U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science Recognizes Outstanding Students

May 16, 2008 — The stereotype of engineering as a male-dominated profession was further diminished when three female students were recognized as the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science's 2008 Outstanding Students. While the school typically recognizes one outstanding student each year, the caliber of this year's candidates warranted the presentation of awards to fourth-years Marin Odioso, Adrienne Felt and Eliah Shamir.

Marin Odioso

Whether she was pursuing research around the globe or service projects on Grounds, Marin Odioso excelled during her college career. This Lawn resident earned a degree in systems engineering with a concentration in management and a minor in engineering business.

While performing well in her studies, Odioso also found time for a litany of service activities. Among other roles, she served as assistant to the director for the Science and Technology Policy Internship Program, a judge for the University Judiciary Committee, a tour guide for the University Guide Service, a volunteer with Alternative Spring Break in Chile and in various leadership positions in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Odioso is also a member of three honor societies: Omega Rho, Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Society and Tau Beta Pi. Other honors include membership in the Raven Society, being a Harrison research grant awardee and a Marshall Scholarship finalist. Most recently, Odioso won the Engineering School's 21st Annual Undergraduate Research and Design Symposium with her presentation of traffic congestion research.

After coming to U.Va. from the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, Fla., a private, all-girls Catholic school, being surrounded by high-achieving females was nothing new. She credits this environment, and her high school teachers' encouragement to take advanced math and science courses, as a springboard for her college success. She soon realized that systems engineering was a fitting way for her to positively impact the world.

"I was attracted to systems engineering because it allows you to apply engineering principles and logic to solve societal problems," Odioso said. "You can really make the world better through engineering. Growing up you would always hear, 'Become a doctor, or a teacher to help people,' but engineers can really help people on a large scale."

Odioso completed several internships during her education, but perhaps most notably an internship with the Project Planning and Implementation Division of the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington. While serving as a science and technology policy intern, she discovered the thrust of her senior thesis on traffic congestion. At a conference, she heard someone suggest the concept of road pricing — a system similar to highway tolls but applied to the entrances of metropolitan areas — as a possible method of alleviating Washington's traffic congestion.

Her research, supported by a Harrison research grant, took her to London, Stockholm, New York, Atlanta and Washington to study the effectiveness of road pricing systems in foreign countries and the feasibility of implementing the practice in larger U.S. cities.

After packing her belongings from her room on the Lawn, Odioso will travel to Singapore to present her research at the Universitas 21 Undergraduate Research Conference in June.

Next fall, Odioso will move to California to pursue a master's degree in transportation engineering from the University of California-Berkeley.

Adrienne Felt

Adrienne Felt, who is graduating with a computer science degree, made international headlines this spring with her research on security loopholes in the popular social networking Web site, Facebook. In a much less-publicized fashion, the graduate took a hands-on approach to international service by volunteering with Orphanage Outreach in the Dominican Republic and building stoves in Guatemala. Locally, she served as a homework tutor for the migrant worker community.

Felt came to U.Va. as a Rodman Scholar from the High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J. After settling into life on Grounds, she served as president of the Association for Computing Machinery at U.Va. and as a member of the association's Committee on Women in Computing. Her other computer science-related pursuits included service as a computer science tutor in the Virginia athletics program and serving as the computer science representative on the Engineering Student Council.

Her research in computer privacy has resulted in three published research articles, one patent application and poster session presentations in Boston and Vancouver, B.C. She has received grants from Goldman Sachs, the U.Va. Student Travel Fund and the Glenn E. Kirwin Memorial Scholarship, and earned the U.Va. Department of Computer Science Service Award.

After graduation, Felt will intern at Google for the summer. In the fall, she will begin a Ph.D. program in computer science at the University of California-Berkeley, where she will study computer security and privacy, focusing on Web security and scripting language design.

As she has done in the past, Felt hopes to continue pursuing a balance of computer science and service.

"Once I'm done with my course work, in a year or so, I'd like to join a research project on affordable and sustainable technologies," Felt said. "It'll be outside of my direct research area, but I'm hoping I can make it work."

Eliah Shamir

Eliah Shamir will leave the Engineering School with a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in the field of biomedical engineering and global public health policy.

Building on a solid education at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., where she received the Governor’s Seal of Academic Excellence, Shamir had a dynamic college career rich with leadership positions in global health care groups and service in area hospitals. This Barry Goldwater Scholar in Mathematics, Science and Engineering was also a summer undergraduate research program fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and most recently completed a fellowship at Rockefeller University, also in New York. Next year she will begin the dual M.D./Ph.D. degree program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where she plans to study infectious disease.

While on Grounds, Shamir served on the student advisory board and course selection committee for U.Va.’s Center for Global Health, was treasurer and vice president for the Global Public Health Society, was a pediatrics volunteer for the Madison House Medical Services at the U.Va. Hospital, and was a moderator of Jewish/Arab Sustained Dialogue. After her second year, Shamir traveled to Thailand to research HIV/AIDS vulnerability among illegal migrants, including cultural, economic and social constraints on access to health care services. She received several scholarships for her Thailand research including the Pfizer-Center for Global Health Scholar Award in infectious disease, U.Va. Center for Global Health Scholar Award and a U.Va. Raven Society Fellowship. Recently, Shamir’s research on the diarrheal pathogen enteroaggregative E. coli earned her second place in the Undergraduate Research and Design Symposium. Shamir is also a member of Tau Beta Pi, the Raven Society and is a Rodman Scholar

This experience puts her in an excellent position to address global health concerns in the future.

“With an increasingly globalized economy and society, we have seen diseases such as TB and AIDS more freely and rapidly crossing borders,” Shamir said. “Along with public health officials, doctors and community leaders, I see engineers at the forefront of designing innovative solutions for health care delivery that account for local and cultural needs, especially in resource-poor settings.”

Shamir sees the growth of international opportunities for U.Va. students as a sign of the expanding global horizon across which engineers of all kinds can have an impact. In addition, the increasing demand for eco-friendly design will require engineers to problem-solve in ways that minimize hazards to the environment and maximize sustainability and affordability, she notes.

Shamir is extremely excited about entering the dual degree program at Johns Hopkins and, in the future, sees herself conducting infectious disease research with global relevance, particularly for underserved populations.

“Ideally, as a physician-scientist, I will use my experiences in the clinic to inform the kinds of questions I pursue in my research,” Shamir said. “Since my involvement with the Center for Global Health at U.Va. largely motivated my interest in health sciences research, I hope to maintain international work and global health issues as an integral part of my career.”

With a passion for helping those around them while advancing the greater body of scientific knowledge, these young women are poised for fruitful careers. Their achievements are testament to their own dedication and will likely serve as inspiration to other young women considering engineering as a profession.

— By Zak Richards