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2017 College of Engineering Homecoming Events

On Nov. 3, 2017, the College of Engineering Alumni Association and the College of Engineering hosted nearly 250 alumni and guests at the Annual Engineering Alumni Association Homecoming Breakfast. The event raised approximately $6,600 to directly support the mission of the College of Engineering Alumni Association – to assist students, provide mentorships and foster alumni engagement and professional development.

Highlights of the breakfast included featured speaker Rony Abovitz (BSME ’94, MSBE ’96), founder, president and CEO of augmented reality firm Magic Leap. Abovitz talked about how much his entire University of Miami experience prepared him to be an innovator and an entrepreneur, with experiences that went beyond those of a typical engineering student. The technology he’s working on for Magic Leap, Abovitz said, will push people’s sense of what reality is.

Dean Jean-Pierre Bardet also presented Abovitz with the inaugural Dean’s Award for Innovation, which celebrates faculty, students, alumni and community leaders who are innovative and who embody the principles of the College of Engineering’s work “Transforming Miami into an Innovation Hub.” Abovitz, Bardet said, is helping establish a creative environment that shapes the future, allows free exchange of ideas and helps transform today’s dreams into tomorrow’s reality.

The College also honored other members of the CoE community. The 2017 Alumnus of Distinction Award went to Geisha Williams (BSIE ’83), CEO and president of PG&E Corporation. The award recognized her achievements in engineering, her exemplary leadership and her service to the University of Miami, the College of Engineering and the community. The first Latina CEO on the Fortune 500 List of Most Powerful Women, she has helped PG&E to become a leader in renewables integration, grid modernization and smart-grid technologies, while achieving the best electric reliability in company history. Williams is also a member of the boards of PG&E, the Edison Electric Institute and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. Although wildfires in Northern California prevented her from attending the breakfast, Williams graciously prepared a video of remarks. Click here to watch the video.

Alfonso Dager (BSCE ’07) received the Young Alumnus of Distinction Award, which recognizes the early career achievements of an alumnus who has completed an undergraduate degree during the last 10 years. A technical advisor with FedEx Express in its Latin America and Caribbean Division, Dager works with FedEx business partners to evaluate requirements and determine best design practices; he also brings corporate solutions to the region and connects solutions between FedEx regions. A president of the College of Engineering Alumni Association (2011–2014), Dager is a uShadow mentor and a member of the Young Alumni Leadership Council. “It was an amazing feeling to be honored,” Dager said later. “I hope that I inspire others to give back and help mold current students as we were molded at CoE.” He also noted that later, at an event unrelated to the CoE, a fellow CoE alumnus recognized him from the Homecoming Breakfast. “You can go all kinds of places around Miami, the country, and the world and you have an excellent chance of running into a fellow ’Cane!” he said. “‘It’s a ’Cane thing’ doesn’t just apply to Athletics!”

Faculty member Noel Ziebarth (BSBE ’02, MSBE ’04, PhD ’08), an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and graduate program director, received the Alexander Orr Jr. Excellence in Teaching Award, selected and voted on by alumni. A dedicated teacher, mentor and academic, her research uses advanced imaging technologies to investigate the structural and mechanical properties of ophthalmic tissues. Ziebarth has mentored students from undergraduate through postdoctoral training, and those under her supervision have received the prestigious Merck fellowship, National Institutes of Health (NIH) F31 grant, the United Negro College Fund fellowship and the National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research fellowship.

After the breakfast and awards presentations, alumni toured the College of Engineering – UM Johnson & Johnson 3D Printing Center of Excellence Collaborative Laboratory, the College’s Structures and Materials Lab and one of the College’s Active Learning Classrooms. Many had the same reaction as Edward Schmidt (BBA ’85), a member of the UM Citizens Board, who toured the Collaborative Laboratory with his ninth grade son, Jordan. Both were “overwhelmed and impressed by the new technology, especially creating titanium parts that are made to exactly fit in a skull or bone, designed for each person’s issue,” Edward Schmidt said. “Technology is changing the world, and it is amazing that the College of Engineering partnered with Johnson & Johnson to bring that technology to the University of Miami.” Schmidt was so impressed with the CoE that he wants to arrange for Jordan’s engineering class at Gulliver Schools – which is already learning about 3D printing technology – to come for a visit. (His other son, Jason, is a professional engineer.)

The afternoon also saw the first College of Engineering 10-minute ’Cane Talk: Suhrud Rajguru, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology, gave a talk titled “I Can’t Hear You! Stopping the Hidden Hearing Loss Epidemic,” followed by a Q&A. He discussed the ways that everyday exposure to noise – for instance, at sporting events and concerts or from our earbuds – can be damaging to our ears, leading to permanent hearing loss. Hearing, he noted, shapes how we interact with the world, and loss of hearing can severely impact us cognitively, socially and physically. Rajguru shared the ways that scientists at the College of Engineering and Miller School of Medicine are uncovering clues about hidden hearing loss and racing to produce solutions that can be implemented across the globe.

Biomedical engineering PhD student Samantha Rincon (BSBE ’17), whose research focuses on the use of therapeutic hypothermia to alleviate cochlear injury from over-exposure to noise, was at Rajguru’s lecture. “It was great to see alumni asking so many questions,” she says. “Everyone in the room could personally relate to the topic or through their children.” The 10-minute ’Cane Talk was part of the Audrey R. Finkelstein UM Experience, combining the University’s signature ’Cane Talks format with the tradition established by Audrey R. Finkelstein of providing lively learning opportunities to alumni during Alumni Weekend.

Armand Durrieu (BSME ’58), who often participates in University events on campus, was drawn to the CoE this year for the first time in many years, and brought his wife Phyllis as well. “I, personally, like the technical lectures, and I enjoyed Dr. Rajguru’s talk,” he said. “I told the dean I hope they will get more engineering professors to speak.”

Please click here to access event photos.

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