McCormick Seniors, Graduate Students Celebrate 156th Commencement

Graduates listened to inspiring remarks by Dean Julio M. Ottino, Alicia Boler-Davis, Ed Colgate, Milan Mrksich, and Iqbal Arshad

Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering celebrated the graduation of its undergraduate Class of 2014 and hundreds of accomplished master’s and PhD students on June 20 and 21 as part of the University’s 156th Commencement.

Graduates from across campus gathered at Ryan Field on Friday morning for the main Commencement exercises, which featured a speech by Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director Riccardo Muti, who talked about the power of music to unite the world.

At McCormick, undergraduate celebrations continued Saturday morning with the School’s Undergraduate Convocation, held in the Welsh-Ryan Arena. McCormick Dean Julio M. Ottino told the graduates that he was proud of their accomplishments while at Northwestern.

“There is no limit to what you can do,” he said. “As you set out to begin your careers, I am confident that you will discover that you are a better person because of your time at McCormick. I am inspired by the career paths and life options that you will pursue. And I can tell you that our school is a better place because you were here.”

Alicia Boler-Davis and Dean Julio M. OttinoThe keynote speaker at the convocation was Alicia Boler-Davis (’91), senior vice president of global quality and customer experience at General Motors. She talked about how much the world has changed since Cyrus McCormick (great uncle of school namesake Robert McCormick) received a patent 180 years ago for his mechanical reaper.

“Of course, not everything has changed since 1834,” she said. “Many of the fundamental habits for success remain the same: hard work, innovation, and perseverance.”

Boler-Davis said these habits and the skills learned at McCormick “are the price of admission to today’s rapidly changing, increasing global economy.” But to go further, she said, students must bring passion and energy to their endeavors.

“In my experience, the people who make the difference are those who establish clear priorities and who throw themselves into their work with all the passion and enthusiasm they can muster.” Read Boler-Davis's full remarks here.

At the ceremony, three teams of students were awarded the Mickelson Prize. The competition recognizes the seniors who submit the best insightful, innovative, and/or creative project.

Winning the prize were:

First prize: Christina Fuentes, Nathan Brantley, Andrew Kantzos, Divya Kathuria, and Sarah Uttal for “Dual-Sensing Respiratory Monitor with Accelerometry and Acoustic Signals”

Second prize: John Boueri, Jacob Bruce, and Toufei Chen for “Residential Power Storage - Tracking the Peak”

Third prize: Kelly Staricha, Kevin Go, Yeong Kim, and Andy Lee for “Design of Novel Surgical Adhesive Mixer and Applicator for Two-Component Adhesives”

Four additional undergraduate prizes were awarded. The Ovid W. Eshbach Award was presented to Benjamin Rafshoon; the McCormick Alumni Award was presented to Ignacio Garcia; the Harold B. Gotaas Undergraduate Research Award was presented to Katie Jaycox; and the Co-op of the Year Award was presented to Julianne Wagoner.

On Friday and Saturday, McCormick’s 525 graduating master’s students and 175 PhD students were recognized in ceremonies in the Ryan Family Auditorium in the Technological Institute.

Ed ColgateMcCormick’s Master’s Degree Recognition Ceremony featured J. Edward Colgate, the Allen K. and Johnnie Cordell Breed Senior Professor in Design. Colgate told graduates that they are endowed with the power of prediction by using the power of science, the tools of empirical methods, and the ability to continually innovate. 

“That is what you’ll find in your toolbox, and now you need to put it to work. With that in mind, my charge to you is to go out in the world and predict the future by creating the future. Draw upon all those tools of prediction that you have cultivated here at McCormick,” he said.

Milan MrksichMilan Mrksich, the Henry Wade Rodgers Professor in Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, and Cell and Molecular Biology, addressed graduates at the PhD Hooding Ceremony. He told them about his own journey of perseverance – how, despite spending years as a PhD student perfecting techniques to characterize the binding of a molecule to DNA, he never again used that skill in his career. 

“Yet my PhD prepared me perfectly for the work I now do. It taught me to target problems that were challenging and could be solved with a new approach – problems that could be important to society,” he said. 

Iqbal ArshadDuring the PhD hooding ceremony, materials science and engineering PhD graduate Bin Liu surprised the audience—and his girlfriend Jie Han —with a marriage proposal. A master’s student in materials science and engineering who graduated in an earlier ceremony, Han said yes, and the crowd erupted in enthusiastic applause.

The following day, graduates of McCormick’s professional master’s programs gathered for an address delivered by Iqbal Arshad (MEM ’97), senior vice president of engineering for global product development at Motorola Mobility. He stressed the importance of creativity and following a dream.

“Creativity is the engine of progress,” Arshad said. “It is the process that turns your imagination into reality. When companies, organizations, and societies stop creating, they stop moving forward."