ENG Seniors Celebrate with Virtual Block Party

By Patrick L. Kennedy

“You’re gonna make me emotional!”

Four seniors in computer engineering are sitting around a table, looking back on their four years at Boston University and revealing what they’ll miss. Norman A. Toro Vega is mock-chastising Gabriel A. Ramos Rivera for dialing up the session’s sentimentality quotient, but then he echoes his friend’s ode to the diversity of BU.

“Everyone you meet has something you can’t find anywhere else,” Vega says.

“It is beautiful,” says Ece Sureyya Birol. “I’m also gonna miss how helpful people were.”

“I’m gonna miss you guys!” says Ece Ari.

These students and many others shared their thoughts on their ENG experience in a series of videos featured in the College of Engineering’s unique, multimedia Virtual Graduation Block Party on May 13.

This year, 425 ENG students earned bachelor’s degrees—139 in BME, 150 in ECE, and 136 in ME. They grappled with a rigorous curriculum, mastering difficult subjects. They worked in internships and handled state-of-the-art lab equipment as they completed senior projects. And as Dean Kenneth Lutchen and ENG faculty members pointed out in their real-time remarks, the students accomplished these feats under the extraordinary circumstances brought on by a pandemic.

“Different senior classes have different characters,” said Professor John White, chair of BME. “You’re the class of resilience. You took on a task—not voluntarily, but you still did it—a task that was more challenging than any of the faculty have experienced in their educations. And we are really, really proud of you.”

Meghan Griffin (BME) demonstrates learning by flashlight.

Students related bizarre moments from remote learning in spring 2020. “In the middle of my Zoom class, the power went out, and then the tornado siren started going off” in her hometown in Wisconsin, said Meghan Griffin (BME). Griffin ended up in her basement, “watching class on my phone and taking notes with a flashlight.”

But when they were allowed back on campus in the fall—thanks in part to the tireless efforts of Professor Catherine Klapperich (BME, MSE, ME), who built the University’s COVID-19 testing lab—students resumed on-site learning and collaboration, albeit under some restrictions.

Sometimes turning in those senior projects on time required pizza-fueled all-nighters in Photonics Lab 305, said Birol.

“Wait, I thought you cannot bring food or drink into 305,” challenged Ari.

“That is true,” admitted Birol. “But I am graduating, so I don’t think they’re gonna come after me.”

Michaela Johnson (BME)

Senior Design Project gave students “the freedom to really explore and engage in different environments,” said Michaela Johnson (BME). “Our supervisors did a really good job introducing us to new concepts and letting our minds just go free and think of different possibilities we wouldn’t have before.”

Aaron Hwang (ME) shared a memory from his internship with his mentor Ian Schon (’12), who makes high-end mechanical wristwatches. “I crashed his mill and thrust an engraving bit straight through his part,” recalled Hwang. “It took a few days to regain my confidence, but he handed me the scrapped part as a gift, with the snapped tool still in it, as a reminder to always respect the machine, and that crashes like this will always happen.”

Aaron Hwang with his desktop jukebox, or “D-top J-box,” the first part he ever machined.

Having learned engineering skills at an elite level, the students now bear a responsibility to apply them toward solving humanity’s gravest challenges, Lutchen reminded them.

To illustrate his point, Lutchen played a clip from Margin Call, the dramatic film about the 2008 financial crisis. In it, Stanley Tucci portrays an engineer who was lured into the world of high-risk finance. The character would regret that career change when the pyramid schemes that he helped construct fell apart, wreaking havoc on the global economy.

“It’s an example of how you can make the world a worse place if you don’t stay a Societal Engineer,” said Lutchen.

But the speed and scale of the development of COVID-19 vaccines, Lutchen said, demonstrate the power of scientists and engineers to spare the world further havoc, helping us emerge from a crisis. “Science and technology were the heroes,” he said. “You have an extremely valuable degree.”

Going forward, the dean urged students to stay positive and stay engaged. “Reach out to your family and your friends and thank them for helping you get through this,” said Lutchen.

“We are all counting on you,” he added, “because we believe in you.”

The full event can be seen on the College of Engineering YouTube channel.