Winners of the 2017 OCEC Awards

| April 6, 2017

Viterbi faculty and students receive awards from the Orange County Engineering Council.

Professor and Chair Mike Gruntman, Ayesha Madni, accepting the award for her father, Professor Azad Madni, and Ph.D. student Edwin Ordoukhanian with their awards. Photo courtesy of Azad Madni

Each February, the Orange County Engineering Council (OCEC) recognizes outstanding individuals and project achievements from Southern California. At this year’s annual awards banquet, held on Feb. 25 at The Villa in Orange, Calif., several Viterbi faculty and students were among those honored.

James E. Ballinger Engineer of the Year Award

Azad M. Madni

Nominated by Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, Azad M. Madni, professor of astronautics and technical director of the Systems Architecting and Engineering Program (SAE), received the 2017 James E. Ballinger Engineer of the Year Award.

This award is given to an individual who has outstanding professional qualities and “a reputation for engineering accomplishments and leadership.” The entire career of the individual is considered, including experience, community service and engineering accomplishments, as well as the ability to motivate and lead others.

“Winning this award is an acknowledgement by my peers that I have created innovative approaches, systems or products that they hold in the highest regard,” Madni said. “I have been able to take theory and translate that into useful methods and products that people are willing to adopt/buy now without hesitation, and that is gratifying to me.”

While Madni was attending the San Fernando Valley Engineers’ Council awards banquet held on the same night, his daughter Ayesha Madni attended the OCEC banquet and accepted the award on his behalf, delivering an acceptance speech written by him.

Distinguished Engineering Educator Award

Mike Gruntman

The Distinguished Engineering Educator Award is given to an individual in recognition of their commitment to professional engineering activities beyond the normal scope of an educator. These can include involvement in extracurricular student activities, as well as engineering successes with industry applications.

This year, Department of Astronautical Engineering Chair Mike Gruntman received the award, after being nominated by Madni.

“Nominating Mike for this award is my way of recognizing a deserving colleague in a professional forum of his peers,” Madni said. “Mike Gruntman is a dedicated scholar and instructor who has lectured and given seminars worldwide. He has made a positive impact on the astronautics profession with his books and lectures.”

Outstanding Engineering Educator Award

Professor Jean-Michel Maarek, the recipient of the Outstanding Engineering Educator Award. Photo courtesy of Jean-Michel Maarek

Jean-Michel Maarek

Jean-Michel Maarek, a professor of Engineering Practice in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), received the Outstanding Engineering Educator Award, nominated by Dwight C. and Hildagarde E. Baum Chair of the BME department, Ellis Meng.

“There is a lot of publicity associated with winning grants, for good reason since the competition is fierce. Seeing recognition also given to good educators is very good,” Maarek said. “Our academic mission combines research and education, and both aspects should be recognized.”

This award is given to an educator who excels beyond the normal responsibilities of the teaching profession, including involvements in student activities and achievements within the scientific industry.

Maarek teaches the senior design “capstone” class, bringing in people outside of the department to propose realistic problems for the students to solve. Additionally, as the director of undergraduate affairs for the BME department, Maarek is responsible for revising and maintaining the curriculum. He is also a faculty fellow for the Center for Excellence in Teaching at USC.

“I think it is the mindset of people in academia that we want to do different things—we are interested in innovation and change,” Maarek said. “To me, the same applies to research as it does to teaching. I’m interested in trying new approaches and seeing what works and if it works better than the traditional ways of teaching.”

Outstanding Engineering Student Awards

Edwin Ordoukhanian, Qianru Qi and Viranchi Vedpathak

This year, three USC students won Outstanding Engineering Student Awards for their exceptional talents in engineering, including Edwin Ordoukhanian, a Ph.D. astronautical engineering student nominated and advised by Madni; Qianru Qi, a Ph.D. student in the Mork Family Department (MFD) of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (MFD) nominated by Professor Iraj Ershaghi and advised by Assistant Professor Birendra Jha; and Viranchi Vedpathak, a graduate student in the MFD and USC Chapter President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, also nominated by Ershaghi.