“Global Threats Need You”

2021 Class of Societal Engineers Celebrated

By Michael Seele and Patrick L. Kennedy

With a call to continue their dedication to being Societal Engineers after earning their degrees, the College of Engineering’s Class of 2021 celebrated its graduation with virtual Commencement Exercises last weekend. Ceremonies for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral graduates were held on May 14 and 15.

In addition to awarding 425 bachelor’s degrees, 254 master’s degrees and 57 doctoral degrees, the College recognized no less than three valedictorians, and presented Societal Engineering Awards and several faculty honors at the ceremonies.

“Are we truly ready to change the world?”

In an unprecedented triple tie, three members of the Class of 2021 were named valedictorian:  Ethan Po-Yi Hung (CE); Daniel Wolfe Bradford (ME); and Mason Roy DaSilva (ME). All graduated summa cum laude.

“All of them earned a GPA of 4.0 over their entire four years,” College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen said at the ENG Virtual Block Party. “Not one faculty could think of a single reason to give them an A-minus.”

Aditya Jain (’21)

During the Commencement Convocation, student speaker Aditya Jain spoke about his classmates’ qualifications to tackle pressing global challenges. “Are we truly ready to change the world? I believe the answer is yes,” he said. “Through the principles of societal engineering, our time at Boston University has taught us three key lessons.”

He cited systems-level problem solving, passion for their work, and teamwork. During one late-night session in Ingalls, as Jain collaborated on an automated hydroponic system, “I suddenly realized Professor [Gerald] Fine’s genius. By assigning us as a team with a biomedical, mechanical, computer, and electrical engineer, we were able to bring together different backgrounds and experiences to find new solutions.”

Dean Lutchen, in his remarks, agreed that Jain’s classmates have all the attributes of the Societal Engineer. But he pointed to two additional attributes they have that will serve them well in the coming years.

“First, the capacity and drive to work really hard on problems,” said Lutchen. “There’s no major that had to work as hard as you did in engineering.”

Secondly, Lutchen said, “You’re an engineer and a scientist. That makes you able to understand and apply the scientific method as the only way to determine truth on how things work, be they nature or invented by humans. More important, you appreciate the power of this method.”

What that means, Lutchen added, is that ENG graduates have a responsibility to not only apply but also advocate for the scientific method. “We’ve seen time and again the damage caused by science deniers who feel data is irrelevant if it suggests something they prefer not to believe,” he said.

Scientists and engineers made the COVID-19 vaccines possible, helping dig the world out of one crisis, Lutchen said, and it will be scientists and engineers who will navigate us through humanity’s most urgent crisis: climate change. “Global threats need you,” Lutchen said.

Graduate programs’ rapid growth and impact

In both the master’s and PhD hooding celebrations, Lutchen praised the dedication and commitment shown by the degree earners over several years of study, and spoke of the strides that ENG has made in recent decades. More than 300 master’s and doctoral degrees were awarded in 2020–2021.

Today, ENG is ranked 16th among private graduate engineering programs in the U.S., and 36th out of all 210 graduate engineering programs in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report. That puts BU above Yale, Vanderbilt, Rochester University, and other elite institutions, Lutchen noted.

“You have taken on a degree that will ground you in your professional aspirations to advance technology to improve the world,” said Lutchen. “It prepares you and obligates you to continuously question the basic tenets of your field, to advance the forefront of knowledge, and to identify ways of partnering to translate your knowledge to create engineering innovations that can impact society and improve quality of life for all.”

Awards for graduates and faculty

As is customary, several awards were announced during Commencement events. The Departmental Awards for Teaching Excellence went to Instructor Aleks Zosuls (BME), Professor Hamid Nawab (ECE), and Professor Paul Barbone (ME). And Professor Catherine Klapperich won the ENG Teaching Excellence Award.

Professor Prakash Ishwar (ECE, SE) earned the Faculty Service Award for his efforts in leading the creation of a new undergraduate machine learning concentration.

Klapperich and Professor Doug Densmore earned a special Societal Engineering Impact Award for their extraordinary self-sacrifices in building the nation’s premier independent COVID-19 surveillance testing facilities, allowing the Boston University community to continue pursuing life goals in education and research.

Several graduate students earned ENG’s Societal Impact Awards. “These awards recognize a project, thesis, or practicum that focuses on an important societal challenge through the innovative application of technology,” said Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Programs Sol Eisenberg (BME, ECE) during the master’s event.

Among master’s students, the two winners were Pierre-Francois Wolfe and Christine McKee. For doctoral theses, the Societal Impact Awards went to Yijia Zhang and Fulya Kanik.

Three teams of bachelor’s degree graduates won Societal Impact Awards: Phoebe Ato, Nogaye Ka, and Pallavi Balivada; Sean Jang, William Willette, Leandro Mang, and Janice Noh; and  Shreya Banga, McKenna Damschroder, Vanessa Giron, Se’Lina Lasher, and Kaito Yamagishi.