Month: April 2020

Meet Arshiah Mirza

By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering

Arshiah Mirza came to the United States from India for her Ph.D. and is currently in her fourth-year of the Electrical Engineering Program. Her current research involves power electronics, insulation materials, high voltage engineering and performance enhancement of electric machines and drives with The Advanced Power Electronics and Electric Drives Lab(APEDL).


Mirza says that it is important for her to develop both her cultural and academic identities, which is why she is also involved with Tarang, a South Asian Graduate Student Community. She can speak Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, and English. As an international student, she is an orientation representative with  International Student & Scholar Services(ISSS).


Currently, Mirza represents her Electrical Engineering peers as a Senator in the Graduate Student Senate. She also contributes to the EE community as a teaching assistant for several undergraduate power electronics and machine drives courses. She also is a mentor for highschool students and K-12 teachers in summer through fellowships.


Being a part of JLLA has also served as an integral part of her development. “Though I am the same person, I see the change. My own journey towards self-awareness has shaped how I make decisions and be true to myself as a leader.”


Effective leadership skills are transferable to any industry or job, which is why Mirza went through the JLLA curriculum. Mirza’s biggest takeaway from the program is awareness of her leadership style and having the foresight to make the most effective choices while working in teams. After her graduation, Mirza looks forward to working in a National lab or teaching, though she keeps her options open.


She cares about clean-energy, education and gender equality. Which is why she aspires to own her own company that combines these together through technology.


Her favorite quote is from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Meet Chris Hawxhurst

By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering

Christopher Hawxhurst is a fourth year PhD student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering working with Associate Dean Leslie Shor on microfluidic devices for biological and agricultural technology applications. The majority of his time is spent optimizing 3D printing devices.


Hawxhurst attended UConn as an undergraduate, and received his master’s from Columbia University. The decision to come back to UConn for his PhD was based on Hawxhurst’s fondness of UConn’s CBE department.


Outside of his academic life, Hawxhurst bakes bread and plays in Reddit’s Dota 2

video game league. Christopher is the former president and current Board member of the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Student Association (ChEGSA). Through the departmental organization, he helps organize game nights and barbecues.


Hawxhurst was accepted into JLLA’s first cohort and will graduate from the program this May. He says JLLA has had an “interesting journey, trying to figure out how to maximize the utility of JLLA for everyone involved.”


Since the program was initiated, Hawxhurst has seen the organization make a variety of adjustments in order to attain the most effective curriculum. His decision to pursue the program was solidified by the dedication of other members of JLLA.


“The amount of effort that everyone in the program puts in to figure out how to make the program as beneficial to ourselves as possible is one of the big reasons why I’m still in the organization.”


One benefit that Hawxhurst has gained from JLLA is presentation skills. The program provided constructive feedback that he says helped him feel more confident when presenting to others.

Meet Anna Marie

By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering

Anna Marie LaChance is a third year PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering who is graduating from John Lof Leadership Academy this year. 


Currently, Anna researches nanocomposite materials in Dr. Luyi Sun’s lab. She is also in the Graduate Certificate in College Instruction (GCCI) program to prepare for a career in academia, hoping to become a faculty member one day. 


Anna educates others through the medium of her podcast, Rule 63– where she and her friend Danny discuss LGBTQ+ topics, science, religion, and politics. Since 2012, she has been invested in politics- in her own words, “Primary season is my March Madness and election night is my Super Bowl.” This interest has grown since her undergraduate years and transition in late 2017. 


Her identity as a trans person also translates to campus involvement- Anna is a member of the Rainbow Center Grads and Young Professionals group, the UConn chapter of Out In. STEM (oSTEM) and has been working on bringing a new outreach program, Queer Science, to UConn. The club will be focused on outreach to high school students that identify as queer and are interested in pursuing a degree in STEM.


In her own STEM education, Anna noticed there was a gap between job training and job expectations- extracurriculars are often overlooked when students reach graduate education. “In the real world, whether you’re going to industry, academia or other, you’ll have to lead a team, you’ll have to talk to people, you’ll have to network and do all these other things—that’s just not taught to graduate engineering students.”


JLLA’s program has a “For us, by us” structure that appealed to her and created a space to develop non-technical leadership skills, essential for strong leadership. Coming into the program, Anna knew she was a nervous presenter and wanted to change that. Now, Anna considers herself to be a confident speaker.


Receiving feedback from JLLA provides advice “you wouldn’t get from your lab mates who are focused on the technical content of your talk, if you were to practice in front of them. So I wish there were more programs like this at schools everywhere and in departments everywhere.”


Anna has developed a bond with the JLLA members, who she says  “have helped me to make myself a better version”. Creating and maintaining these personal connections with her colleagues is important to her, which is why she’s also the Vice President of the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Student Association (CHEGSA), a student organization that hosts social and professional events for the graduate students, faculty, and staff of her department.


Anna regularly posts to her social media, including Twitter (@ThatAnnaMarie) and Instagram (@BourgeoisDecadence). She plans to take the lessons she learned in JLLA to other diverse communities within STEM, including her current undergraduate laboratory assistants, queer & trans youth in Connecticut through Queer Science, and all of her future teaching endeavors.


Meet Tara Walsh

By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering

Tara Walsh is a fourth-year Ph.D. student from Boylston, Massachusetts. She is currently a GAANN Fellow in the Environmental Engineering program at UConn. Walsh has been researching power outage restoration in Connecticut in order to minimize the time and costs involved with storm recovery. 

Outside of her academic endeavors, Walsh enjoys doing “anything where [she is] not sitting still.” Her activities of choice are running, hiking and crossfit. She is also a member of the Student Association of Graduate Engineers (SAGE).

Walsh was encouraged to apply to JLLA by an environmental engineering professor, who even provided assistance with the application process. Her professor’s confidence in JLLA is what assured Walsh it would be a worthwhile program. 

“I needed to work on stepping out of my comfort zone, and all of the activities that we do at JLLA make me do that,” Walsh said. “So having the space to practice and the people who are willing to give feedback and help me grow has helped a lot.”

Now that she is in her final semester of JLLA, Walsh has had time to reflect on how the program has prepared her for a career in the engineering field. 

“It gives you the time and space to think about who you want to be professionally,” said Walsh. “You can work on getting there and filling in the gaps that we don’t otherwise have a way to work on.”

JLLA has introduced Walsh to potential career paths through networking with professionals and engineers from other departments. She says she has learned a lot about her leadership style through collaborating in workshops. 

One of the main takeaways she did not expect from the program was learning what her values are and how to incorporate them into a leadership style.


Meet Christina Feng Chang


By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering

Christina Feng Chang is a third year Ph.D. student in Environmental Engineering, and hails from Puerto Rico. Feng Chang can’t pinpoint the one reason why she chose UConn, but she knows exactly why she chose John Lof Leadership Academy. 


“JLLA is a worthwhile program because our workshops and meetings challenge us to think about things that we normally don’t have to think about,” said Feng Chang.  “As a JLLA member, you are also challenged to get out of your comfort zone and make an effort to improve on your weaknesses.”


Outside of JLLA, Feng Chang is the current Vice President of the Student Association of Graduate Engineers (SAGE). She actually decided to apply to JLLA after seeing it promoted at a SAGE event. 


Joining was a way for Feng Chang to become more involved on campus outside of conducting research, and was a great way of developing new relationships. Since starting JLLA, she describes herself as willing to assert herself.


 “Through JLLA, I have learned how to become more confident and more comfortable with myself and others,” said Feng Chang.


When she is not in class or the lab, Feng Chang enjoys simple, relaxing activities like watching Korean Dramas or playing a game of badminton. In order to de-stress, she plays the video game: League of Legends. 


Feng Chang is researching how to predict water quality in freshwater systems, specifically modeling and understanding harmful algal blooms and hypoxia through machine learning and numerical prediction models. 


Looking into the future, Feng Chang wants to use her academic knowledge and leadership skills to be “a good leader that people will look up to.”