Author: Bertolino, Samantha

Meet JLLA Senior Sudipta Chowdhury


Sudipta Chowdhury is a third-year PhD candidate whose research combines civil and environmental engineering. 


Sudipta grew up in Bangladesh, where he attended Shahjalal University of Science and Technology to obtain his bachelors in industrial engineering. Not long after, he started at MSU. Following the completion of his Masters in 2018, he joined UConn to pursue his PhD. 


Between his time at MSU and UConn, Sudipta has participated in various research projects across several industries. These includebut are not limited toFedex, the Army Research Laboratory, the Construction Industry Institute, and Eversource


He explains, “I continue to implement these learnings in my current research,” which examines restoration strategies for power grids. 


This idea explores the social impact on power outages resulting from natural and man-made disruptions. These restoration strategies aim to diminish community distress in the aftermath of disaster. 


Sudipta hopes to explore other critical infrastructuresuch as water and chemical systemsand the effect of power outages on them. He explains, “we are not just dependent on power…we rely on so many different structures.” 


Currently, Chowdhury is a member of John Lof, where he served as the Director of Public Relations. He finds it a great way for graduate students to “escape the confines of the lab” while connecting with “same-minded people.”   

Meet JLLA Senior Pierre Fils


Pierredens Fils is a third-year Ph.D. student studying Structural Health Monitoring through civil and environmental engineering. 


Born in Haiti, Fils came to America at a very young age. He grew up learning Creole and English simultaneously and observes each as being structural to his identity.  


His first research experience—at Oak Ridge National Laboratory—was around climate impacted buildings. While there, he focused on re-designing climate zones for the optimization of energy consumption. This gave him a taste for discovering new things, all while getting his hands dirty.  


He finds that the experience “set a foundation for self-learning, as well as navigating computational lab work.” Though he planned to “wash his hands of it and return to design,” he found himself fully engaged in the research. 


Fils currently focuses on damage identification and quantification methods for civil structures. He identifies the undamaged state of buildings or materials to quantify the extent of the damage. Through a collection of parameters and techniques, he looks at developing algorithms using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sensors to conduct damage monitoring. 


His experience at John Lof has allowed Fils to “step outside of this research while developing other important skills.” As previous Public Speaking Committee Chair and current Financial Director, he finds that he has grown his confidence considerably over the last two years.


He says of the Academy, “it caters to case-specific needs, and really forces introspection.” It’s about pushing the boundaries of comfort and learning to advocate. “There is no better way to help yourself, than to look inward.”

Meet JLLA Senior Mohammed Albayati


Mohammed Albayati is a third-year doctoral candidate in the Mechanical Engineering department and recently received a Graduate Certificate in Advanced System Engineering. He is working as a graduate research assistant at the UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering (UTC-IASE). 


Albayati spent his undergraduate years in Iraq at the University of Tikrit. Soon after, he began a career with the North Refineries Company (NRC) as a project engineer. While there, he worked in isomerization unit installation and was part of the boiler installation team. 


After several years with the company, Albayati was offered a scholarship. He came to America in 2013 to pursue his masters at the University of New Haven. While there, he was given the Certificate of Advanced Level in English Language by ELS Language Centers  and was awarded the 2016 Mechanical Engineering Award for Superior Academic Performance.


Once he obtained his masters, Albayati returned to the NRC in Iraq. He found the culture and environment no longer fit his needs, and shortly returned to America. 


In 2019, he enrolled in the University of Connecticut, where he is currently working towards his PhD in mechanical engineering. His research interest is application of System Engineering and Model Model-Based Systems Engineering approaches for product development and Manufacturing.


Albayati stresses the importance of also “developing skills outside the lab.” As a member of JLLA, he says, “it’s about building confidence in yourself, so you can move on to that next stage.”  


Away from the professional and student life, Mohammed enjoys hiking, playing soccer, gardening, and spending time with family and friends. 


Leadership in the Field

The “Leadership in Your Field” workshop was led by Mohammed Albayati and David Etim to examine the aspects of leadership encountered by aspiring graduate engineers in the academic and industrial workplace. 


Hosts divided members into breakout rooms so they could discuss leadership themes and construct a pertinent list of panel questions as a group. The themesmentorship, navigating hierarchy, platforms for leadership, democracy in the workplace and emotional intelligence—were then developed into summary slides for the panelists:


Doug Young, the VP Program Manager and Leadership Developer at Northrop Grumman, Armin Rad, the CEO and co-founder of Encapsulate, Leslie Shor, the Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education, and Dan Burkey, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Diversity.


The first theme explored connections between mentee and mentor-specific skills. Several of these shared core items—listening actively, building trust, encouraging others, and identifying goals—were discussed in greater detail by the panelists. Doug Young described, “at the end of the day, it’s about relationships and developing those connections.” 


Jim Collin’s pyramid of fundamental leadership—the highly capable individual, contributing team member, competent manager, effective leader, and finally, the top executive—embodied the ensuing theme of hierarchy. For reaching the pyramid’s highest level, an individual must be able to develop a company’s greatness through the “paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will,” according to Collins. 


The next theme explored how one can demonstrate leadership aspects in the field through various platforms. This includes leading projects, organizing study groups, or training and mentoring newer team members. 


The theme of democracy in the workplace discussed concepts such as equal opportunities and equal weight to the voices of employees of the same level. 


In the final topic—emotional intelligence—panelists encouraged students to understand, use, and manage their emotions in positive ways to effectively reduce conflict. The four pillars—self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management—allow leaders to develop a more connected and motivated company culture.


Each of these themes can help to guide better business outcomes, enhance morale among employees, and provide more productive teams. Leslie Shor advocates the greatest part of working as a leader to be “getting and giving constant emotional support.”



Meet JLLA Senior I’jaaz Muhammad


I’jaaz Sultaan Muhammad is a second-year doctoral student whose current research constitutes biomedical engineering in pharmacokinetics, specifically as it pertains to drug delivery. 


As someone who has been homeschooled all the way through twelfth grade, Muhammad’s first exposure to public schoolat Health Career Opportunity’s  pre-college engineering programprompted his love of helping and mentoring other people.


He explains, “each of my mentees have gone on to do something significant in their lives; to work at NASA, start their own business, become a university scholar…” He says, “they all do what they want to do, and the thought…that maybe I could have helped them to get there…it’s my greatest reward.” 


Muhammad’s academic record deserves its own kind of appraisal. He knows four languages, and has been a Rowe, LSAMP, McNair, and Bridge to the Doctorate Scholar, as well as an active member of the Student Association of Graduate Engineers, the Graduate Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, and Engineering Ambassadors. 


As an e-board member of John Lof Leadership Academy, Muhammad holds the title of Parliamentarian. Within that role, he interviews graduate students prior to induction, and is responsible for advising and directing members under the organization’s various rules and regulations.


JLLA has assisted the development of his “echo-social skills,” or ability to network. While people are always saying that “network gives you net worth,” they never know where to go from there, and he believes John Lof has helped in “filling that gap,” or connecting a person’s network to their net worth. 


Muhammad’s general advice is to always keep your gratitude. He says, “it can be hard…and that’s why we remind ourselves to be grateful for the little things. That’s how you go to war with depression. Count your blessings, not because they could be easily taken away, but because you are experiencing them now.”

JLLA Hosts Leadership Philosophy Workshop


The “Leadership Philosophy” workshopplanned by Kyle Wayde and led by President Erik Ammermanntook place on Friday, March 26th. 


The aim of this workshop was to broaden members’ perspective of leadership styles and philosophies, so as to advance their sense of the role. They identified not only the responsibilities of a leader, but had the opportunity to develop their own leadership principles as well. 


The seminar was modeled after Family Feud, where each of the members were divided into rooms to participate in a “game show” of timed survey questions. At the end of the allotted time, the full answers were revealed and explained in detail. 


These challengesalthough difficultproved to be informative. While the survey questions ranged widely in scope, the elements of leadership philosophy were greatest by far. Included in this are the following: theory, attitude, guiding principles and behavior.  


Theory is essentially what a person believes, or the values they prioritize. Attitude is a reflection of thoughts and words, the aim of which being to bolster success. Principles are the priorities of a good leader, which should serve as the basis for all decision-making. And based on the preceding core ideas, behavior indicates how one must act in certain situations.

At the end of the game, the highest-scoring team was Mohammed Albayati and Bala Swaminathan.

Meet JLLA Senior Michael Reisert



Michael Reisert is a fourth-year PhD student conducting materials research with an emphasis in electrochemistry and energy systems. He is the VP of John Lof, where he organizes general body and e-board meetings, oversees Mind Garden, and assists with executive responsibilities. 


Currently, his research examines solid oxide electrochemical systems as a means of advancing energy storage, energy conversion and fuel utilization. His focus on dual atmosphere corrosion of stainless steel interconnects assesses the anomalous oxidation of iron and degradation of metallic components in fuel cell systems. Through experimentation, computational studies and simulation analysis, Reisert’s investigation of dual atmosphere corrosion allows us to better understand the role of hydrogen in material degradation within these systems. 


Going forward, Reisert hopes to partition his love of research into an industry-based position. He loves working with clean energy and believes that the hydrogen economy is a viable route for future transitions from fossil fuels. 


As a second-year member of John Lof, Reisert stresses the importance of collaboration as an engineer student: “It’s very lacking in the whole curriculum…working with others, and the ability to develop more advanced leadership skills.” 


In particular, the Academy has improved his ability of articulation, which is one of the more significantyet neglectedaspects of the field. Reisert maintains that this ability makes the information more accessible to everyone, not just engineers. He says, “I want more people to understand what I’m trying to do, and why I’m trying to do it.”   

Meet JLLA Senior Giovanna Fusco


Giovanna Fusco is a second year civil engineering PhD candidate, as well as Public Relations Director of John Lof Leadership Academy. 


Currently, she is working to develop resilience mechanisms for residential buildings under hurricane loads. By calculating the different components of hurricane wear and translating those into a virtual reality model, Fusco can determine which parts of the architecture will fail, and use this information to develop a rounded risk assessment. 


She has also streamlined a user input system, which allows individuals to identify parts of their own building. This allows her to input case-specific information, invariably giving the model analysis greater precision and accuracy. 


This type of work is super applicable given the recent expansion of inclement, tempestuous weather resulting from climate change. Fusco’s experience within the field has advanced her knowledge of coding languages as well as her love of research.


In a deeper reflection of the field, Fusco said, “you don’t even realize it, but civil engineering encompasses things we use every single daylike buildings and transportationso…technically, we can’t get anywhere without it.”


Since joining John Lof almost two years ago, Fusco has developed stronger speaking and presentation skills as a student-researcher. Through the guidance of the Academy, she has truly grown her confidence.  

Meet JLLA Alumni Ayana Ghosh

Ayana Ghosh is a postdoctoral research associate at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While she obtained her PhD this past summer, she continues to apply machine learning (ML) techniques to various materials science challenges in her research. 


During her PhD, Ghosh constructed traditional ML algorithm-based models in order to better understand the crystallization propensity of molecules as well as the electronic and magnetic properties of functional materials, which have direct usage in several pharmaceutical and technological applications. 


At the moment, Ghosh is engaged in developing ML frameworks with applications in automated experiments. This research attempts to bridge theory and computational data with real-life experimental data.  


She hopes to better understand the nuances of experimental research as combined with the particulars of theoretical and simulated data. The implications of this are large and could change our traditional perception of the sciences. 


As an international student (Ghosh grew up in West Bengal), she was considered ineligible for the bulk of fellowships provided, regardless of qualification or skill. Despite these obstacles, she received the John Tanaka Graduate Fellowship from Phi Kappa Phi for academic excellence and community engagement. While it is awarded irrespective of discipline, this scholarship is quantifiably exceptional in itself. 


Aside from several conference presentation and poster awards, Ghosh was also the proud recipient of the Brian D. Proffer Student Excellence Award, the Student Involvement and Leadership (SIL) Emerging, and other Volunteer-Service awards during her undergraduate career at The University of Michigan-Flint. 


In joining John Lof, Ghosh has had the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds as well as learn leadership and mentoring skills significant to any line of work. She finds that the JLLA leadership program has enhanced skills which “enable one to become significant within their field.” 


Identifying Opportunities Workshop – A Huge Success!



JLLA member Albert Tulli hosted and planned the most recent of workshops, “Identifying Opportunities,” which took place virtually on Friday, March 5th. 


The focus of the seminar was to translate realistic problems into possibilities. In preparation, the members were advised to get more involved in volunteer work and to take greater initiative during networking opportunities. 


This guided a greater discussion of “sharing successes.” In this portion of the workshop, students were advised to share their accomplishments even the little ones as much as possible. In sharing our successes with friends and family, we develop positive affirmations for our good work. 


This idea was translated into online profiles and resume-building. Sharing on these platforms can open the door to greater possibility. As Erik Ammermann pointed out, “most potential employers search for a niche set of skills and experiences, so you’ll never know if you have what they’re looking for until you start sharing.” 


Tulli also advised that each member should “make themselves comfortable with being uncomfortable.” While this advice means something different to each individual, it’s important in itself. He continued, “we all need to be clear and honest with ourselves about what we want…if we hold ourselves accountable, we can start to learn from our mistakes, and become better for it.” 


This advice culminated into the later portion of the workshop, where the students were given case studies to solve. Members were divided into breakout rooms and given time to identify the case-specific challenge proposed, in order to then develop strategies and solutions. 


In the final minutes of the meeting, Tulli stressed the idea that, “once we self-evaluate, we can determine and engage opportunities that benefit ourselves.”