Seniors, award winners feted at CEE awards ceremony

May 26, 2009

By Denise Brehm
Civil & Environmental Engineering

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering held its annual senior dinner and awards ceremony on the terrace of MIT’s Endicott House in Dedham on a pleasantly warm spring evening, May 15.

After dinner, the 31 members of the Class of 2009 posed for a group photo, then each received a diploma frame signed by the department head, Professor Patrick Jaillet, and the associate department head for education, Professor Ole Madsen.

This year, two seniors majoring in 1C won the Steinberg Prize for outstanding academic achievement and demonstrable interest in construction management: Mahalia Miller, from Stevens Point, Wis.; and Lauren Biscombe, from Norristown, Penn. Both are planning to attend graduate school at Stanford University next fall.

Junior Naomi Stein of Troy, N.Y., won the Leo (Class of 1924) and Mary Grossman Award for her outstanding academic achievement and strong interest in transportation.

The Tucker-Voss Award went to Ph.D. student Asbjorg Kristinsdottir from Reykjavik, Iceland, for her promise in the field of building construction. The working title of Kristinsdottir’s thesis is “Risk Management for New Power Plant Development.”

Ph.D. candidate Jose Alberto Ortega of Cuenca, Ecuador, received the Trond Kaalstad (Class of 1957) Award, which recognizes an outstanding graduate student who has displayed leadership and/or contributed significantly to the well being of the CEE community. After accepting the award, Ortega—who plays guitar and sings in an MIT-student band called, La Cupula (The Dome, in Spanish)—responded to the crowd’s demand for a song by performing “La Bamba” a cappella.

In nominating Ortega, one faculty member wrote: “I do not know of anybody else whose tireless activity for the department has had a greater impact. He has contributed to this department beyond the call of duty in many regards, be it as a teaching assistant, his leadership to get a CEE-graduate soccer team off the ground, or with his music band playing at several departmental activities, including a holiday party [and] graduation celebration.”

The Maseeh Award for Excellence as a Teaching Assistant (TA) went to Ph.D. candidate Tanvir Ahmed of Dhaka, Bangladesh, for his work as a teaching assistant in 1.060 Engineering Mechanics II. One student nominating Ahmed wrote this: “Tanvir’s comfort with and mastery of the material is obvious. His recitations have always been very helpful and he is very good at regularly providing ‘real world’ connections and videos to help us see the relevance of the topics.”

Another wrote this: “Rarely do I encounter an educator who behaves as though I am his only responsibility. Tanvir Ahmed exceeds every expectation I have ever had for a teaching assistant, not only being readily available outside of recitation for assistance but being available after every lecture and on weekends as well. In addition to being available in person so frequently, he also maintains discussion boards where students can post questions they have about the material. His response time averages less than one day.”

Professor Franz-Josef Ulm received the Maseeh Award for Excellence in Teaching for his work in the core sophomore subject 1.050 Engineering Mechanics I. One student wrote of him: “I have chosen to nominate Professor Ulm for one simple reason: he cares. Being a sophomore at MIT and just getting into your major can be a really stressful time. However, during my days it was always refreshing to enter into Professor Ulm’s lecture and become inundated with his passion for teaching and for engineering mechanics. His enthusiasm caused me to love the subject, no matter how much I struggled with it.”

Another wrote this: “I was ready to give up on Course 1 when I entered his class last fall, but his energy and passion really made me see why I had elected to pursue civil engineering. Never before in my time at the Institute had I seen a professor care so much about his students. At the end of each class, Professor Ulm asked his students for feedback on what they had learned during the lecture. He would then amend the next lecture in order to review confusing topics and to ensure that all students understood everything that was going on in the class. When students asked him for practice problems for exams, he provided practice tests. He would also hold late night review sessions, going way above and beyond his professor responsibilities.”