Six grads of distinction
On May 9, 2021, the college will welcome more than 1,600 new alumni into the College of Engineering family. Meet a few members of the class of 2021 who combined their passions with Ohio State’s offerings to engineer an extraordinary education, and learn what advice they have for new and prospective Buckeyes.
Though she didn’t originally plan to attend The Ohio State University, a visit to the Columbus Campus and the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture convinced Makayla Davis to become a Buckeye.
“Feeling the comfort of the campus and the community that I would be within, I was much more comfortable choosing Ohio State than any of the other schools,” she said. “It felt right.”
After the professor who taught her first-year studio course exposed Davis to the possibilities of landscape architecture, the honors student decided to switch her major.
“The field is really flexible and practitioners can do essentially anything, so there's a lot of opportunity,” explained Davis. “I figured, why not do it? It's interesting, it's cool and I can get a lot out of it.”
During her four years at Ohio State, Davis has taken advantage of all the university has to offer. The three education abroad courses she took—visiting London, Rome and Peru—are among the highlights of her academic experience.
“I'm grateful for the scholarships I got to do those,” she said. “Being exposed to other cultures, other communities and being outside of the United States was beyond inspiring. It was transformative to get other experiences and there's something special about being within a place that welcomes you.”
Also prioritizing service, Davis is the current president of SERVitecture, a student organization that provides community service opportunities related to architecture, landscape architecture, and city and regional planning. A member since her freshman year, she especially enjoyed SERVitecture’s biannual trips to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity in various cities throughout North America, and its annual student Fashion Schau, a charity event that encourages students to create clothing out of recycled material.
“Those are some of the best experiences, the things I'll remember because I made a lot of friends, and it impacted the way I look at my work and what I’ll do in the future,” she said.
As a public and university programs intern for the Wexner Center for the Arts for the past two years, Davis worked for the learning and public practice department and even created a zine showcasing behind-the-scenes work of museum staffers.
After graduation she will pursue a master’s in city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania.
For current and future Buckeyes, this go-getter advised, “There are a lot of opportunities that you will have at Ohio State. You can miss out if you don't take the chance to try something new, go somewhere new or meet new people.”
Since he was a young boy, Mouhamadou Guisse has been fascinated with flight and the large jets he and his family took to visit relatives in Senegal. So when he decided to pursue an engineering degree at Ohio State, there was little question as to what he would study.
“I wanted to pursue a career in a field where I would learn more about these cool mechanical systems and apply my skills in math and science to what impressed me the most,” the aerospace engineering major said.
A first-generation college student from Cincinnati, Guisse has not only excelled in the classroom, he has also taken full advantage of all the university has to offer. He is president of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals at The Ohio State University, where he promotes STEM outreach in underrepresented communities. Those activities include giving talks about aviation history and career paths, doing STEM-related activities in schools and hosting students at the Ohio State Airport. He is also finance chair for Ohio State’s National Society of Black Engineers, where he helps create opportunities for fellow students.
Those positions not only enable Guisse to give back, but he has also gained valuable skills.
“In class we learn more the more technical side of engineering. Being involved in student organizations means I get to use other skills, like teamwork, leadership and communication, that aren't as heavily emphasized within the classroom,” he explained. “It's a great way to round out my experience and make sure that I'm learning and growing as both a person and a student.”
A member of Ohio State’s Young Scholars Program, Guisse is a mentor and peer-leader who helps first-year scholars from underserved communities successfully transition to college.
“When I think about my own experience, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere close to where I am without the help of mentors, faculty and staff,” he said. “So I think it's only right that I return the favor and give back to the communities and programs that have helped to get me here.”
Guisse also completed engineering internships at Xtek, Battelle and GE Aviation. This fall he will begin working at Northrop Grumman in Utah as an associate mechanical engineer.
As someone who both benefitted from Ohio State resources and served as a resource to others, Guisse urges students to “ask for help when need be and help others along the way.”
“There are lots of different mentorship programs, resources and student organizations that can help you not just in your classes, but to get to the best version of yourself,” he added. “I think it’s really important to reach out to those resources that are available to grow as both a student and overall as a well-rounded person.”
Coming from a family of Ohio State grads, chemical and biomolecular engineering honors student Justin Hopkins has always felt like a Buckeye at heart. The Findlay, Ohio, native decided to attend Ohio State because of its engineering program and the chance to continue his lifelong swimming career at the college level.
As an Ohio State men’s swim and dive team member for two years, Hopkins was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Athlete for earning a 4.0 GPA sophomore year. He also participated in the Wolstein Leadership Academy.
At the urging of John Clay, a professor of practice in chemical and biomolecular engineering, Hopkins decided to get involved in undergraduate research. He began working in Professor Nick Brunelli’s research group in January 2020, working to advance their capabilities for the synthesis of zeolites, commonly used commercial catalysts. Last month Hopkins earned second place in the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum’s engineering life sciences category for his research in this area.
“Justin is a phenomenal student who has immense capabilities and intellectual capacity,” said Brunelli, the H.C. 'Slip' Slider associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “He clearly shows a passion for research that will translate into success at the highest levels.”
Brunelli also credits Hopkins with being the driving force who helped establish a student chapter of chemical engineering honorary Omega Chi Epsilon at Ohio State in 2019.
Hopkins completed three internships with Battelle’s Advanced Materials and Microfabrication Department where he designed and implemented solutions to clients’ problems. He also joined student organization Buckeyes for Christ as a sophomore, serving as its president since 2019.
After graduation, Hopkins will pursue a PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota and ultimately plans to work in research consulting—a path he found thanks to his faculty mentors.
“One of the best things about my Ohio State experience is the professors I had really took an interest in what I wanted to do and were very helpful getting me where I wanted to be,” Hopkins explained. “I think that's been the game-changing factor of my career—I had professors who cared about me through the entire experience.”
Hopkins also offered some advice to future and current students—don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from doing your best.
“You're always going to face a lot of very tough problems, not just in school, but in life,” he said. “You have to take a little bit of academic courage when you approach those problems, because sometimes the fear of failure prevents you from putting your best effort towards it and growing as a person. [This] has made my experience more fulfilling and I've learned more because of it.”
Originally from Virginia, July Laszakovits took an unconventional path into the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering’s (CEGE) doctoral program. She became interested in environmental engineering after completing related undergraduate research as a chemistry student at the University of Mary Washington and a two-week summer research experience in Ohio State’s School of Earth Sciences. After learning about CEGE Chair Allison MacKay’s research studying the drinking water treatment of cyanotoxins, Laszakovits decided to pursue a PhD in environmental engineering at Ohio State.
“The research that I was interested in isn't being done in chemistry programs, it’s being done in environmental engineering programs,” she explained. “That undergraduate experience solidified my interest in pursuing environmental engineering and also opened up more doors to me.”
Laszakovits’ graduate research focuses on reducing the occurrence of hazardous chemicals in treated drinking water. She received a Presidential Fellowship—the highest honor given by the Ohio State graduate school—for the final component of her thesis, designing and implementing experiments to determine how present treatment of drinking water can be improved to reduce carcinogenic by-products. By understanding the underlying chemical processes, targeted and more cost-effective treatments can eventually be developed.
“It's been great working in the environmental engineering labs because everybody comes from such different backgrounds. I have a strong background in chemistry, so I'm able to help people with the analytical methods,” she said. “But I don't know much about biology, so I can learn a lot from others about the bio side of things.”
Laszakovits has also actively promoted water industry careers. Since joining the Ohio American Waterworks Association Young Professionals Committee two years ago, she spearheaded a Diversity in Water Series to highlight the career paths of successful leaders from diverse backgrounds in the Ohio water sector.
“We have an event every other month and so far it seems to have been pretty successful, people have enjoyed it,” Laszakovits said.
She has also enjoyed mentoring future engineers and scientists. Her Columbus Alternative High School Internship eXperience mentee is now pursuing an organismal biology and ecology degree at Colorado College. One of Laszakovits’ undergraduate mentees not only wrote a proposal and secured funding for her own research project, but is now pursuing a research distinction and is considering attending graduate school.
As she advised those young women, Laszakovits encourages students to “go for it,” when opportunities such as submitting an abstract or giving a presentation are offered. “You get what you put it to, so if you're interested in doing something, you should do it, even if it's a little scary.”
After graduation, Laszakovits will move to Switzerland to work as a post-doc at ETH Zurich and ultimately plans to pursue a career in research.
Inspired by an experiment in elementary school showing how to power a lightbulb with a battery and some helpful advice from her Buckeye engineer father, Katie Lenz decided to be an electrical engineer at a young age.
Lenz’s idea of what electrical engineers do—and what might be the best career fit for her—has evolved during her time at Ohio State and her experiences at four internships and co-ops at different companies.
“I never realized how broad electrical engineering is, I thought everyone just invented iPhones. All of those experiences taught me different technical sides to electrical engineering,” she said. “I also picked up different business skills, how to communicate with people who aren't on my team, how to ask for help, how to set up and run meetings. They were very beneficial.”
Drawn to Ohio State because of its outstanding engineering program and Women in Engineering (WiE) initiatives, Lenz has built a unique support network at the university.
“From the very first day, I automatically knew people in all of my classes, so it made study groups super easy,” she said. “They had a seminar class that taught us resume and interview tips. My closest friends are from WiE as well. I highly recommend it.”
Lenz also joined The Ohio State Society of Women (SWE) engineers, progressing from helping plan the inaugural Engineering Ball during her sophomore year to serving as secretary to becoming president this year.
“What kept me in the organization was that it had the resources to support me as an entire person,” she said. “From the leadership opportunities to the group of women who were constantly advocating for me and pushing me to do more.”
Despite the pandemic, SWE hosted 64 virtual events last fall under Lenz’s leadership. She also launched a Freshman Ambassador Program to enable first-year students to gain leadership skills and made care packages for SWE members who were in the university’s quarantine or isolation housing. In recognition of her leadership, Lenz received a 2021 Guiding Star Award from the Society of Women Engineers.
Being in SWE not only enhanced Lenz’s academic experience, it also helped her land a full-time job at HP, where she will be a hardware design engineer.
Lenz’s advice to students is not to give up, “Continuously put yourself out there. There are a lot of opportunities, sometimes you have to wait for the right time for things to connect. When they do connect, it can lead to amazing opportunities. So even if you hit some closed doors, just keep knocking.”
By combining opportunities available on- and off-campus, Raga Maddela was able to engineer a transformative education.
Being in the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors program helped set the industrial and systems engineering major apart at career fairs and secure an internship at Lincoln Electric during her sophomore year. She completed four internships in total, including spending six months at Tesla and a summer at Lyft—both in the Bay Area.
“The industrial engineering curriculum had prepared me for really great internships,” she said. “It was eye-opening to have those experiences and to meet people from different colleges all over the world.”
Maddela also continued her Chinese studies at Ohio State and taught English abroad in China one summer, which she considers a highlight from her five years at the university.
“That was an amazing experience. I am also passionate about teaching on top of engineering,” Maddela said. “I would love to be in engineering education one day. I think teaching is such a good way to give back to younger people.”
As an undergraduate research assistant in Ohio State’s Cognitive Systems Engineering Lab, she conducted human performance and intelligence analysis research for the Air Force Research Laboratory. The aspiring product manager found her position there helpful in learning how to apply good design principles to a real-world project and gaining project management experience.
Being a Morrill Scholar, which rewards academically talented students who are engaged in diversity-based leadership, helped Maddela meet peers who were interested in social justice initiatives. In 2018, she joined the Ohio Student Association, which was a university student organization at the time, and worked to help get a statewide criminal justice bill on the ballot. This year she worked with Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership peers and others to host the Stop AAPI Hate rally held on campus in April.
“Social justice, criminal justice and student activism have been a huge part of my experience at Ohio State. This type of work is way different from engineering. But I think as engineers, as students, as members of the community, it's important to understand the community and give back to it. I'm not just an Ohio State student, I am a resident of Columbus and that means I want to be in sync with the community that's just outside of Ohio State.”
Her involvement in these initiatives is one of the things Maddela is most proud of from her time at Ohio State and she encourages other students to “take opportunities push yourself, push your boundaries, even if it makes you uncomfortable.”
After graduation, Maddela will work as a program manager at Microsoft in Bellevue, Washington.
by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, email@example.com