Outstanding work in the spotlight: Student Achievement Week recognizes accomplishment

Luke Kelley, (left) pictured with thesis advisor Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz. Kelley is this year's Steck Family Award Winner for outstanding undergraduate thesis.(photo by Dan White)
Loren Steck (left) congratulates Steck Award winner Luke Kelley, (second from left) and his thesis advisor, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz. (photo by Matt Fitt)
Chancellor George Blumenthal congratulates Joshua Rosen, an engineering student and a winner of the Dean's Award, for his thesis entitled "Creative Cooking Assistant: A Natural-Language Chat Bot for Recommending Recipes.(photo by Dan White)
A wide variety of student work, including this fanciful art book, was on display at the 37th annual Print Sale on campus.(photo by Dan White)

Robotics students, humanities scholars, actors, biology majors and printmakers showed off their work during this year’s Student Achievement Week celebration, which ran from May 28 through June 3.

The week came to a close with the prestigious 2011 Undergraduate Academic Achievement, Excellence in Teaching, and Mentoring Awards ceremony and reception, which drew more than 300 well wishers to the Colleges Nine & Ten Multipurpose Room on Friday.

One highlight was the Steck Family Award, which honors the best senior thesis completed during the academic year, with the winner chosen from the Chancellor's Award candidates. 

This year's winner is Luke Kelley, 23, an astrophysics major whose thesis project, "The Distribution of Coalescing Compact Bianaries: Implications for Gravitational Wave Detections," was five years in the making. The project is a gravitational wave study.

Kelley's thesis advisor,  associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, praised Kelley's far-ranging intelligence and curiosity. Like the best scientists, "Luke can live with uncertainty," Ramirez-Ruiz said. "He doesn't feel frightened by not knowing. If you don't recognize this doubt, you cannot make new discoveries. Luke is creative because he looks at a problem from so many different angles."

While a number of undergraduates need a lot of direction and advising, "Luke is just the opposite," Ramirez-Ruiz said. "If you give him too much guidance and direction, he will feel lost. You have to let him thrive with open boundaries."

Kelley will receive bound copies of his prize-winning work and a $1,000 honorarium. (See the complete list of student honorees.) Kelley also received a Dean's award as well as a Keith and Ann Thimann Scholarship for his project.

Even before the ceremony, Kelley has received a considerable amount of recognition for his work. His work with Ramirez-Ruiz received coverage in publications including Astronomy Now, Space Daily, OneIndia, and Asian News International.

Kelley has been admitted to Harvard University's graduate program in astrophysics. 

Loren Steck (Porter '73), who sits on UCSC’s Board of Trustees, was on hand to congratulate Kelley. Steck was part of the distinguished selection commiteee that chose to recognize Kelley's thesis. 

Excellence in teaching was also celebrated on Friday, as Chancellor Blumenthal honored the recipients of UCSC's 2010-11 Excellence in Teaching Awards. The campus's outstanding Teaching Assistants have also been named by the Graduate Division; see the recipients on this year's TA awards

Student Achievement Week was also a chance for science and engineering majors to present their work in a public forum.

The Physical & Biological Sciences Division rolled out 90 undergraduate presentations during the 14th Annual Undergraduate Research Poster Symposium,  which recognizes and promotes the outstanding undergraduate research that is being carried out at UCSC while providing students with the experience of presenting their research results in a professional setting.

Over 150 students took part in the symposium, setting a record for the division at UCSC.

Paula Schneider, an administrative specialist for the Physical & Biological Science division, described the student work as “important, meaningful, and groundbreaking. The sooner we get scientists into a research environment, the better it is for everyone in the long run.”

“I have been doing this event for a couple of years, and every year, the students astound me,” Schneider added.

The presentations were unusually far ranging and ambitious this year.

Computer engineering major Ariel Anders gave a presentation about “dental robotics” – the use of robotic methods for dental implants and crowns.

A team consisting of engineering students Brady Boone,Alejandro Cerda, Nolan Lau, Paul Naud, and Chasen Peters gave a presentation about a small, motorized "autonomous vehicle" that could intelligently deliver mail and small packages to pre-set locations.

Joshua Brown, who is studying ecology and evolution, gave a presentation about the mating success of non-alpha elephant seals, while engineering students James Herrera and Chris Hoseit described a radar system that would monitor the way sea birds interact with vertical-axis wind turbines.

The arts were also on full display this week on campus. The Art Department Open Studios, which runs through Saturday, June 3, is run in conjunction with the Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) Open Studios. The exhibition features student  drawing, painting, print media, sculpture, intermedia, photography and electronic art.

The 37th Annual UCSC Student Print Sale at the Baskin Visual Arts Center, which started Friday, June 2, and continues Saturday, June 3, drew throngs of buyers and browsers on its first day. Crowds of people leaned over long tables, every square inch covered with etchings, handmade books, wood block and linoleum prints.

Subjects included ancient bristlecone pines, skulls, dancing bears, and maps of imaginary kingdoms. Eighty percent of the proceeds go to the student artists. The rest supports UCSC’s Print Studio.