Meet JLLA Senior Allison Surian

September 20, 2021


Allison Surian is a second-year Biomedical Engineering Masters Candidate specializing in nanomedicine. 


She obtained her Bachelors in Biology and Chemistry at Roger Williams University, while minoring in Mathematics. At that time, she worked in the Aquatic Diagnostic Lab, where she developed a new assay for detecting a parasite in oysters. 


Surian also has experience as a vet technician at the New England Equine Practice, where she was surprised to learn how vast the discrepancies are between medicine involvement in humans and animals. She hopes to someday work within veterinary pharmaceuticals to combat this. 


Surian’s current research aims to treat diseases like cancer and osteoarthritis through a specialized form of gene delivery. She is working to develop a vehicle which would efficiently deliver drugs to tissues with little vasculature. 


This vehicle should penetrate spheroids of cancer cells, delivering chemotherapeutic drugs directly to cancerous tissue. In this way, healthy cells would remain virtually unaffected, mitigating the harsh side effects of cancer treatment. 


In other words, the broad range of Surian’s research involves gene delivery within hard-to-reach tissue. We call the vehicle behind it all “Janus Base Nanotubes.” 


As Public Relations Director on John Lof’s E-board, Surian has had the opportunity to connect with many different people from a diverse set of backgrounds. 


She recently chaired the Teamwork workshop, where she led all “different types of people, with different schedules and priorities.” When reflecting on this, she remarked, “it was so exciting to see it come to fruition.”



The Last Summer Workshop: Teamwork

August 10, 2021


On Wednesday August 4, 2021, John Lof hosted its last official summer workshop, “Teamwork.” 


Led by Allison Surian and Utsav Awasthi, this workshop aimed to identify the skills required for a functional, cohesive group of working individuals. They identified teamwork as “the process of working collaboratively, to build a feeling of oneness.”


The opening icebreaker had members introducing their research “to a martian.” The goal of this exercise was to promote thorough and careful communication, so that students may be able to break apart complicated material, and create something more digestible to team members. 


The next activity brought visual communication to the forefront through a virtual game of pictionary. An artist was chosen to draw each round, while teammates had sixty seconds to correctly identify the image at hand. Without words or gestures, this activity promoted communication through an entirely singular medium. 


The last activity of the evening, trivia, required that members work as teams in order to answer riddles and engineering-based questions. This encouraged students to share their ideas and knowledge for a more rounded and dependable answer. 


This workshop placed great emphasis on collaboration through accountability, communication and commitment. It showed teamwork to be an effective part of leadership, and that constructive leaders must be able to work with their team.


Members responsible for putting this event together include Albert Tulli IV, Bala Swaminathan, David Etim, Devin McConnell, Tasneem Ahmadullah, Allison Surian and Utsav Awasthi.



Nuances of Being A Leader Workshop Recap

July 22, 2021


The Academy’s most recent workshop, “Nuances of Being a Leader,” took place on Wednesday, July 7th. 


This event was curated to openly discuss and understand the subtleties of leadership which are often overlooked or given little consideration to when developing skills. 


The seminar was designed to involve more interpersonal scenarios and outside-of-the-box thinking that wouldn’t be considered inherently “obvious.” 


As a result, the five key talking points included: Following, Speaking Skills, Inspiring Self-Motivation, Listening and The Impact of Failure and Success. 


These points were identified through a range of activities, which involved Charades, a ‘Codeword’ exercise, Role-Playing and Taboo. 

The interactive portion of the meeting bred four important takeaways all leaders should know: 1. When to Take a Step Back, 2. How to Communicate One-on-One, 3. How to Listen, and 4. How to Effectively Pass on Skills.  

Members responsible for putting this event together are Michael Reisert, Tori Danis, Pierre Fils, Uche Anene, I’jazz Muhammad, Sanyukta Patil, Mohamadreza Arab Baferani, Dana Hamed, Kyle Wade, Haarith Vohra, and Ibtihal Alahmadi.

Some Important Announcements from the 6/16 General Body Meeting

July 7, 2021


Major updates were announced at the most recent General Body Meeting, which took place virtually on Wednesday, June 16th.


It opened with the introduction of new E-Board members for 2022. The titleholders are as follows: 


Albert Tulli IV President, Bala Swaminathan Vice President, Allison Surian Public Relations Director, Utsav Awasthi Finance Director, Tasneem Ahmaddullah Activities Director, David Etim Parliamentarian, Devin McConnell Social Media Director.  


The next portion of the meeting gave focus to upcoming summer workshops. These seminars are student-led, meaning that contributors must design the event from start to finish. 


In preparing for this, students must submit a thorough proposal, which includes an agenda, interactive portion, speakers, resources and takeaways.


The workshops are to include: Nuances of being a Leader on July 7th, Cultural Competency on July 21st, and Teamwork on August 4th.

Meet JLLA Senior Uchenna Anene

May 27, 2021


Uchenna Anene is a final-year PhD candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Her background is multidisciplinary, with an added focus in Chemistry, Biology and Materials Science. 


Her current research uses computational methods based on quantum mechanics and machine learning to model different material properties at the atomic level, such as adsorption and adhesion. These are used to guide and accelerate the design and development of new materials. 


Such facilitates design strategies of metal-organic framework STAM-17-OEt for gas adsorption, as well as an understanding of the properties needed for strong epoxy-copper adhesion to prevent delamination on electronic devices.


Ultimately, Anene’s research implements computational studies to guide new scientific discoveries that improve our health and the way we live.


Outside of research, Anene is active in several communities, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), NOBCChE, Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center (EDOC), and the Learning Community Innovation Zone (LCIZ) Makerspace. The latter provides hands-on learning that assists in creative ideas, problem-solving and prototyping. 


As a LCIZ Makerspace Fellow, Anene works with the undergraduate Maker Specialists to develop workshops that include soap making, laser cutting, sewing, constructing heat pads, masks, and wiring electronics. She enjoys working with undergraduates to “bring them into the space,” and “get them excited about being curious.”


She co-chaired the LCIZ 2021 Women in Making: Global Making Forum, which highlighted the successes and challenges of the Women Maker movement. The forum identified barriers and discussed best practices through an array of panel discussion and skill-building workshops.


She co-developed a seminar for the 2021 Women’s Advance Conference that touched upon the same topics.


Anene has also had a hand in the development and instruction of a course for underrepresented women in STEM, ‘BOSS LADI.’ This acronym is short for ‘Building Our Sistas’ Strength, Leveraging Adversity, Diversity and Intellect.’ 


The course aims to increase retention and ensure the overall success of UConn’s female STEM students by providing the tools necessary to help them develop positive STEM identities, excel as student-leaders and transition to graduate school.


Anene enjoys participating in projects designed to implement positive change and increase awareness of the barriers faced by women. In engaging the UConn community with guest speakers and panel discussions, Anene has helped to provide strategies that overcome these barriers.


Throughout the course of her academic career, Anene has been the recipient of several accolades. One of the more memorable, however, is the George Sideris Student Travel Award that she received during her master’s program at Long Island University to attend the ACS national conference.


This allowed her the opportunity to interact with other scientists from various backgrounds, and gave her the confidence to start applying to PhD programs. 


Last summer, Anene completed an internship with the pharma company Merck, where she utilized computational modeling to determine drug candidates for COVID-19. This computational background blends nicely into Anene’s most recent internship opportunity with Genentech, which applies similar tools to build drug metabolism and pharmacokinetic models. 


As a second-year member of John Lof, Anene has developed greatly as a student-researcher. She maintains that the Academy has helped her to “gather the resources necessary to grow and empower.” She says, “I know how to be effective in whatever I do.”


Meet JLLA Senior Mikayla Moody

May 19, 2021



Mikayla Moody is a third year PhD student at the University of Connecticut, where she currently engages with biomaterials in the field of biomedical engineering. 


Throughout her academic career, Moody has been the recipient of countless awards, fellowships and stipends. There’s a lot to be proud of. But some of these most memorable moments were never saved on paper. 


At her undergraduate graduation, Moody was selected by classmates to deliver a speech during the ceremony, and was later awarded ‘Most Distinguished Senior’ in the department of Materials Science and Engineering.


She describes of this experience, “It was a shock. I realized that I was capable of doing things I’d never thought possible before…and that maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit for all the work I’d done.” 


And work she does. Moody’s current research focus aims to understand how acidosis affects bones structurally and mechanically. This ‘secondary disease’ has been glossed over for some time now, despite its wide-reaching effect.


As a result, she has put together a treatment study of her own creation. By this, Moody plans to analyze the effectiveness of current treatment plans in increasing bone strength. Meaning, she hopes to quantify the effect of bicarbonate on our bones. 


In the future, Moody plans to enter into science policy and communications. She hopes to engage more with politicians and the general public, so as to “create more science-based decisions, and inform on public and climate health decisions.” 


“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, which I want to help with.” Moody’s experience in the lab translates to hospitals and other medical facilities, which can then be communicated to the public, allowing for a safer, stronger future. 


That being said, she didn’t always see herself working in public communication. John Lof strengthened her skills as a leader, helping Moody to make great connections and network with a variety of people and groups.


Now she’s John Lof’s first Social Media Director, where she spends a great deal of time raising awareness of the program, all while connecting with the community. 


She aims to make the Academy visible to communities outside of UConn, in hopes that other universities will develop similar programs for graduate engineers. 


JLLA Pep Rally Re-Cap

May 13, 2021



On Friday, April 30, President Erik Ammermann hosted the Academy’s virtual Pep Rally event. This meeting altogether featured seven parts; from an alumni powerpoint to the workshop lineup.


The first part of the meeting featured three alumni; Dr. Stephanie Santos, Dr. Randi Mendes and Anna Marie LaChance. These women shared their experiences in the Academy, while emphasizing the extensive leadership opportunities. 


Each prepared a set of informational background slides, describing their work, skills, interests and volunteer experiences. They also spent some time discussing the value of developing leadership skills. 


Dr. Mendes describes, “Without culturally competent visionaries that are able to communicate, collaborate, and create, there would be no progress in society.” 


She continues, “What the Academy strives to do…is to inform and inspire these next-generation leaders in academia, industry, and beyond.”


The later portion of the meeting explored the direction of upcoming workshop seminars, which are unofficially set to take place between late May and the end of July.


This preview included the following event titles: Teamwork, Nuances of Being a Leader, and Cultural Competency. The overall theme of these is leadership through adversity, with a focus on diverse backgrounds.


Meet JLLA Senior Sudipta Chowdhury

May 11, 2021


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

April 30, 2021


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

April 22, 2021


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.