Viterbi Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award

The Viterbi School of Engineering recognizes PhD students who have been actively engaged in mentoring undergraduate student researchers. Congratulations to our 2018 award winners, Ashrant Aryal and Caitlyn Clabaugh!

2017 Recipients

Si Shen

Si loves to teach. She is a born mentor and has consistenly sought out opportunities to teach and mentor, not only undergraduate students in her department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, but she has been active teaching K-12 students in the local Los Angeles community through “Teach for Los Angeles.” She also volunteers to teach high school equivelancy mathematics programs for the homeless at The Midnight Mission on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Si is also a recipient of the prestigious Chevron Fellowship. This competitive fellowship provides talented graduate students with full tuition and a living stipend. Si still wanted to be a Teaching Assistant. She gratefully accepted the Fellowship after her advisor promised her that she would still have the chance to be a Teaching Assistant. Her advisor desribes her as a superb researcher and said in her nomination, “If I synthesized a candidate for this award from a ‘wish list’ of qualities, I could hardly construct a more appropriate and deserving candidate.”
Congratulations, Si Shen!
Elaine Scheartl Short
Elaine is graduating with her PhD in Computer Science in Spring 2017. Since she began her program in the fall of 2010, she has mentored twenty-seven undergraduate research assistants, five high school students, and four post-Master’s students. She is a recipient of two prestigious fellowships, USC’s Provost Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Elaine is a strong mentor for women and underrepresented minority groups and has worked to build a community of women engineers by co-founding the USC PhD Women in Computer Science Group. This group was able to obtain support for 20 undergraduate and graduate students to attend conferences and organize research collaboration events. She is also the recipient of the Best Teaching Assistant Award for her work with students in their first year of the Computer Science degree. Elaine intends to pursue a career in academia and will undoubtedly enjoy a successful one. Congratulations, Elaine!
Orlando Delpino Gonzales
Since beginning his PhD program in Fall 2011, Orlando has mentored two undergraduate students each semester in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. His dedication to his mentees went above and beyond in the time he invested, his patience, and his encouragement. Influenced by Orlando’s strong work ethic and attention to detail, his mentees worked harder out of their respect for Orlando and reached levels of success that they say could not have been possible without him. We congratulate Orlando on his well-earned award!
Simin Mehrabani
 Simin (PhD ‘15, Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science) immediately expressed interest in mentoring undergraduate students when she joined Dr. Andrea Armani’s lab in 2010. Since then, she has gained a reputation as a detailed researcher who places a high emphasis on lab safety and protocol. Her students thrived in her nurturing, yet demanding research environment where they were not afraid to fail, and became better researchers. Simin was always available to her students, knew their goals, and would provide support and resources in their academic and career goals. Simin’s talent as a mentor has helped her students become extremely successful in their undergraduate careers and beyond. In fact, two of her students have been accepted to graduate programs in top schools and were awarded highly competitive and prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Congratulations, Simin!

Aaron St. Clair
Aaron began his PhD in Computer Science in 2008. In addition to being an excellent researcher, Aaron is also an outstanding mentor. Since beginning his PhD program, Aaron has mentored over 20 students. Aaron has been described as thorough, patient, encouraging, and always available to his students. He creates an atmosphere of support where his students feel able to ask questions, expand their skills, and own their projects. In short, Aaron loves mentoring, and it is reflected by the success

Farzad Jalali-Yazdi
Farzad began his PhD in 2010 in Dr. Richard Roberts’ laboratory in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Over his time as a PhD student, Farzad has actively sought out opportunities to mentor. Farzad began a program to actively recruit undergraduate students and interview them for compatibility in Dr. Roberts’ lab. Once the students were under his wing, Farzad was a thorough and patient mentor. Farzad’s talent as a mentor inspired many of his students to excel at research and go on to graduate school.

Ding Li
Beginning his PhD in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering in 2011, Ding Li has been described as a methodical, focused researcher and an excellent collaborative team member.

During fall 2012, Ding was assigned two undergraduate students to mentor. Neither of the students had a particularly strong background in computer science and would require extensive training to become effective team members on the projects. Under Ding’s skilled mentoring, both of these students not only excelled at their new skills and the projects at hand, they both made critical contributions to the research that has resulted in two top-tier publications.

Ryan Thacher
During his time as a PhD student under Dr. Massoud Pirbazari, Ryan Thacher (PhD ’13, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) mentored undergraduate students, helping them to become well-rounded and competent in all phases of a research program. From developing a project, to writing the proposal, to performing the lab work, to presenting at university symposiums and national conferences, Ryan was instrumental in elevating the undergraduate research program to producing graduate-level work.

The undergraduate students in Ryan’s group consistently remarked that Ryan created a safe and supportive learning environment and that he took the time to explain and demonstrate complex subject matter so that it could be easily understood. Ryan was always patient, approachable, and available to his students, but allowed them a chance to work through difficult concepts and discover solutions on their own before offering his help.

Ashley Maker
Ashley is a PhD student in Chemical Engineering and is an active member of Dr. Andrea Armani’s research group. She began mentoring students as an undergraduate and has mentored numerous high school and undergraduate students and high school teachers. She served as a mentor through the CED summer institute and the NSF RET program. Ashley has also mentored undergraduates through the various USC summer and academic year undergraduate research programs, such as merit research and directed research. As a mentor, she patiently guides students through the research process, answering their numerous questions along the way and encouraging them to think “like an engineer”.

Ashley is always supportive and encouraging. Even when an experiment is not working, she is always able to draw something positive from the experience. After working with her, both high school students are now pursuing undergraduate degrees in engineering and several undergraduates are now pursuing or applying to PhD programs in engineering. Given the strong correlation, there can be no doubt that this is a result of their research experiences and Ashley’s positive influence.

Ross Mead
Ross is a PhD student in Computer Science and works in Dr. Maja Matarić’s research group. He is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and a GK-12 BE-LA Fellow. Ross is an outstanding researcher who also devotes a great deal of his time to K-12 outreach and makes active mentoring of a large cohort of students a part of his daily research methodology. Ross’s former student mentees have typically worked with him over multiple semesters, and then moved onto superb graduate school and career placements, including the PhD programs at MIT and UC Berkeley.

In addition to mentoring VSoE undergraduates year-round, Ross has also mentored visiting summer undergraduates through the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program and the Viterbi Summer Research Experience program. These students have come from a range of institutions, including Princeton and Johns Hopkins. Ross’s commitment to mentoring is a clear sign of his sense for service. He is clearly able to inspire students of all ages and sustain their interest and productivity in research.