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ORAU Scholarship Supports Valedictorian’s Move to Min Kao

Picture of Cody Blankenship

Cody Blankenship

A high school valedictorian from Knoxville has earned a scholarship from Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) and will be coming to Rocky Top to study computer science.

Cody Blankenship, a 2020 graduate of Apostolic Christian School, was awarded one of ORAU’s five William G. Pollard Scholarships of $2,500 toward undergraduate studies for the 2020-2021 academic year. He will pursue a degree in computer science in our Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Blankenship earned a 4.19 GPA in high school, was selected as valedictorian, and completed 12 hours of dual-enrollment courses to graduate with distinction. He helped to found and lead his school’s STEM Club, which set up a computer lab and completed a physical computing curriculum on Raspberry Pi computers. He was captain of the varsity soccer and basketball teams, and won a gold medal in cross-country at the 2019 National Apostolic Christian School Competition.

The William G. Pollard Scholarship Awards are presented in honor of ORAU’s founder in recognition of his dedication to science and education. A UT physics professor, Pollard founded the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies—which later became ORAU—to link the valuable scientific resources developed in Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan Project with regional universities.

Other recipients of this year’s Pollard scholarships are Jamie Batson, Olivia Hudson, Audra Jean “AJ” Jones, and Savannah Jones. Each year, ORAU awards these scholarships to employees’ children or stepchildren who display exceptional achievements in their high school or undergraduate studies. Applicants must submit official transcripts from all high schools and colleges attended, three references (at least two of which must be from teachers), and a 500-word essay describing professional and personal interests.

Read more and see the other scholarship winners.

EECS Professor’s Interdisciplinary Research Featured in Chemical Science Journal

Picture of Dr. Gong Gu

Gong Gu

EECS electrical engineering professor Gong Gu has recently had a publication featuring his interdisciplinary work selected by a top journal as “Pick of the Week.” Chemical Science is the flagship journal of the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry, and an open access journal for findings of exceptional significance from across the chemical sciences. In 2018, the Chemical Science Editorial Team launched ‘ChemSci Pick of the Week’ as a means to select and promote their favorite articles from the week and share them with the wider chemical community.

Working with An-An Sun and Shang-Peng Gao of the Department of Materials Science, Fudan University, Shanghai, Dr. Gu’s research deals with “Peculiar bond characters of fivefold coordinated octet compound crystals,” the title of their publication.


The present work exemplifies complementary perspectives offered by the band and bond pictures of solids, with an emphasis on the chemical intuition pertaining to the latter, especially in the presence of interfaces. The modern computational method of constructing a unique set of maximally localized Wannier functions from delocalized band states imparts new interpretations to the familiar concept of chemical bonds in the context of crystalline solids. By bridging the band and bond pictures using advanced computational tools, we reveal for the first time the unusual bond characters of a long-predicted fivefold coordinated structure of binary octet compounds ANB8−N consisting of AA′ stacked planar AB honeycombs. While the isolated monolayer retains the familiar pz–π bonding in a honeycomb framework as in graphene and hexagonal boron nitride, the bulk foregoes in-plane π bonding and embraces out-of-plane ⋯A–B–A–B⋯ chain bonding via overlapping pz orbitals. Not only does the chemical intuition gained by invoking the bond picture clarify the chemical nature of the fivefold coordination, but it also facilely explains a salient discrepancy in theoretical predictions in otherwise sound ample experimental evidence in the form of epitaxial thin films, paving the way towards rational synthesis of such thin films for optoelectronic applications. On the other hand, we show that the conduction band minimum, important in determining the electrical and optical properties, is a distinctly extended state that can only be properly described within the band picture.

This research is published in Chemical Science, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s peer-reviewed flagship journal, and is free to read here.



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Governor’s Chair Liu Awarded Pioneer in Power Honor

Professor Yilu Liu works on the forefront of smart-grid technologies as the UT/ORNL Governor’s Chair Professor for Power Grids. Still, she was surprised to learn that she won the 2020 IEEE Power & Energy Society Wanda Reder Pioneer in Power Award.

Picture of Dr. Yilu Liu

Yilu Liu

The research-focused Liu often defers nominations to younger research colleagues, so this award was a mystery at first. This recognition was fueled by Volunteer Spirit, it turned out.

“It took me a while to find out it was cooked up by a bunch of my former UT Knoxville students,” she said. “They never stopped contributing to our Vol family, from their research work when they were here to helping promote UT after they have left.”

The Pioneer in Power award was established to foster more diverse leadership by supporting career advancement, networking, and education of women in the electric power and energy industry. Liu was cited specifically for her innovative contributions and leadership in synchrophasor-based wide-area monitoring and control systems.

Liu also recently spoke with the Oak Ridger to offer insight into the nation’s power-grid health.

The award includes $1,500 and a plaque, and recipients are usually recognized during the society’s awards dinner at their annual meeting. The event will be held virtually this year at a time to be announced, but Liu feels the honor already reinforces her group’s ongoing work.

“It may help the morale of our team and give them more confidence about the important research work they are doing,” she said. Their efforts are supported as part of her appointment as deputy director of CURENT, the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, and by her connection to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Certainly, we could not have done so much without CURENT and ORNL and the funding from Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation,” said Liu. “Support at all levels from UT and ORNL are essential.”

EECS Faculty and Students Recognized in Chancellor’s Honors

EECS faculty and students were among those recognized in the 2020 Chancellor’s Honors. The Chancellor’s Honors Banquet is held each spring to recognize students, faculty, staff, and friends of the University of Tennessee for their extraordinary achievements. While we were unable to hold the 2020 banquet and awards had to be presented remotely, we celebrate the accomplishments of our most recent honorees. Congratulations to all of the honorees! Read the full list here.

Faculty Awards

Excellence in Teaching: Max Schuchard
This honor is bestowed by the Office of the Chancellor and the Teaching Council of the Faculty Senate to honor outstanding work in the classroom.

Undergraduate student Savannah Norem has taken two classes with Schuchard, and she said, “Max’s courses are what inspired me to do undergraduate research and ultimately to get my masters degree. Max’s passion for teaching is evident in everything he does, and I couldn’t have asked for a better professor, adviser, and role model.” Ph.D. student Jared Smith has had four classes with Schuchard. “Max cares as much about educating the future generation of computer science students as he does the success of his research efforts,” Jared said. “While it is easy for a professor to focus more on their research than the courses they teach, Max is a paragon for doing both with 150% effort.”

Research and Creative Achievement—Professional Promise: Daniel Costinett
This award honors faculty members who are early in their careers for excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.

Graduate & Undergraduate Student Awards

2020 Extraordinary Professional Promise
Extraordinary Professional Promise honors are awarded to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate professional promise in teaching, research, or other contributions.

  • Chandler Bauder
  • Xianda Deng
  • Yan Du
  • Wei Feng
  • Farnaz Foroughian
  • Handong Gui
  • Shahram Hesari
  • Chengcheng Li
  • Samaneh Morovati
  • Clara Nguyen
  • Kellen Oleksak
  • Farshid Tamjid

Undergraduate Student Awards

Undergraduate Researcher of the Year: Alec Yen
The Undergraduate Researcher of the Year award honors a junior or senior who has demonstrated excellence in undergraduate research through independent inquiry, classes, and student employment.

2020 Extraordinary Academic Achievement
Extraordinary Academic Achievement honors are awarded to undergraduates who exhibit extraordinary scholarship.

  • Katelyn Bolinsky
  • Gary Burns
  • Alec Yen

2020 Top Collegiate Scholars
The Top Collegiate Scholar Awards honor undergraduates who exhibit extraordinary scholarship.

  • Sean Toll
  • Alec Yen

2020 EECS Gonzalez Family Awards Announced

The Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science is pleased to announce the 2020 Gonzalez Family Awards, for excellence in teaching, excellence in research and for staff excellence.

The Gonzalez Family Awards also include awards for outstanding students, undergraduate teaching assistant, and graduate teaching assistants.

2020 Award Winners:

Picture of Dr. Jens GregorPicture of Dr. Jack DongarraPhoto of Mr. Alaa AlharziPicture of Brandon Herriage


Left to Right: Jens Gregor, Jack Dongarra, Alaa Alharzi, Brandon Herriage

  • The Gonzalez Family Award for Excellence in Teaching- Jens Gregor
  • The Gonzalez Family Award for Excellence in Research- Jack Dongarra
  • The Gonzalez Family Award for Staff Excellence- Alaa Alharzi and Brandon Herriage


Outstanding Student Awards:

  • Electrical Engineering Sophomore- Noah Archer
  • Electrical Engineering Junior- Matthew Jones
  • Electrical Engineering Senior- Roy Tan


  • Computer Engineering Sophomore- Katherine Huckabay
  • Computer Engineering Junior- Austin Jones
  • Computer Engineering Senior- Samuel Jones


  • Computer Science Sophomore- Owen Queen
  • Computer Science Junior- Daniel Troutman
  • Computer Science Senior- Abigail Prosise


Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Assistant:

  • Alec Yen


Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistants:

  • Adam Foshie (Computer Engineering)
  • Jingjing Sun (Electrical Engineering)
  • Clara Nguyen (Computer Science)


Congratulations to all of our fantastic EECS faculty, staff and student winners!

SEC Academics Announces Leon Tolbert is Winner of 2020 Faculty Achievement Award

Picture of Dr. Leon Tolbert

Dr. Leon Tolbert

Dr. Leon Tolbert, Min H. Kao Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the Tickle College of Engineering, has been named winner of the 2020 SEC Faculty Achievement Award for the University of Tennessee, the SEC announced Wednesday, April 15.

To receive an SEC achievement award the faculty member must have achieved the rank of full professor; have a record of extraordinary teaching, particularly at the undergraduate level; and have a record of research that is recognized nationally and/or internationally. University winners will receive a $5,000 honorarium from the SEC and will become their campus nominee for the SEC Professor of the Year Award, which will be announced in late April.

Read more

EECS’s Mensah, Yen, Two Others in College Win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Four seniors from the Tickle College of Engineering have been selected for prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program (GRFP) awards, including electrical engineering majors Yaw Mensah and Alec Yen.

Picture of Yaw Mensah

Yaw Mensah

“We’re very proud of our students and the work that they do,” said Dean Janis Terpenny, the Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair. “These selections reflect well upon them, their faculty mentors, and the many long hours they work together toward educational success and on important research. The diversity of disciplines represented in this year’s winners also underscores the commitment our entire college has toward student success.”

Picture of Alec Yen

Alec Yen

For the students, the recognition comes after years of hard work, dedication, and determination, things Yen said helped prepare him for the program.

“This award reflects the significant investment that UT places in undergraduate research, and I am indebted to my research mentors for their advice and guidance,” said Yen. “Applying for this award can be intimidating, but I hope that the success of past UT students can help encourage future students to take the leap and apply.”

In addition to Mensah and Yen, Zachary Jerome (civil), Spencer McDonald (aerospace) were chosen and will receive a $34,000 annual stipend for three years, $12,000 toward tuition and fees, and increased chances to take part in international research as well as other benefits as they begin their graduate studies in the fall. Jackson Wilt (aerospace) received an Honorable Mention from the program.

During selection, each student’s individual work is reviewed to determine if their ideas can advance society, secure the nation, or improve lives. It is extremely important for program applicants to have had measurable research experience at the undergraduate level—something the college and its faculty considers vital for graduate school preparation.

“Our faculty take active interest in having undergraduate students in their research groups, and it’s something they take pride in being able to do,” said Terpenny. “They want their students to succeed, not just as reflection of their success as a mentor, but because they are acutely aware of how important it is to help our students find their life’s passion, and as an engineer, make a difference in the world.”

Mensah and Yen both said that Professor Ben Blalock and former Interim Dean Mark Dean played key roles in their development, with Mensah also thanking ADVANCE Professor Nicole McFarlane and Yen acknowledging Research Assistant Professor Hantao Cui and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Hector Santos-Villalobos.

“This award really means a lot to me because it shows me that people believe in my potential to succeed,” Mensah said. “I would not have been able to earn this award without their guidance.”

GRFP began in 1952, making it the oldest fellowship program in the nation devoted to supporting outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines. Participants have gone on to become Nobel Laureates, government leaders, or titans of industry, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Tickle College of Engineering 2020 Faculty & Staff Awards Announced

Academic and administrative colleagues of the Tickle College of Engineering show appreciation for each other every day as a matter of course. Each spring, the college makes the highest of these acknowledgements official with the annual Faculty and Staff Awards.

The accolades are traditionally observed with a banquet gathering, but due to measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, that event has been rescheduled to the fall. Until then, we present here the winners and a few words in honor of their accomplishments.

EECS has had six professors and two staff members recognized with honors in several categories:


Faculty Awards

Outstanding Faculty Service Awards
Recognize and reward superior service to and engagement with important constituents across three distinct categories.

Outstanding Outreach and Engagement Category
Chien-fei Chen
Research Associate Professor (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) and Director of Education and Diversity for CURENT

Picture of Dr. Chien-fei ChenChen accomplishes important work with outreach to the local community, including the Young Scholar’s program, the Research Experiences for Teachers, and the Adventures in Stem program. In addition, she has assisted the college on many occasions with outreach efforts to members of underrepresented populations of students, including the HITES and eVOL pre-college programs, GEM GRAD Lab, Breakfast of Champions, and others.

Outstanding Service to the College Category
Daniel Costinett
Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Picture of Dr. Daniel CostinettCostinett’s efforts to increase the diversity of the college through his work with CURENT are impressive. His contributions are described by the department as “critical and formidable” to improving the culture of inclusion in CURENT.



Outstanding Service to the Discipline Category
Michela Taufer
Dongarra Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Picture of Dr. Michela TauferTaufer’s high-visibility service to the high-performance computing community has been a great asset to the college. In particular, her leadership role in the SC19 conference went a long way to raising the college’s profile internationally. More people know what great things are happening here because of Taufer’s accomplishments—an exceptional model for the college.


Staff Awards

Commitment to Excellence Award
Recognizes a staff member who has contributed at least 10 years of service to the college. This staff member, regardless of position or title, has demonstrated exceptional leadership and exemplary service to engineering students, staff, and/or the community.

Markus Iturriaga Woelfel
IT Administrator, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Photo of Mr. Markus Iturriaga WoelfelWoelfel shows his dedication and skill in many ways, from resurrecting broken research servers to preserve data to staying late to upgrade a stubborn software license so lab sections can proceed without hiccups. His leadership is highlighted by swiftness of response, courteousness, competence, and the ability to think outside the box to find solutions. He enables EECS to provide high-quality instruction and innovative research in an environment where change is a never-ending process.

Commitment to Inclusive Community Award
Recognizes an individual within the college who has demonstrated a commitment to diversity and inclusion in consideration of affordability, ability, identity, and access; and an exceptional understanding of diversity and inclusiveness beyond the call of duty.

Anne Skutnik
Education Coordinator, Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT)

Picture of Anne SkutnikSkutnik makes an influential impact in providing diversity and inclusion awareness through the CURENT program. She has been inspirational in leading efforts to improve communication to those with diverse backgrounds, identifying strategic programming to increase underserved populations in undergraduate/graduate programs, and aligning with the university and college commitment to diversity and inclusion.


Teaching Fellows

Recognize and reward superior teaching in the college. One fellow is selected to receive the Cole Award.

Ben Blalock
Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Picture of Dr. Benjamin BlalockBlalock has a dedication and willingness to take on challenging and time-consuming instructional responsibilities such as senior design. He remains interested in the academic progress of his students as an advising coordinator and accomplishes all of this while managing a successful research program.


Stephen Marz
Lecturer, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Picture of Dr. Stephen MarzThe awards committee was impressed with Marz’s work in teaching both service courses with high enrollments and courses with his majors to a wide range of levels, from undergraduate to doctoral students, while maintaining high student satisfaction and course rigor. Department Head Greg Peterson additionally noted Marz’s willingness to work with students facing challenges above and beyond normal expectations.

Professional Promise in Research Awards

Recognize tenured or tenure-track faculty members at the assistant or associate professor rank who have received national and/or international recognition in their fields and show professional promise in their research.

Nicole McFarlane
Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Picture of Dr. Nicole McFarlaneMcFarlane’s research focuses on developing sensors for a wide variety of sensing applications that make faster measurements, measure more samples simultaneously, are smaller, and are less costly than traditional sensing systems. Her sensing applications thus far include neutron detection, glucose sensing, bowel sound detection, and temperature measurements. These diverse applications have resulted in her publishing 14 journal papers on technological advances in the last five years. Furthermore, she has published 25 refereed conference proceedings in this same timeframe.

Three EECS students awarded by Graduate Student Senate for Excellence in Graduate Research

Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week- Our graduate students are a critical and valued part of the UT community. Every year, we set aside a week in spring to show them how much we appreciate them and the work we do. This year, we’re showing that appreciation online!

Today, the Graduate Student Senate has announced the winners for their Fourth Annual GSS Awards online. This year, three EECS students have been awarded for Excellence in Graduate Research.

Please join us in congratulating all of our award winners! Although GPSAW 2020 was not celebrated in person, we are still so proud and excited for the accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff! An excerpt from their nominations is included to celebrate accomplishments and success. You can see more of the winners here.

Excellence in Graduate Research

The “Excellence in Graduate Research” award is presented to graduate and professional students who have received national and/or international recognition in their field and show promise in their area of research and/or creative achievement.


Picture of EECS graduate student Shaghayegh Aslanzadeh










Shaghayegh Aslanzadeh

Graduate Research Assistant

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

“She has exemplified excellence in research through her strong publication record. In her time here at UT, she has published 3 peer reviewed conference papers and one peer reviewed journal paper. In addition to all of this she is guiding an undergraduate researcher in developing portable devices and has volunteered to help our lab’s k-12 outreach activities. In short, I believe she has demonstrated the qualities of excellence in graduate research.”


Picture of EECS graduate student Razieh Kaviani Baghbaderani










Razieh Kaviani Baghbaderani

Graduate Research Assistant

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

“Although she has only been in the program for less than 2 years, she has managed to publish two first-authored conference papers, both of which are IEEE flagship conferences in the areas of remote sensing and image processing. She also demonstrated a very strong leadership capability in this period, both academically and socially. For example, she serves as the secretary of a very successful student organization, Systers: Women in EECS @ UTK.”


Picture of EECS Graduate Student Tamjid Farshid










Farshid Tamjid

PhD Candidate

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

“So far he has made very good progress with his research objectives and published four conference papers as the first author and he is a co-author in four conference and journal papers, all since joining my research group. Also, one of his journal papers are under review in one of the most prestigious transactions in the RF and Microwave field.”

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