Spotlight on outstanding work: Student Achievement Week recognizes accomplishment

This year's Steck Family Award winner is Joshua Rosen, 22, a Baskin School of Engineering graduating senior

Annette Yee Steck, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal, 2012 Steck Family Prize recipient Joshua Rosen, and Loren Steck, after the 2012 Chancellor's Award ceremony. (photos by Dan White)
Marlene Robinson, UCSC Undergraduate Honors and Awards Coordinator (right), congratulates Chancellor's Award Recipient Stephanie Nale, who was mentored by Professor Emily Brodsky.
Louise Leong, a recipient of a prestigious Irwin Scholarship, displays a recent artwork -- her collectible, hand-made "Ween-D'Or Champ's Choice" plushie -- outside the annual print sale. 
As usual, the student print sale attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd. 

The print sale was a chance for UCSC students to show off their ingenuity and creativity in many forms. (Artwork above created by Ramille Baguio)

Computer programmers, actors, apprentice astronomers, robotics students, printmakers and fine artists showed off their skills during this year’s Student Achievement Week celebration.

Chancellor George Blumenthal hosted a private luncheon at the University House for this year’s recipients of the Chancellor’s Awards recognizing exceptional achievement in undergraduate research projects and other creative activities. The select group of students were honored along with their faculty mentors. See full list of 2011-12 Dean's and Chancellor's Award recipients.

The event concluded with the announcement of this year’s Steck Family Award – a special honor for the year's most outstanding senior thesis. These honors showcase two enduring values at UCSC -- the focus on transformative undergraduate experiences on campus, and the importance of research as part of the learning process.

This year's winner is Joshua Rosen, 22, a Baskin School of Engineering graduating senior whose exceptional aptitude was recognized on campus long before he received this distinguished award.

Rosen is also the most recent winner of the Huffman Prize, awarded annually to a Baskin School of Engineering graduating senior whose academic career at UCSC exhibits extraordinary creativity, depth of inquiry, and overall excellence. The Huffman Prize honors the memory and the legacy of its namesake, David A. Huffman, professor emeritus of computer science.

Rosen’s mentor was UCSC computer scientist Neoklis Polyzotis, who initially thought Rosen was a graduate student in his course, and was taking the class just to reinforce what he already knew.

"Josh was head and shoulders above his classmates in terms of his understanding of the material, his ability to think critically, and his technical prowess," said Polyzotis, an associate professor of computer science in the Baskin School of Engineering.

Rosen said he was "shocked” to receive the Steck award. ”I'm so thankful for the opportunity that Prof. Polyzotis gave me; this research project has opened many doors and has been the highlight of my time here at UCSC.  I'm very grateful for the opportunity to pursue a project in-depth for over a year.  Winning the Steck award is icing on the cake."

His award-winning project addresses challenges involved in analyzing large volumes of data and could yield significant improvements in performance and efficiency for existing machine-learning algorithms. Rosen's role involved adding new capabilities to a complex software system called Hyracks, a platform for data-intensive computing developed at UC Irvine.

A unique collaboration with Yahoo Research gave the team access to real-world data and computing clusters. "It allowed us to see how the system we built would work in a real-world environment," Rosen said.

Rosen’s next step is UC Berkeley, where he will pursue a Ph.D in computer science. 

Loren Steck (Porter '73), who sits on UCSC’s Board of Trustees, was on hand to congratulate Rosen.  Steck was part of the distinguished selection commiteee that chose to recognize Rosen’s work.  “Only the best students nowadays do senior theses,” Steck said. “Only the best of the best of them receive Dean’s Awards. Only the best of the best of the best of them get Chancellor’s Awards.”

The faculty advisors of all 15 winners also received their time in the limelight at the reception. Chancellor George Blumenthal said the quality of UCSC’s faculty determines the quality of the campus, and contributes greatly to the “transformative student experience” at UCSC. 

Student Achievement Week was also a chance for science and engineering majors to present their work in a highly public forum. More than 90 exhibits filled the 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. This joint event is co-sponsored by the Physical & Biological Science division and the Baskin School of Engineering. 

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."

The presentations were unusually far-ranging and ambitious this year, ranging from student Nathan Nhat Nguyen’s analysis of biolipid generation in algae for biofuel to to a study of dental robotics by Ariel Sharone Anders and Ikuru Kanuma. Take a look at the full list of participants.

The arts were also on full display this week on campus. The Art Department Open Studios were held in conjunction with the Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) Open Studios. The exhibition featured student  drawing, painting, print media, sculpture, intermedia, photography and electronic art.

The 38th annual UCSC Student Print Sale at the Baskin Visual Arts Center, which started Friday, June 8, and continues Saturday, June 9, 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 fanciful maps, Victorian tableaux, mysterious creatures, gnomic messages printed on sheets, one-of-a-kind greeting cards, botanical displays and clever take-offs on pop culture.

Louise Leong --one of the 12 recipients of this year’s prestigious Irwin Scholarships, recognizing and encouraging the achievements of promising young artists working in painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, installation, video and digital media – was working the cash register outside the print sale, but her work was also prominently featured on the display tables. One of her works was a “Ween D’or Plushie,” a bright red fabric pillow sculpture in the shape of a hot dog package. The artwork sold quickly, and Leong added her autograph to the piece before ringing it up on the register.