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Three engineering undergraduate students recognized for leadership, academic excellence

Brian Mak, computer science undergraduate student
Brian Mak, computer science undergraduate student

The Patrick Mantey Leadership Award and the Huffman Prize—two annual, prestigious UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering awards—have been awarded to three outstanding undergraduate students, whose efforts to lead change through bold and socially responsible innovation exemplify what it means to be Baskin Engineers.

Patrick Mantey Leadership Award

Founded by Professor Emeritus and former Baskin Engineering Dean Patrick Mantey, the Patrick Mantey Leadership Award recognizes students who have exhibited both exemplary leadership and high academic achievement. This year’s award was given to computer science undergraduate students Brian Mak and Steven Mak, who have contributed greatly to UCSC’s national recognition in the cybersecurity field.

Both students are members of Slug Security, a recently established club on campus for anyone interested in hacking, cybersecurity, and/or programming. The club regularly competes in national and international cybersecurity competitions.

Brian Mak and Steven Mak were instrumental in the latest cybersecurity challenge that UCSC participated in. They led a team of 10 in the development of an embedded system from scratch for the 2023 MITRE Embedded Capture the Flag (eCTF) Competition, a two-part challenge that tasked teams to design a secure key fob system for a vehicle door lock and then analyze and attack the designs of competitors to earn points. Team UCSC placed second out of 80 teams.

Steven Mak, computer science undergraduate student
Steven Mak, computer science undergraduate student

They also competed in the 2022 National Security Agency (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge, an annual competition centered around a realistic cybersecurity scenario, where students must carry out a series of cybersecurity-related tasks to earn points. While students compete individually, points are combined with other student participants from their university, ranking the schools based on total points accumulated. Both students’ individual efforts helped UCSC place third out of 445 universities.

“I believe Brian and Steven represent the very best characteristics of undergraduate students at UCSC,” said Alvaro Cardenas, associate professor of computer science and engineering, in a statement nominating both students for the leadership award. “They deserve recognition for helping our school be recognized as a top place for cybersecurity.”

Huffman Prize

The Huffman Prize honors the legacy of the late Professor Emeritus and computing pioneer David A. Huffman. The award is given annually to a student who has demonstrated extraordinary creativity, depth of inquiry, and academic excellence. This year’s recipient is Kiana Imani, biomolecular engineering and bioinformatics undergraduate student and co-captain of the 2022 UCSC iGEM team.

Kiana Imani, biomolecular engineering and bioinformatics undergraduate student
Kiana Imani, biomolecular engineering and bioinformatics undergraduate student

As iGEM co-captain, Imani led the 2022 team’s significant synthetic biology project, known as Helo, from conception to completion. Helo aimed to address the high costs and limited availability of Type 2 diabetes medication by producing a yeast-based therapeutic that can be grown locally and affordably.

“The original concept for the 2022 iGEM project came from a discussion Kiana had with researchers and endocrinologists in the field,” said David Bernick, associate teaching professor of biomolecular engineering and faculty advisor for the iGEM team, in a statement nominating Imani. “This idea eventually morphed into implementation as the realities of cost, time-to-develop, and team-skill assessment were considered. Creativity is more than vision—it requires a realization of the vision. This is truly where I see Kiana’s success in the 2022 iGEM project.”

For several months, including a summer of full-time work, Imani and her co-captain Elizabeth Beer supported a team of 14. They provided direction and mentorship throughout each iteration of the project, which consisted of research, medical community outreach, community engagement, proof-of-concept, therapeutic design, and wet lab work.

Their nearly year-long project culminated at the iGEM Grand Jamboree, an annual international competition that draws together student teams from around the globe to present their synthetic biology projects that aim to address 21st century grand challenges. The UCSC team not only won gold at the 2022 competition, but they were also one of five projects in their division to be nominated for “Best Therapeutics Project.”

For more information about these two awards, visit the Baskin Engineering undergraduate website.

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