Tobin, Doherty, Wan Receive Class of 2024 Awards

2024 award recipients (left to right) Cassidy Tobin, Michael Doherty, Yuxiang Wan
Monday, June 10, 2024

The 2024 Undergraduate Commencement is just days away for UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering students. The ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 15, at 4 PM on Commencement Green. Graduating senior Yuxiang Wan will be part of a select group of students leading the Class of 2024 processional into the ceremony. Wan earned the opportunity after he received the Outstanding Senior of Chemical Engineering Award for having the highest cumulative grade point average among graduating chemical engineering students. Two more members of the Chemical Engineering Department also received end-of-the-year awards from the Class of 2024, Professor Michael Doherty was named Outstanding Faculty of the Year and Cassidy Tobin was selected as Outstanding Teaching Assistant of the Year. Hear what all three recipients had to say about the awards below.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yuxiang Wan spent his entire freshman year at UCSB taking classes remotely from Beijing, attending classes at night and sleeping during the day. Despite the hardships, he arrived on campus his sophomore year with two improved skills, time-management and conversational English, both of which were essential throughout his undergraduate career. In recognition of having the highest cumulative grade point average among graduating seniors in the degree program, Wan has received the 2024 Outstanding Senior Award in Chemical Engineering, an honor that he says reaffirms his dedication and commitment to completing his degree.

“I feel deeply honored to be recognized in our esteemed and competitive Department of Chemical Energy,” said Wan. “It acknowledges the hard work I’ve put into my academic journey and motivates me to achieve much more in my future career.”

Wan conducted undergraduate research for chemistry professor Thuc-Quen Nguyen, investigating new materials for organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs). Professor Nguyen’s research group develops organic semiconducting materials and investigates the physics of organic photovoltaics to mitigate climate change. Wan believes that the Chemical Engineering Department’s rigorous and comprehensive curriculum and his invaluable undergraduate research experience have greatly prepared him for his next step — pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering with a focus on sustainable materials and electronics at Princeton University. 

“My decision stems from my passion for addressing environmental challenges through innovative solutions,” said Wan. “I aim to contribute to the development of sustainable technologies that can revolutionize chemical industries. My journey represents not only a personal goal, but also a commitment to advancing science for the betterment of society.”

Michael Doherty joined the UCSB Chemical Engineering Department in 2000. Since then, the chemical engineering professor has amassed numerous recognitions, including the American Chemical Society’s E.V. Murphree Award for Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, inclusion among the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ “One Hundred Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era”, and election to the National Academy of Engineering. Graduating seniors added another honor to Doherty’s list, selecting him for the 2024 Outstanding Chemical Engineering Faculty Award. 

“I choose to work in a university because this is where the students are. Teaching is one of my passions, and I learn so much from teaching and hope that the students do too,” said Doherty, who has received this award multiple times in his career, most recently in 2017. “This recognition suggests that students are actually developing their knowledge, skills, and trade-craft form the senior-design course that I co-teach with [assistant teaching professor in chemical engineering] Joe Chada and [chemical engineering professor] Eric McFarland.

Doherty noted that students have taken the senior capstone design project very seriously this year, and that all the teams are working “hard and smart” to find creative solutions. He commended their ability to overcome the challenges of remote instruction during the pandemic and to make the most of in-person learning once it resumed. He says that the department’s faculty members hope that students finish their final year with more enthusiasm and passion than when they finished their first year. 

“We take teaching very seriously in the Chemical Engineering Department; it is one of our strengths,” said Doherty, who plans to retire during the next academic year. “I am delighted to be recognized one last time before I retire.”

When asked about what final message he had for the Class of 2024, Doherty said, “Lead by example.”

A rising fifth-year chemical engineering PhD student, Cassidy Tobin is co-advised by materials and chemical engineering associate professor Christopher Bates and chemistry and biochemistry professor Javier Read de Alaniz. She designs light-responsive materials that, when illuminated, can reversibly drive assembly of proteins. Currently, her research group is working with a protein whose assembly and disassembly is responsible for color camouflage in squid. She and her collaborators are making a novel color-changing, biomaterial system that responds to light. 

Tobin has served as a TA for chemical engineering lab courses three times, most recently in the lab for seniors. She believes that making herself available and approachable are essential to helping students succeed in courses that require them to solve open-ended problems.

“It’s really rewarding to hear them propose new and creative methods to measure a certain variable or to think about the lab’s objective in a way that I hadn’t considered before,” said Tobin, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. “I’m very excited and grateful to the graduating seniors for nominating me. I’m glad to know that my efforts positively impacted them.”

After completing her PhD, Tobin plans to work in industry or become a scientific consultant. She adds that receiving this award encourages her to stay involved in teaching through science outreach activities, which she has been involved in at UCSB through the School for Scientific Thought, a Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP) program that introduces high school students to concepts of science that extend beyond the typical classroom. 

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Awards and Accolades