Program Notes: Graduate Alumni
Geoffrey R. Akers MS’70, MS’71 writes that he has a new position at General Dynamics/Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, as a senior management systems engineer and is also working parttime in the Physics Department at Yale University. He is serving his 25th year as a Columbia ARC member, interviewing prospective applicants to Columbia as undergraduates. In 2016, he ran his 100th marathon, coming in second in his age division, and he won his age division in the 11.6-mile Kelley Road Race in New London, Connecticut.
Cheng Dong MS’84, MPhil’86, PhD’88 is a distinguished professor of biomedical engineering and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Penn State. He writes that since taking leadership of the department, he has been focused on expanding its faculty research and education to more interdisciplinary frontiers. Cheng’s recent research focuses on immune cell–mediated nanoparticle and drug delivery technologies. He plans to further develop this for delivering drugs across the blood-brain barrier to target brain cancer, for which he and his collaborators recently received a $300,000 university planning grant for building an NIH Program Project.
Khalid Suliman Al Fawaz MS’16 writes: “I was sponsored by Saudi Aramco Company. I reported to my company in late February, and, since that time, I have been assigned to different roles due to the knowledge and skills I got from Columbia University. I assumed the responsibility of defining and understanding market and technical requirements for the polyol business in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and I have been assigned to a business development function focusing on government liaison to aggregate kingdom incentives as part of the value proposition to investors.”
Yukun Liu MS’16 writes that she is continuing her studies in chemical engineering as a PhD student at New York University. Her current research interest is microreaction engineering.
CIVIL ENGINEERING AND
John Luk PhD’76 writes that, on top of a distinguished working career in the construction industry, property development, and law, he has been an avid lifelong learner. He has achieved some 18 academic qualifications in a variety of disciplines over the past 50 years, including most recently a doctorate in education from the University of Nottingham, via HKU Space (2015); a licentiate diploma in singing from Trinity College of Music, London (2014); and a master’s degree in music from the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing (2014).
Enrica Oliva MS’07 writes: “The past 12 months have been extremely exciting for me. After nine years as project engineer at Thornton Tomasetti, my first job after receiving my MS in structural engineering in 2007, I joined Werner Sobek New York (WSNY) as the director of the Structures Group in January 2016. In addition to the high responsibility of leading a design group, I have been co-managing the New York office, and I am also in charge of its business development activities. My group is currently involved in high-end projects in New York, St. Louis, and Moscow, as well as many other locations around the world. Our projects range from luxury residentials to specialty structures and complex geometry projects in general (concert venues, academic buildings, cultural venues). In the fall, I also had the pleasure of being an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP. Being able to follow the students’ progress throughout the semester and teaching the basic principles of structural engineering was extremely rewarding. I look forward to hopefully repeating this experience next year!”
Jaime Silva MS’11, chief engineer at SES Stressteel Engineering Services, LCC, has been working on an 88-story high-rise at 53 West 53rd Street, commonly referred to as the MoMA Tower. He writes: “This structure was designed combining highstrength concrete and highstrength reinforcement (HSR). The complex geometry of the building and the challenge of reinforcing heavily congested framing joints identified as nodes were best addressed by the use of the HSR. Utilizing BIM modeling, multiple layers of reinforcement were coordinated and optimized to fit within the concrete framing of the building. A steel node concept was also developed and implemented at the core of critical joints of the structure using load-bearing gusset plates, threaded bars, and accessories. Due to the constantly varying geometry of the building, over 30 custom steel node pieces were designed and fabricated for the project. Coordination of several trades was critical for the installation of the steel nodes. The biggest steel node of the structure was over 8 feet tall and weighed more than 18,000 pounds.”
Mohammad Doughan MS’12 writes: “During my time at Columbia Engineering, I was exposed to many life-changing experiences, but the most influential with no doubt was my GLCM research program with Dr. Odeh. I am so proud to say that the people I was exposed to then and the relations I built with these people enabled me to open my own specialized contracting company and have multimilliondollar contracts with these clients. Using skills I learned at Columbia and GLCM, I was able to expand my scope of work from just specialized contracting into trading and many other trades. Columbia Engineering gave me the exposure that allowed me to grow, have a wider mind-set, and most importantly have the confidence to open new businesses. I would encourage any fellow colleagues to make the best of their time there.”
Eleftherios Stavrakas MS’13 writes: “After graduation in 2013, I worked for two years as an assistant estimator in New York and then decided to move to the UK in 2015. I managed to find a job immediately and started working at a multinational construction consulting company as an assistant cost manager. A crucial point in my career was last year, when I decided to relocate to the Economics Department of my company. That was a major milestone and challenge for me, as I left the engineering practice for good and moved to a sector that I did not know much about. However, overall engineering knowledge proved to be very helpful in analyzing problems and structuring the solution, which allowed me to learn faster and acquire the necessary knowledge. I have worked on many major projects in the UK (highways, rail, subway) worth up to £4 billion and am still looking for new challenges!”
Juan Carlos Gabriel Ramirez MS’14 writes: “Right after graduation, I interned at Skanska and contributed to the research of the Skanska USA Civil 2020 Business Plan with Professor Ibrahim Odeh and my graduate friends Jesus Pacanins MS’15 and Tarek Soubra MS’14. Once our work was done, I received a full-time job offer, and, ever since then, it has been an ongoing learning experience. I am currently on the Core Competency Training Program—a two-year rotation program covering six disciplines with a mentor from senior management and core area advisers per discipline. So far, I’ve worked on multiple projects, and my mentor, Gary Winsper, has given me a lot of insight on innovation and different management styles. So far, my professional experience after graduating has helped me envision the numerous opportunities in innovative and sustainable infrastructure systems in the U.S.”
Unni Narayanan MS’92 writes that he completed his PhD in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, he is a director at Google, where he leads product and engineering teams for Google Search App on iOS.
Igor Boshoer MS’11 writes: “After graduating Columbia Engineering, I’ve spent a great deal of my career working in some of the top visual effects studios in New York City and San Francisco, building studio and film technology. Having worked on such Hollywood blockbusters as The Wolf of Wall Street and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I have now fully immersed myself in building a Silicon Valley startup, Linum.io. Our team is disrupting the film production process by helping studios and artists create content with ease and collaborate on a global level.”
EARTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL
Amanda Caudill MS’03 writes: “I am a coffee research scientist who has done research on coffee farms throughout the tropics for my doctorate research and my postdoctoral work with the Smithsonian Institution. I am launching Blue Leaf Travels— curated coffee and cultural tours (www.blueleaftravels.com), which are inspired by my field research and travels through coffee lands. After graduating from Columbia, I continued on to receive a doctorate in environmental science with a focus on conservation biology and sustainable agriculture. I have lived and led research teams in the coffee-growing regions of India, Mexico, and Costa Rica to understand how coffee farms can be managed to protect wildlife habitat, foster ecosystem services, and provide a viable income for coffee farmers. Right now, I am teaching a sustainable coffee course with the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability program. We are accepting reservations for Blue Leaf Travels coffee and cultural tours in Costa Rica starting this June. I would love for members of the Columbia community to join us!”
Jun Xu PhD’14 began working as a professor in the Department of Automotive Engineering at Beihang University in Beijing shortly after graduating, and he is now the director of the university’s Advanced Vehicle Research Center. Jun received the National Excellent Young Scientists in Impact Mechanics award in 2016. He writes that during the past two years, his Xu Group has published 16 peer-reviewed papers and secured more than $1 million in research funding. His research group focuses on the safety of lithium-ion batteries and ultralight material design, working toward greener, safer, and lighter vehicles. At Columbia, he was the recipient of a Distinguished Presidential Fellowship.
Qiuhua Cho Lu MS’15 writes: “After interning with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the Office of the Attorney General of New York State, I’m currently working at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection as an energy analyst and project manager. I’m managing over $60 million in city funding for 30-plus energy and greenhouse gas reduction projects, and I am also involved in the major biogas-to-grid and food-waste-to-energy projects in the city. I have always been interested in the improvement of the environment, and I am working my best to support New York City’s aggressive energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals to mitigate climate change and contribute to the development of a more sustainable future.”
Michael Otten MS’65 writes: “After more than 30 years managing large development projects in global IBM, I’m currently teaching business and communications-related courses to graduate engineers at a French Grande Ecole called EFREI, Ecole Française d’Electronique et d’Informatique, in Paris. I also mentor students in social entrepreneurship at INSEAD in Fontainebleau and Singapore. In the U.S., I cofounded a couple of years ago the Sam and Myra Ross Institute at Green Chimneys School in Brewster, New York. The goal is to educate, communicate, and advocate for the effectiveness of nature-based programs (especially with farm and wildlife animals) in special education environments.”
Jody Alperin MS’97 is working at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, New York, as a chip designer in Quantum Computing.
Alex Chan MS’02, cofounder and CEO of patent analytics company DataNovo, was recently named by the National Law Journal as one of 50 honorees in its annual list of Intellectual Property Trailblazers and Pioneers, which highlights the top 50 intellectual property lawyers in the nation “who are raising the bar in intellectual property law.” Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, DataNovo offers analytics identifying potential patent infringers and infringing products as well as provides information validating and invalidating U.S. patents. Clients include national universities, Fortune 50 companies, venture-backed startups, and investment banks. An inventor of multiple patents, Alex was also named by Silicon Valley Business Journal to its “40 Under 40” to watch in 2016.
Eric Zavesky MS’05, MPhil’08, PhD’10 writes: “Since graduating from Columbia, I’ve been inventing new computer vision and machine learning technology at AT&T Labs Research. Recently, I’ve also been on the founding team of a robotics startup called bots_alive, launching on Kickstarter. In a unique way, bots_alive creates artificially intelligent robot creatures that feel organic and alive, built from your smartphone and a Hexbug Spider (an RC toy). The phone acts as the eyes and brains for the robots, and owners interact with them by designing obstacle courses, mazes, and cages for the robots. The long-term vision is to develop simple, animal-like robots that seem alive but are backed by a cloudmanaged platform for intraplayer activity and academic experiments. This work is supported in part by a recent SBIR Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation.”
Justin Bi MS’15 is currently working at MIT Lincoln Labs as a modeling and simulations engineer working on a ballistic missile defense project.
AND OPERATIONS RESEARCH
Dimitri Mongeot MS’08 writes that he recently relocated from Hong Kong to Singapore to join the Royal Bank of Scotland on the USD rates trading desk. “I now have the opportunity to work in a smaller team, much more dynamic, refocusing on our core customer base. This involves daily trading of U.S. Treasuries in Asia time and USD swaps, while meeting our counterparties across the region, including Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, etc.”
Niti Poosomboon MS’16 writes: “Since graduation, I have joined EXL Service, which is an analytics consulting company in New Jersey. One of our services is developing customized Windows applications for investment banking clients in the aspects of data management via the use of various software and programming languages. I have enjoyed working in a multinational firm with distinguished professionals from around the world. We have exchanged knowledge as well as personal experiences to better understand and support each other in achieving our goals. Work-life balance is great; I was able to take time off to travel to many places during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Upon resuming work, all of us are full of energy to drive projects forward and make a difference. So, I would say that I have had a really great time after graduation. Thank you, Columbia, for opening up doors to fantastic opportunities!”
Mirkó Palla MS’10, MPhil’12, PhD’14 writes: “After completing my PhD at Columbia, I have been a postdoctoral fellow at George M. Church’s laboratory at Harvard Medical School. Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to present my latest scientific result on the international stage in Busan, South Korea, at the IEEE SENSORS 2015 conference. My work, which was featured in the top 10 percent of submitted conference papers, detailed a novel analytical model for biomolecule quantification using an optical nanosensor platform. Currently, in conjunction with Jingyue Ju’s laboratory at Columbia University and industry partners, I have been developing a novel, integrated circuit-based, single-molecule DNA sequencing device. This may provide the foundation for a low-cost diagnostic tool for clinical medicine. I am excited to be involved in such an exciting R&D project, and I hope to pave the way toward the realization of precision medicine.”
Jonathan Kyle PhD’14 writes: “After graduating from Columbia University with my PhD, I worked at a small aerospace company in New Jersey that manufactured valves for SpaceX rockets. The work was extremely challenging but allowed me to pursue my goals of working in the aerospace field, building rockets, and sending humans into space. My passion for human spaceflight was further catapulted after serving as the TA to Columbia’s first class on human spaceflight, taught by former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino. I currently work as an aerospace engineer in the Fluids Department at Blue Origin. Sending people into space has always been a childhood dream of mine, and now getting the opportunity to send paying customers on a suborbital flight to see our Earth from a vantage point so few have seen is extremely rewarding and humbling for me. Gradatim Ferociter!”