career where I can work with a talented cohort of students, and it makes the job that much more special when you know that they appreciate the work you do.”
Chada said that new technology that everyone has become accustomed to during the pandemic has enabled new student-centered practices. He has been able to record classroom lectures, hold Zoom sessions for students who can’t attend class in person, and provide students with copies of all of his electronic notes.
“I try to give my classes an experience that I would want to have as a student,” he said. “I hope that some of the new technology and online teaching tools will continue to improve the students’ learning experience.”
The goal behind the experiments that Chada designs, which are conducted in the Robert G. Rinker Undergraduate Teaching Laboratory, are to reinforce fundamental chemical engineering principles, expose students to industrially relevant situations, provide hands-on lab training on modern equipment, and enhance opportunities for students to succeed during and after their time at UCSB. He says that it has been a pleasure to watch the Class of 2022 progress since their first year at UCSB.
“I’ve been at UCSB for exactly four years now, so this is the first cohort of students that I’ve seen complete the entire curriculum,” said Chada, estimating that he has had most of the graduating seniors in about four of his classes in total. “It’s really incredible to see how much they have grown, not only as engineers, but as people. Their college experience was anything but normal, and they’ve managed to overcome a tremendous number of challenges.”
Chada added that earning an engineering degree by itself is quite an accomplishment, and this class completed it while experiencing dramatic shifts in both their personal and academic lives.
“I’m certain that their resilience will help them solve the challenging problems that they will encounter when they start their professional careers,” he said.
For the fourth year in a row, graduating seniors selected Yoga Isukapalli for the Outstanding Computer Engineering Faculty Award. Isukapalli joined UCSB’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department as a tenure-track teaching professor in winter 2017.
“This award is special to me, and it has a lot of significance because it comes from graduating computer engineering seniors,” said Isukapalli, who worked as a staff scientist in the Wi-Fi division at Broadcom, a semiconductor manufacturing company, before joining the faculty at UCSB. “I have taught most of them in many of my classes, and I enjoyed seeing them mature as computer engineers. I am honored that they feel my teaching made an impact on them.”
Graduating seniors rose to the challenge during the pandemic, as did Isukapalli. He tried to be flexible and accommodating to their personal circumstances, and he prioritized their learning and well-being, meeting with students, over Zoom and in person, more than usual to address problems. Isukuapalli added that the semiconductor shortage impacted all of his embedded-systems courses, including capstone. Department faculty and staff were forced to adjust and find replacement parts, which proved challenging. Since many of his classes had a strong lab component, he had to make several modifications to any part that required equipment from the labs.
“To compensate for the lack of a physical lab, I created lab kits that were relatively cheap for students to buy, and modified all of the lab courses,” he said.
Isukapalli, whose previous recognitions include a Distinguished Teaching Award from UCSB’s Academic Senate and Northrup Grumman’s Excellence in Teaching Award, commended the Class of 2022 for showing great resilience during these difficult times.
“They showed remarkable maturity and a collaborative spirit. I am proud of what they have accomplished, and they should be, too,” he said. “I am confident that they are ready to take on new adventures using the technical and life skills they have learned at UCSB.”
Graduating seniors selected Diba Mirza, an associate teaching professor, to receive the 2021-22 Computer Science Department’s Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award. This marked the third time in the past four years that Mirza has received the commendation.
“I am greatly honored and moved by the show of appreciation from the graduating seniors,” said Mirza. “Most of my interactions with them were early on, when they were in their first and second years. So, seeing that they value my teaching at the time of graduation means the world to me.”
The early interaction that Mirza mentioned referred to the Early Research Scholars Program (ERSP), a year-long research apprenticeship program that she started at UCSB in 2018 to help first- and second-year undergraduates, especially women and underrepresented students, gain foundational knowledge and skills for research. Students work directly with computer science faculty on a project that ties into the professor’s research area. The National Center for Women Information Technology recognized Mirza in 2021, selecting her with the Mentoring Award for Undergraduate Research.
Mirza said that during the pandemic, she created more opportunities for interaction to give students a sense of belonging to a community, even when they were physically apart. She held more office hours and invited some of her teaching assistants and undergraduate learning assistants to be present to increase their accessibility to students.
“When I think of the Class of 2022, I think of resilience, camaraderie, and strength of character,” said Mirza, who previously received a Distinguished Teaching Award from UCSB’s Academic Senate. “I hope that they are all confident about the strong foundation and values that they have developed at UCSB and use them to springboard into a bright and successful future.”
Graduating seniors in the electrical engineering program selected Spencer Smith, an associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, to receive the 2022 Outstanding Faculty Award. The news caught Smith off guard.
“I’m surprised,” said Smith, joined the UCSB faculty in July 2018. “I’m relatively new here and still growing my teaching portfolio in ECE. To have the students recognize what I’ve done — amid so much excellent teaching — is surprising, and it’s good to know that I’m doing something right.”
Smith’s research uses state-of-the-art imaging, electrophysiology, and quantitative behavior to reverse-engineer neural circuity. His lab has developed novel multiphoton imaging instrumentation to measure neuronal activity with cellular and synaptic resolution across multiple brain areas simultaneously. This technology provides insights into the principles of neural circuitry and the fundamental computational mechanisms of brain function.
During the past two years, Smith embraced the online resources offered by the university, including Gauchocast, Gauchospace, Nectir, and Zoom, in an effort to maximize student success. He plans to continue using some of those online tools, like asynchronous chat-like functions and recorded lectures, to complement in-class communication and office hours. Smith praised graduating seniors for their perseverance and reminded them that they have developed a strong foundation to learn and adapt on their own.
“Some of the classes you took will be valuable, and other material you won’t use so much. But across all the work, you became independent learners, and hopefully, you found inspiration that can drive you to make impacts,” said Smith. “Keep looking for inspiration and make new connections so that you can explore, grow, and enjoy your careers.”
Graduating seniors in the Mechanical Engineering Department selected Tyler Susko for the 2022 Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award. An assistant teaching professor, he has received the honor five times in the past seven years.
“It is such an honor to be selected by my students,” said Susko, who is the capstone instructor for mechanical engineering. “Personally, it means that my students recognize and appreciate he reasons that I do what I do.”
This year, Susko oversaw fifteen collaborative capstone teams, whose innovative projects included a rehabilitation robot to deliver remote therapy to students with cerebral palsy, a mast-mounted thermal and visible camera to improve the vision of sailboat captains, and a rig to test a soft-robotic lunar anchor, which will be flow to low-Earth orbit. Susko said that in the past year he uploaded web content and delivered material during in-person classes to double his students’ access to course content. He believes the flexibility and perseverance that graduating seniors have demonstrated during the pandemic will soon pay dividends.
“This class will be exceptionally prepared for the hybrid workforce,” said Susko. “They’re all experts in online tools, but also have had the experience of delivering their own live and in-person talks.”