With over 3,000 undergraduate students enrolled at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, standing out from the crowd is no small feat. Each year, college faculty are charged with the difficult task of combing through throngs of bright, talented and motivated students and picking just a handful of front runners.
This year, college administrators named an outstanding junior and senior in each Cullen College department as well as one outstanding junior and senior overall. The 2014-2015 outstanding junior is civil engineering student Seth Pedersen, and the year’s outstanding senior is Tessy Lal from biomedical engineering.
Outstanding Junior: Seth Pedersen
Although still a junior, Pedersen has completed more undergraduate research than the majority of his senior peers, and his primary research interest is one that impacts every corner of the globe: clean water.
Pedersen currently works in the laboratory of civil and environmental engineering professor Shankar Chellam. Under Chellam’s guidance, Pederson is studying water purification processes in east Houston. He started his research endeavors with the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) in 2013.
In addition to the hands-on experience he gained in Chellam’s lab, Pedersen also worked at an engineering consulting firm last summer. Although Pedersen said he enjoyed his experience in private industry, he preferred his time in the laboratory more because it allowed him to delve “deeper into how things actually work,” he said.
After working with water and sanitation research for a few years, Pedersen said the field has become a passion. “I see it as a big need in the world,” he said. “It’s also pretty cool to take disgusting water and turn it into something you can drink.” He said he hopes to continue his research in graduate school and is considering a research career.
As for being named Outstanding Junior, Pedersen said the honor was unexpected. “I have classes with really great students, I was really surprised because there are so many great students in the college,” he added.
He attributes his success to the balancing act of work and play. “Keeping the right balance between focusing on your studies and building the right relationships with people is important,” he said. “You can be too social and not focus on your studies, but you can also be really isolated and miss out on another side of life.” In his spare time, Pedersen said he loves music and plays bluegrass with his siblings.
Outstanding Senior: Tessy Lal
Lal’s educational journey at the University of Houston began long before her college years. As a sophomore in high school, she attended the Cullen College’s annual G.R.A.D.E. camp, where she experienced hands-on engineering for the first time.
“[G.R.A.D.E. Camp] really excited me about engineering and introduced me to some of the people here at UH. When I came back, I recognized those people and got to talk to them again. It was definitely a factor in my decision to come to UH,” she said. “It helped me learn more about UH and the different engineering departments here. It’s how I heard about biomedical engineering.”
As she began her education in biomedical engineering, Lal said her interests quickly turned to brain-machine interface (BMI) technologies. She worked in Jose Luis “Pepe” Contreras-Vidal’s BMI lab early in her college career, and said the technology fascinated her. “One of the things that really interested me from the time I heard about neuroengineering is the development of prosthetics for people who have lost control of their limbs, or even amputees to give them that range of motion back,” she said.
After her sophomore year, she began volunteering at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Laboratory for Addiction and Brain Imaging, where she helps with analyzing MRI images used to understand the connections in the brain associated with different addictions and disorders.
“I’ve learned so much about conducting research,” she said of her time at Baylor. “I’ve learned just how important it is to follow procedure when you’re analyzing, and it’s taught me a lot of patience.”
Lal says the hands-on experience has been instrumental in understanding engineering theories taught in the classroom. “Since it’s engineering, you need practical experience. In addition to doing well in your classes, you have to get practical experience, whether it’s research in a lab or an internship. Because once you get out of college, it’s all about applying what you’ve learned.” She is currently applying for various Ph.D. programs and hopes to work in biomedical research after completing her doctoral degree.
This year, Lal was also chosen to receive the Cynthia Oliver Coleman P.E. Women in Engineering Rising Star Award from the Cullen College of Engineering.
See below for the other outstanding students from the Cullen College of Engineering.
Department Outstanding Senior Outstanding Junior
Biomedical Engineering Tessy Lal Marwa Kharboutli
Chemical Engineernig Connor Fernandez Evan Manuel
Civil Engineering Ryan Byrd Seth Pedersen
Computer Engineering Daniel Romero Don Nguyen
Electrical Engineering Brian McNeil Andrew Maicke
Industrial Engineering An Trinh Vivian Acero Ramirez
Mechanical Engineering Borith Seng Juan Carlos Martinez
Petroleum Engineering Brandon Saavedra Daniela Arciniegas Murillo