Meet the Winners of the Research and Teaching Assistant Awards

| September 29, 2016

The Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering awards its top research and teaching assistants

Winners of the research and teaching assistant awards. From left to right: Arsalan Heydarian, Ali Gharamani, Vassilios Skanavis, Professor Lucio Soibelman (department chair), Professor Erik Johnson (associate chair), Lauren Crawford, and Jiachen Zhang. Photo courtesy of Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

The Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering held their annual awards luncheon for distinguished research and teaching assistants on September 23 at the Parkside Performance Café.

The winners of “Best Research Assistant” were selected based on recommendation from their faculty advisor, as well as publications and conference participation. Awards for “Best Teaching Assistant” were selected was based on student evaluations and comments from students.

The 2015-2016 award winners were announced by Lucio Soibelman, professor and chair of the department, and Erik Johnson, professor and associate chair of the department.

“Having such dedicated RA’s and TA’s makes such a difference,” Soibelman said. “What you do for the department is important for everything that we do.”

 Best Research Assistants
Jiachen Zhang, winner of "Best Research Assitant". Photo courtesy of Sony Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Jiachen Zhang, winner of “Best Research Assitant”. Photo courtesy of Sony Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Ali Gharamani

Ali Ghahramani is a Ph.D. student in civil engineering, supervised by Burcin Becerik-Gerber, associate professor and Stephen Schrank Early Career Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Ghahramani is in the Informatics for Intelligent Built Environments program, where his research focuses on understanding human thermal comfort and operating building systems in order to provide acceptable temperature conditions for occupants while minimizing operation costs.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Shiraz University, Iran and a master’s degree in Construction Engineering from USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He is currently pursuing master’s degrees in Computer Science and Industrial and System Engineering, hoping to learn topics from other disciplines that can be applied to his research.

Jiachen Zhang

Jiachen Zhang is a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering, advised by George Ban-Weiss, assistant professor in the department. The focus of Zhang’s research is computational modeling of the interactions between land use, air pollution and climate change. Currently, she is leading a collaboration project with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to evaluate the impacts of solar-reflective cool walls on climate and air pollution. She personally presented her group’s research on heat mitigation strategies to the LA mayor’s office.

Zhang received a bachelor’s degree from Peking University’s College of Urban and Environmental Sciences in China, where she worked on modeling the transport of black carbon in the college of Urban and Environmental Sciences. She has also been the leading actress in three stage plays.

Best Teaching Assistants
Arsalan Heydarian, winner of "Best Teaching Assistant". Photo courtesy of Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Arsalan Heydarian, winner of “Best Teaching Assistant”. Photo courtesy of Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Arsalan Heydarian

Arsalan Heydarian is a Ph.D. student in civil engineering, supervised by Becerik-Gerber. Heydarian is in the Informatics for Intelligent Built Environments program, focusing on improving the design and operation of buildings according to occupants’ preferences and behaviors, with an emphasis on reducing the energy consumption in commercial buildings. He adopted immersive virtual environments as a tool to develop virtual mock-ups of different commercial buildings, through which he has been able to collect participant’s preferences, behavioral changes and interactions with different building systems in a designed environment.

Heydarian earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering, with a focus in construction engineering and management, from Virginia Tech. For the past two years he has served as the Sonny Astani’s Ph.D. representative and was elected as a Graduate Student Association (GSA) senator representing the department in Fall 2015.

Vassilios Skanavis

Vassilios Skanavis is a Ph.D. candidate supervised by Professors Costas Synolakis and Patrick Lynett. Skanavis earned his bachelor’s degree from the Technical University of Crete. Before coming to USC Viterbi School of Engineering, he travelled a great deal, performing field work in many locations, including the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia and Japan. The trip incidentally occurred just weeks after the Fukushima accident and, despite any uncertainty about conditions, he followed his research and went to Japan with only 12 days’ worth of food and water.

Lauren Crawford

Lauren Crawford is a Ph.D. candidate supervised by Amy Childress, professor and director of the environmental engineering program. Crawford holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Widener University in Chester, Pa. As an undergraduate, her research focused on algal growth in Chester Creek due to nutrients produced by a local wastewater treatment plant located upstream. Currently, she is investigating pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) as a means to mitigate energy consumption and CO2 emissions produced by reverse osmosis (RO) during water desalination.