Graduates recognized for innovation, service and perseverance

By John Sullivan
June 02, 2020

The School of Engineering and Applied Science virtually celebrated its 2020 Class Day ceremony, with interim Dean H. Vincent Poor commending graduates for courage and determination during a difficult time.

"You have done outstanding work during your time at Princeton, and I want you to know that my faculty colleagues and I are truly impressed with all that you have accomplished during these years," Poor said, addressing students in an online ceremony on June 1. "I am confident that you can apply what you’ve learned here at Princeton to the best service for humanity and the world, especially given these challenging times."

With 334 graduates in engineering and computer science (A.B.), members of the Class of 2020 played intercollegiate athletics, developed novel technologies, served their community and created art and music, Poor said. Graduates will further their education at top programs at Stanford, Cambridge, Caltech and Carnegie Mellon; others will work for employers including Merck, Google, Nvidia and Lockheed Martin; while others will attend law school, medical school or serve in the military.

"Your optimism, hard work, dedication and perseverance are the attributes that have led you to succeed here at Princeton," Poor said. "They will be the foundations for your future success, as well.”

In addition to recognizing graduates, the engineering school honored Athanassios Panagiotopoulos with its annual Distinguished Teacher Award. Panagiotopoulos, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and chair of chemical and biological engineering, is the author of a standard text on thermodynamics. Students praised the clarity of his lectures and his deep concern for their education.

Panagiotopoulos praised the students' perseverance in the face of difficult circumstances, and said he was grateful for the opportunity both to teach such students and to learn from them.

"Warmest wishes and congratulations to the historic Class of 2020," he said.

The major award winners at the 2020 Princeton Engineering Class Day, as presented by Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Peter Bogucki, were:

THE J. RICH STEERS AWARD

Jeb Banavige

A mechanical and aerospace engineering major, Banavige, along with classmates Connor Matthews and Adhitya Raghavan, designed a cold-storage plant powered with biogas made from organic waste. Their adviser, Professor Howard Stone, said, “Jeb did an excellent job characterizing the part of the project focused on electric power generation, which was integrated into the main system aimed at an energy generation need in developing countries.” Banavige, of Maple Plain, Minnesota, will be a Marine Corps officer at Quantico, Virginia.

Kara Dowling

An operations research and financial engineering major with a certificate in applications of computing, Dowling developed a model describing the actions of two ships to study policies governing information acquisition and the firing of offensive and defensive missiles. Her adviser, Professor Warren Powell, said he was “particularly impressed with [Kara’s] stochastic model of exogenous inputs and the way she captures beliefs about uncertain quantities.” Dowling, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, will be a Navy surface warfare officer in Japan.

JEFFREY O. KEPHART '80 PRIZE IN ENGINEERING PHYSICS

Geoffrey Zheng

A physics major, Zheng built a 589 nanometer laser system for cooling sodium atoms by creating an atomic beam of sodium, which he then used to load a magneto-optical trap. His thesis adviser, Associate Professor Waseem Bakr, said the system will be used in a complex apparatus for quantum simulations with bosonic ultracold molecules. Zheng, of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, will pursue a doctorate in physics at Yale.

THE TAU BETA PI PRIZE

Nina Arcot

A mechanical and aerospace engineering major with a certificate in materials science and engineering, Arcot was a leader in providing tours for the School of Engineering and Applied Science. A member of the Princeton Rocketry Club, she gave presentations about rockets and space to high school students at programs organized by the Society of Women Engineers, based on her experience at NASA Langley and in multiple NASA design competitions. For her thesis, Arcot designed a small-scale manufacturing system for 3-D printing lightweight alloys in space. Arcot, of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, will intern at Loft Orbital in San Francisco as a Brooke Owens Fellow.

Meghan Slattery

An operations research and financial engineering major with certificates in Arabic Language and Culture, finance, and technology and society, Slattery served as the president of the Engineering Council for an unprecedented three years, after serving as the study break chair in her first year. As president, she revised the selection process for E-Council Teaching Awards to mitigate systemic biases. Slattery was also a varsity swimmer and president of the Interclub Council and Cloister Inn. For her thesis, Slattery, of Bayport, New York, developed an optimal portfolio for U.S. investment in Malaysia using industrial sectors instead of stocks as inputs.

THE JOSEPH CLIFTON ELGIN PRIZE

Adam Chang

An operations research and financial engineering major with certificates in applications of computing and Latin American studies, Chang studied the social networks of the 1.6 million Venezuelan refugees in Colombia by collecting data from public WhatsApp groups used by Venezuelans in Colombia to understand how the migrants use and share information as they settle and integrate into a new society. Chang used machine learning methods to further analyze the data for his senior thesis and then undertook ethnographic fieldwork in Colombia among Venezuelan refugees and relief organizations to provide “ground truth” to his data analysis. His adviser, Assistant Professor Miklos Racz, called the work a “tour de force” with important policy implications. Chang, of Livingston, New Jersey, will join IDinsight, an international development organization, as a data scientist.

Yolanda Jin

A civil and environmental engineering major with a certificate in architecture and engineering, Jin has undertaken several projects involving historic structures, including the Wenyuan Pavilion in Beijing’s Forbidden City. In her senior year, she studied a form of staircase with cantilevered stairs that appears to float in air. Working with curators of historic buildings with such staircases in New York City, Jin identified the key structural mechanism and tested it with strain sensor data and numerical analyses. Associate Professor Branko Glišić, her adviser, said that Jin's work “not only advances the preservation of these majestic heritage structures, but also opens doors for future construction, after nearly a century of discontinuity caused by lack of understanding of their structural behavior.” Jin, of Delta, Canada, will work at Guy Nordenson and Associates structural engineers in New York City.

David Major

A computer science major with a certificate in the history and practice of diplomacy, Major studied Federal Communications Commission broadband internet availability maps and their underlying data. The COVID-19 crisis has brought attention to how these maps reflect differential access to broadband that disadvantages low-income, minority and rural communities. By reverse-engineering broadband availability portals of over a dozen major providers and querying over a million addresses, Major determined that the FCC maps systematically overstate availability at the census block level, while some providers are misrepresenting their coverage to the FCC at the household level. His adviser, Assistant Professor Jonathan Mayer, said the work is “a masterpiece in using rigorous computer science to make progress on a hard public policy problem.” Major, of New York City, will work for Facebook.

THE GEORGE J. MUELLER AWARD

Margaret O’Connell

A chemical and biological engineering major with a certificate in sustainable energy. O'Connell was a four-year member of the women’s volleyball team. During this time, the team won three Ivy League championships. In 2016 O'Connell was named Ivy Rookie of the Year, and in 2017 she was the Ivy Player of the Year, the first Princeton player to earn such recognition before senior year. For four years, she was first-team All-Ivy and Academic All-Ivy for three years. Her coach, Sabrina King, said that O'Connell is one of the best ever to play volleyball at Princeton. For her senior thesis, O'Connell designed photobioreactors for low-cost, low-energy, high-yield algae growth. O'Connell, of Katy, Texas, will pursue a doctorate in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern.

Andrew Griffin

A computer science major with certificates in technology and society and the program in Values and Public Life, Griffin played football for four years as wide receiver, but during the first three he had the misfortune to play behind two players who are now in the National Football League. In his senior year, Griffin caught 34 passes for 490 yards and a team-best six touchdowns, including four in a single game, an Ivy League record. Griffin was named first-team Academic All-America, the first for Princeton football in 22 years. Football coach Bob Surace said that Griffin is “an incredible worker” and “made everyone around him (play) better.” For his senior independent work, Griffin proposed a realistic framework for regulation of AI applications in health care that mitigates the risk that comes with discrimination. Griffin, of Indianapolis, Indiana, will work as a software engineer at Quartet Health.

THE CALVIN DODD MACCRACKEN SENIOR THESIS/PROJECT AWARD

Sofia Bisogno

A civil and environmental engineering major with a certificate in dance, Bisogno hypothesized that composting in landfills would have a lower climatic impact than the current strategy of capturing methane gas for electricity generation. Studying a landfill in Uruguay, Bisogno calculated that a composting project would cut greenhouse gas emissions over a 30-year span 1.7 times more than an electricity-generating project. Associate Professor Mark Zondlo, her adviser, said that Bisogno's research “was comprehensive in its scope, quantitative in its analyses, and carefully analyzed to fully evaluate all potential pitfalls of her hypothesis." Bisogno, of Bethesda, Maryland, will work as an air quality consultant for Ramboll USA.

Markos Markakis

An electrical engineering major with a certificate in applications of computing, Markakis developed a way to significantly compress testing of computer cores to prevent conflict among cores operating in parallel. His work resulted in shortening of computer system validation time, a key advance. His adviser, Professor Margaret Martonosi, said that “[this is] outstanding work, and Markos has been a true leader in its development,” while Professor Sharad Malik said that this innovation “[will have] immediate practical impact.” Markakis, of Thessaloniki, Greece, will pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

Alice Xue

A civil and environmental engineering major with a certificate in East Asian studies, Xue used machine learning to create plausible-looking Chinese-style landscape images. She did this using a class of algorithms called generative adversarial networks, in which a generator creates images and a discriminator evaluates them, attempting to distinguish real from fake. Attempts to create AI-generated art have tended to blur the details, whereas Xue’s breakthrough was to synthesize plausible edges as a first step before transferring the art style itself. Xue enlisted 242 people to look at 18 pairs of images to guess which were real or generated, and the generated images were mistaken for real Chinese art over 55% of the time (although specialists in Chinese art were not fooled). Professor Brian Kernighan, her adviser, said that her work is “technically very difficult and highly original.” Xue, of Pelham, New York, will work for Facebook.

THE LORE VON JASKOWSKY MEMORIAL PRIZE

Clare Cook

An electrical engineering major with a certificate in Chinese language and culture, Cook was a leading member of the Engineers Without Borders Kenya team, traveling there several times to implement water boreholes. From this experience, and with an interest in medical electronics, she became interested in technology for health in the developing world, specifically related to cervical cancer. For her thesis, she designed, built and demonstrated a 3-D printed, miniaturized, 2-centimeter-square microscope for detecting cancer cells by in vivo imaging. Her adviser, Associate Professor Kaushik Sengupta, said that Cook, of Eagle River, Alaska, continued work on the project at home when COVID-19 closed down the campus, and what kept her going was her "undiluted optimism for her work."

Audrey Shih

A chemical and biological engineering major with a certificate in materials science and engineering, Shih compiled an extensive research biography during her four years at Princeton. Working with Professor Celeste Nelson, Shih studied tissue mechanics in epithelial-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer. She spent one summer at the Fakultät Bio- und Chemieingenieurwesen in Dortmund, Germany, and the next in Princeton as a research intern at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, visualizing polymer chain conformation under flow in porous media. For her thesis, Shih investigated how flow instabilities enhance mixing in a porous medium. Her adviser, Assistant Professor Sujit Datta, said Shih “spreads positivity and passion for science throughout the lab.” Shih, of Columbus, Ohio, will work on a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Stanford with a National Science Foundation fellowship.

JAMES HAYES-EDGAR PALMER PRIZE IN ENGINEERING

Nicholas Johnson

An operations research and financial engineering major with certificates in applications of computing, the applied and computational mathematics, and statistics and machine learning, Johnson is the valedictorian for the Class of 2020. In addition, he has been recognized with the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award, the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence as well as induction into Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi as a junior. In 2017, he won the Class of 1883 English Prize for Freshmen in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He was a resident adviser in Whitman College and a writing fellow in the Princeton Writing Center, where he was also an editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy. He has been president of Engineers Without Borders and project manager for its Peru team, which designed and installed a water distribution system for 120 families. He served as president of Tau Beta Pi for 2019. In his thesis, Johnson brought together his expertise in statistics, optimization and network science to address a significant public health problem in Canada. While the basic idea was to obtain community-level intervention by introducing pairings between healthy and obese individuals, the network optimization involved developing high-performance, efficient algorithms. Johnson, of Outremont, Canada, will pursue a doctorate in operations research at MIT.