At the end of spring quarter every year, the UW College of Engineering honors and celebrates contributions of faculty, staff and students who have demonstrated commitment to transforming the world through innovation, collaboration and service. This year, the College named six award recipients from UW ECE. These individuals are producing groundbreaking, multidisciplinary research; leading efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion; implementing new certificate and degree programs; and performing well beyond their peers at other institutions.
“I am very proud of everyone who received these awards,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “They represent the best of the best at UW ECE and are key contributors to our innovative, inclusive learning environment.”
The award ceremony and reception was held Thursday, May 26, at the Husky Union Building. UW ECE award recipients attending were (pictured from left to right) Undergraduate Program Coordinator Chris Overly, fourth-year doctoral student Zhuoran Fang, Director of Professional Programs May Lim, Assistant Professor Azadeh Yazdan, Director of Academic Services Stephanie Swanson, and Adjunct Associate Professor Rajesh Rao (not pictured).
Read on to learn more about each award recipient.
2022 UW ECE Awardees
Faculty Award: Research
Rajesh Rao is the C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. He is also co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. Rao is recognized worldwide for his groundbreaking research and educational leadership in computational neuroscience and neural engineering. In computational neuroscience, he is known for the predictive coding model, one of the most influential models of prediction and learning in the brain. This hierarchical neural network model laid the foundation for important ideas in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. In neural engineering, his research group has pioneered new types of brain-computer interfaces designed to improve quality of life for individuals with neurological injuries and conditions. In education, Rao played an important leadership role at the UW in creating a new undergraduate minor and graduate certificate program in neural computation and engineering, which are among the first of such programs in the world.
Rao has achieved many other ‘firsts’ in neural engineering research. He and his collaborators were the first to demonstrate direct brain control of a humanoid robot in 2007, direct brain-to-brain communication in humans in 2013, and the first ‘BrainNet’ with three directly-communicating human brains in 2019, all with non-invasive neural interfaces. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholar award, an NSF CAREER award, a Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research, a Sloan Faculty Fellowship, and a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. His cutting-edge research work is frequently reported in major media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, CNN, ABC, BBC, CBS, National Geographic and Scientific American.
Faculty Award: Junior
Azadeh Yazdan is the Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor of Neuroengineering in the UW Department of Bioengineering and the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Her lab develops novel tools and technologies to interrogate and better understand the brain and nervous system. Yazdan’s long-term aim is to use these tools and technologies for personalized neurorehabilitation and to help restore function in people with neurological and psychiatric disorders. This highly interdisciplinary work involves collaboration with faculty not only in bioengineering and electrical and computer engineering, but also across other disciplines such as neuroscience, neurology, statistics and applied mathematics. Yazdan has distinguished herself as a rising star in neural engineering and neuroscience. Her work to date is described in a set of 35 high-quality publications, as evidenced by the journals in which she has published, which include Neuron and eLife and top-ranked specialty journals such as Brain Stimulation, Journal of Neuroscience and the Journal of Neural Engineering.
Yazdan is an outstanding educator and mentor who has received the 2019 Excellence in Mentoring Award from the UW Department of Bioengineering. She is currently training one post-doctoral scholar, seven graduate and ten undergraduate students in her research lab. Under her mentorship, her students have received prestigious awards such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Big Data for Genomics and Neuroscience Training Grant and the Mary Gates Scholarship. Yazdan is also deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in her lab and through her university service. She co-organized the “WomXn at the Forefront of ECE Research” event during the 2021 fall quarter, and she has been invited to give several local seminars related to DEI. She recently began working to establish an online tutoring and mentoring program for high school students from underrepresented groups.
Staff Award: Professional
UW ECE Director of Professional Academic Programs May Lim is known throughout the Department for her leadership skills, strong work ethic and vast administrative knowledge. As director of the Department’s Professional Master’s Program (PMP), Lim develops strategy, travels around the world to sell the program to prospective students, sets the teaching schedule and advocates for program participants. She has been instrumental in growing the PMP and increasing enrollments, even through the COVID-19 pandemic. She also has led an effort to develop a new certificate program in machine learning and deep learning, which builds upon the success of the PMP and expands student outreach.
In addition to her regular duties, Lim has served as interim lead administrator for UW ECE from April 2020 to October 2020 and again from December 2020 to the present. In this role, she has worked closely with UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins to oversee Department operations throughout the pandemic. She and Klavins led efforts to move all instruction online, develop safety plans, develop home offices for faculty and staff, and deliver lab kits to students all over the world. During this time, Lim developed financial projections for the Department and found new ways to save money and generate revenue. Her plans are still the basis of UW ECE financial and administrative strategy today and promise to keep the Department on a solid financial foundation for years to come.
Staff Award: Team
UW ECE Director of Academic Services Stephanie Swanson and Undergraduate Program Coordinator Chris Overly have been instrumental in the development and implementation of the Department’s new Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (BSECE), which will be offered beginning autumn quarter 2022. The BSECE degree program provides students with increased flexibility in choosing their academic pathways and is highly adaptable to technological advances in popular research areas.
Swanson and Overly worked with UW ECE faculty, staff and colleagues in other UW units and departments to design a degree program that is not only of the highest academic standard but also provides more flexibility for students who want to pursue a deep specialization or a broader education at UW ECE. Over two years, Swanson and Overly consulted with faculty and Department affiliates and did the necessary footwork to ensure that the new degree program would work well for all incoming students, including direct-to-college and transfer students. They also ran the degree program through time-consuming, but crucial, academic approval processes to ensure all aspects of the new BSECE were reviewed, considered and approved by University leadership. Together, they devoted countless hours to establishing the new degree program on top of their already busy day-to-day duties as part of the UW ECE advising team.
Student Award: Research
Zhuoran Fang is a fourth-year doctoral student, advised by UW ECE Associate Professor Arka Majumdar. Fang has been an exceptionally productive graduate student, with 12 journal publications (four as first author) in less than three and a half years. He has also received full-time internship offers from Hewlett Packard Labs and Meta’s Reality Labs for summer 2022, both of which are top industrial research facilities. Some of Fang’s papers have been published in top journals, including Nature Communications and Advanced Materials. His work has been cited over 700 times, a significant milestone for a graduate student.
Fang received his master’s degree in materials science from the University of Oxford, and prior to coming to UW ECE, he conducted research in a variety of research institutes including the National Institute for Materials Science (Japan), Hitachi Research Labs and MIT. His research covers a broad range of topics in optics, photonics and nanotechnology. During his time at MIT under the supervision of Professor Juejun Hu, his work led to two journal publications, both in Nature Communications, and the granting of a U.S. patent — solid proof of Fang’s outstanding research aptitude. For these reasons, UW ECE awarded Fang the GSFEI Top Scholar Recruitment Fellowship upon his acceptance of the offer to attend the Department.
Unlike many doctoral students whose research was stalled by labs shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fang made full use of his time while working at home to complete a design of ID meta-optics for generating self-healing beams in a silicon photonic chip. As soon as labs resumed normal operations, Fang returned to the cleanroom and fabricated his design. After some characterizations and a few fabrication iterations, he wrote up the first draft of a paper describing this research in a month, which was eventually published in ACS Photonics. In only three months, he converted a design to a prototype to a journal publication — a process that often takes years to complete.
View a full list of 2022 UW College of Engineering Awards recipients on the CoE website.