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.
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.
JLLA’s first meeting of the academic year; Photo by Mikayla Moody
The University of Connecticut’s John Lof Leadership Academy has inducted sixteen new members into its third cohort of scholars. Over the next two years, they will develop their leadership and professional skills with an individualized curriculum.
Through a “for us, by us” philosophy, John Lof Scholars aim to develop themselves through focused training, specialized workshops, and active learning through outreach and enterprise on and off the UConn campus.
New Scholars had the opportunity to network with their fellow members at their first General Body Meeting, where they also learned more about incentives and growth opportunities within the academy.
The curriculum is commencing with student-led workshops on Leadership Values, Identifying the Individual Leader and Strengths and Values. Since last Spring, JLLA has been quantifying the effectiveness of the curriculum through a leadership evaluation tool.
Mind Garden’smultifactor leadership questionnaire(MLQ), provides a holistic assessment of individual leadership through assessments. This tool will help scholars create individualized action plans to achieve transformational leaders and quantify the success of the group’scurriculum.
The John Lof Leadership Academy will be led by an elected student council, and aims to:
Develop leadership and professional skills
Organize and facilitate social, academic, and professional activities that help Academy members develop these skills
Promote and support the academic and future professional success of graduate students in SoE; and
Engage communities inside and outside the School to promote, and provide mentoring and support where appropriate
New members are currently being inducted and must complete an application. Applications are reviewed by a committee and John Lof Leadership Academy advisors. Please click HERE for more information regarding the application process.
Mikayla Moody: Hi there, my name is Mikayla Moody, and I am a second year PhD student in biomedical engineering.
Randi Mendes:Hi, my name is Randi Mendes and I’m PhD student in Environmental Engineering. I was a part of the 2018 through 2020 cohort, where I was president. And I’m also founder of JLLA Leadership Academy.
Pierre Dens Fils: Hello, my name is Pierre Dens Fils, and I’m a rising 3rd year PhD student in the Civil Engineering Department, with a concentration in structural engineering.
Donyeil Hoy Jr.: My name is Donyeil Hoy Jr. I am a sixth year PhD candidate in the biomedical engineering department.
Gigi Fusco : Hi, my name is Gigi Fusco and I’m going into my second year as a PhD student and civil engineering. Hello, my name is Mohammed and I am a PhD student studying biomedical engineering.
Mohammed Albayati: Hello, my name is Mohammed Albayati and I’m sitting your PhD candidate mechanical engineering.
Erik Ammermann: Hi, my name is Erik Ammerman and this Fall 2020 semester I’ll be a second year PhD student in Chemical and Bimolecular Engineering
Mohammed Albayati: I believe that graduate school is not only about publishing papers or getting a high GPA. Before joining JLLA. It was important opportunity to develop my leadership skills, and thank you JLLA for giving me this opportunity.
Pierre: I decided to join John Lof because I’m interested in creating positive long lasting change in and around my community.
I’jaaz Muhammad: It also gave me the experience to actually practice, what is being taught in the academy. It gave me experience with leadership and critiques, and improved my leadership.
Randi Mendes: One of the reasons why I was so interested in creating John Lof Leadership Academy was because I wanted to allow forum for students to be able to develop leadership in the way that they wanted to be leaders. I didn’t want it to be a cookie cutter process, where we all had to look identical in order to be considered true leaders. I wanted to be able to allow each person to grow as an individual. And so, it was really important to me to continue that basis with the development of John Lof Leadership Academy and because of that I’ve been able to work with some amazing leaders in the field of engineering as well as learn a lot from them.
Erik Ammermann: So I initially join the John Lof Leadership Academy thinking it would be good to show leadership on my resume. I very quickly realized this organization is a lot more than that. Not only do I feel like I am actually developing real, tangible leadership skills through the different workshops throughout the year, but I am getting to do that with prominent members from the school of engineering- all the way up to the dean himself. As well as some of the best student leaders UConn has to offer.
Tori Danis: Being in John Lof this past year I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this group of students across UConn and collaborating with each other to develop our individual leadership styles, we engage in discussions and workshops to hear different perspectives on problems that we face as mentors such as needing to resolve conflict and inspire change in our community
Donyeil Hoy Jr.: It was an experience for me, particularly because I was able to learn how to put my own leadership style into words, as well as to apply my leadership style in different categories and learning techniques. However, the most meaningful experiences for me have actually come more recently, given the current climate of our society with Black Lives Matter and Xenophobic policies of the current governmental administration, as well as dealing with a global pandemic. I’ve got to see a lot of my peer leaders step up in many unique ways in order to challenge the systems that are affecting a lot of us at this current moment. And I got to participate in a lot of things as well, that have allowed me to put a lot of strategies up learn directly into use. Given the unfortunate circumstances.
Gigi Fusco: The most valuable thing that I’ve learned in JLLA so far is voicing my opinion for a really long time I was very quiet, and generally has really helped me realize that it’s important to speak up, and it’s given me the confidence to be able to do so.
And something that I’m looking forward to my second year is working on public speaking, because that’s something that I have a long way to go in and I really need to work on.
Mikayla Moody: Sometimes I feel like I have a hard time being myself when I have to give any sort of presentation, but one of the guests that were there, one of the people that were there to help us improve our public speaking, told us that you have to learn how to be yourself when your public speaking because it’ll make it more natural and it won’t make it as hard when you have to do it, and I’ve taken that to heart. From here on out, being more honest about myself in being more open, when I’m feeling nervous and how I want to say things, so that’s been very helpful. The JLLA experience has definitely been valuable to me and I’m excited for the opportunities that will come in this next year.
An integral aspect of the John Lof Scholars curriculum is creating culturally competent visionaries by means of “engaging communities inside and outside the School to promote, and provide mentoring and support where appropriate.”
This mission is executed in a “for us, by us” philosophy, in which John Lof Scholars develop through focused training, specialized workshops, and active learning through outreach and enterprise on and off the UConn campus.
In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, all members were invited to learn about the Black American experience by engaging with books, podcasts, and documentaries. A compilation of resources was also created for everyone to engage with at their own pace.
“Within JLLA, we have always worked towards creating a space of honest and open communication where our members can come together to learn, fail, and grow,” said JLLA President Randi Mendes. “This poses a unique opportunity to learn from one another and have these hard but necessary conversations.”
The first meeting was an open forum with guided questions on the first episode of “1619,” a New York Times audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones.
“It is important that us white people do our part to learn about our fellow peers’ experience,” Anna Marie LaChance says . “This is their life and history, education is the only way to assure we don’t reproduce the same problems. Holding ourselves accountable is a life-long commitment- we are only just beginning.”
JLLA Vice President Stephany Santos emphasized that “we must work together to create a new normal that is forward.”
By Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering
At the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester, JLLA invested in Mind Garden’s leadership evaluation tool to quantify the success of the group’scurriculum. On Tuesday, May 26, members received their individual results and decided on leadership development plans moving forward.
Vice President Stephany Santos explained that “This [program] is to determine where we, as individuals, are. Then we can decide where we want to be and decide how to get there.”
The program, Mind Garden’smultifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ), provides a holistic assessment of individual leadership by comparing self-assessment to assessment by: higher level, lower level and same level peers. Comparing each of these evaluations will create individualized action plans to achieve transformational leaders.
JLLA has cultivated leaders with various personalities and leadership styles and values diversity in leaders. The program will further adapt to individual needs by creating “focus groups” based on specific skills that members would like to improve.
“A lot of us joined JLLA to be proactive in our development, which is why I think our results indicate that the majority of us don’t wait till something is going wrong till we fix it,” said JLLA President Randi Mendes.
Members will continue to evaluate their growth in following semesters to measure the success of the leadership curriculum and confirm the effectiveness of the program. To apply to JLLA, apply here.
After nearly 10 years at the University of Connecticut, as an undergraduate and a graduate student, Santos has made her mark, especially in the EDOC, where she helped found Engineering Ambassadors as an undergrad–a group of hundreds of students, who help run prospective student tours, have outreach programs in local schools, and much more.
We recently sat down with Santos, and asked her about her time here, her plans for the future, and her reflections on landing her dream jobs.
What will be your new title, and what responsibilities come with this new job?
I will be an assistant professor-in-residence in Biomedical Engineering, and the associate director of the Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center (EDOC). In these roles, I am excited to impact students on personal and professional levels. I will be teaching several courses, including ENGR 1166 – Foundations in Engineering, and co-teaching ENGR 1000 – Orientation to Engineering. These courses in particular deeply excite me because of how critical students’ first years are in developing a positive and robust STEM/Engineering Identity, strong and empathetic team and communication skills, and effective planning and metacognitive understanding.
As the Associate Director, I will be co-advising many of the student organizations (such as NSBE undergraduate and graduate chapters, SHPE, SWE, and EA), and developing and teaching curriculum focused on emotionally intelligent and culturally-conscious team and leadership skills. Additionally, I will help Kevin McLaughlin and Velda Alfred Abney develop workshops and programming that serve and uplift the greater SOE community, and underrepresented students in STEM. I will continue supporting EDOC Summer programs such as BRIDGE, Explore Engineering and SPARK. Lastly, I will be conducting research in the engineering education realm to further understand our students, their communities and environment, and the impact players in this ecosystem have on each other. I’ll be seeking grants and collaborations to support this important work.
You’ve been at UConn for nearly a decade between undergrad and graduate school. How does it feel to land a job here?
It still feels like I’m in a dream. I remember in elementary school I was tall for my age, so I grew up playing and loving basketball. I looked up to the great Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Swin Cash, and dreamed of playing basketball for UConn. Unfortunately, I stopped growing in 5th grade, and didn’t have much of a chance playing power forward at this powerhouse institution. But still, UConn became my home. Fast forward to now, to be honest, I cried when I received my offer letter from UConn. Never have I felt so wanted, supported and uplifted, and I truly thank Dean Kazem Kazerounian and Dean Dan Burkey for not only putting their names in the ring when I entered the academic job market, but for creating this incredible opportunity to be able to stay.
Let’s go back to your experience here when you were an undergrad. What were some of the most defining moments during that time, and how do you want to translate those experiences to your new post in EDOC?
There are two events that I’ll bring to the table here:
(1) I remember it was 3 a.m. on a Wednesday sophomore year. We just ordered D.P. Dough and it was set to arrive in 30 minutes. I was hangry. We had been working through a problem set since 8 PM, and I was emotionally done. I was stuck, we were getting nowhere, and I was questioning why I chose engineering. The people I was studying with were some other students that participated in the BRIDGE program at the same time I did, or as I call them, some of my BRIDGE family. We had a quick vent session, picked up each other’s pieces, and promised each other that this too shall pass, and we needed to push through. If not for us, but for the culture.
(2) I visited a middle school at the end of sophomore year with a hands-on activity and a story about how engineers help change the world. I vividly remember one girl, who came up to me after my presentation and said “Miss, so you’re an engineer?” I nodded. She said “I want to be an engineer just like you.”
These two hallmarks showed me the importance of community and the importance of role models. Community gets us through our darkest hour, and outshines our brightest moments. Through EDOC, I hope to continue to create opportunities for students to build community and find their families away from home. Many of our students are first generation, are ‘the only’ in their classes, or may not have many other mentors or support systems. I also hope to continue EDOC’s mission of letting everyone know they are role models, and mentor up and mentor down. Every individual can have an impact on another person; you never know whose life you can change.
What makes EDOC such a unique and crucial piece to the School of Engineering?
UConn has one of a handful of Diversity, Outreach, or Inclusion Centers dedicated to a School/College of Engineering in the country. When you look at what we’ve done over the past decade, and what Kevin has done since 2004, we have had a tremendous impact on students through our ever-growing programming. One of the things that makes us unique is how much trust, power, and autonomy we give students. There are not many other universities that would let undergraduate students be fully in charge of nearly every detail for an event that serves hundreds of children and their families in the community. Or, voice their ideas for a brand new large scale event (i.e. Sisters in STEM), and provide support and funding to bring it into fruition. We provide so many opportunities for students to learn different skills and grow, such as through serving as a Pre-Engineering Program (PEP) teacher where you learn to actually develop classroom curriculum, to working in the office where you learn everything from making a Pivot Table in Excel, to maintaining a website. We also provide a suite of courses, such as ENGR 3025 – Engineering for Impact, which is catered to their leadership needs and goals, and ENGR 3020, which is Confidence and Communication Skills. I’m so proud of what EDOC is, and what it will continue to grow to be as we expand programming to reach and support even more students.
You were one of the founders of Engineering Ambassadors here. How have you seen that group grow, and what do you see as the future of that organization now that you’ll be focused on them and other programs administered by EDOC?
I went back through my emails recently, and found that our very first EA meeting was September 2, 2010. It is wild to see we are approaching our 10th birthday. In the beginning there were a handful of us that were dedicated to the mission (shout out to Danica Chin [Plaskolite], Kayla Johnson [Pratt & Whitney], Dan Jaramillo [Pratt & Whitney], Nick Clements [Hexcel], Cara Redding [Pratt & Whitney], Josh Leveillee [Univ. Illinois, Urbana-Champaign] Dave Golfin [Pratt & Whitney], Alex Brittain [Global Foundries], Kim Sayre [US Government], Kim Reindl [Collins Aerospace], and many others) , now we have over 200 students who are in new branches called Presentation Team (which primarily focuses on off-campus interactions with middle school students), Tour Guides (which primarily focuses on on-campus, personalized experiences with high school students and their families), and Greater Body (which supports on-campus activities, and programming such as STEM Night at the CT Science Center, and Engineers Week at the Storrs Campus). We’ve recently even initiated expanding Engineering Ambassadors, or STEM Ambassadors at the Stamford and Avery Point campuses to better serve and reach CT schools in those areas.
Looking forward, I am excited to collaborate more with PK-12 teachers, the Neag School of Education, and CETL to create an ecosystem of teaching, learning and mentoring. We’d love to be able to train ambassadors to understand Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) so that we can work with educators to better design activities, presentations and conversations around what kids are currently learning in school. We’d also love to provide a community of practice for PK-12 teachers around the state so that teachers feel appreciated and supported, and know how they can support and help their students go to college, and become future STEM studiers and STEMinists.
Why do you think you’ve stayed at UConn so long? What is it about this University and School that makes you so invested?
When I needed someone to turn to, there were people that not only answered my questions, but took me under their wing to help me to fly. There are amazing, selfless individuals such as Aida Ghiaei and Kevin McLaughlin who invest their entire souls for students to stand up and shine. Everyone deserves that mentor and advocate, and I’d like to stand alongside them to be that person for others. At UConn, you’re not a number, and if you volunteer your time to help, UConn will always have your back and reward you. I had no issues finding funding for my Masters or my PhD because of the support at UConn, and even now, seeing that the UConn School of Engineering still hired me in the middle of a pandemic while other universities are furloughing their staff, rescinding offers, and freezing hiring, shows UConn’s values and commitment to me, and to others they care about.
Of course UConn has areas for growth, particularly in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, but I see avenues for change that I can be a part of, and I can’t say that about everywhere else. I’m excited by the leadership of Dean Kazerounian and Dean Burkey, and their investment in programs and courses I’ve helped pitch such as the John Lof Leadership Academy for Graduate Students, or the BOSS LADI (Building our Sister’s Strength – Leveraging Adversity, Diversity, and Intellect) class for underrepresented women in STEM. UConn loves, and UConn loves hard.
Has it always been your dream to be a professor and mentor to engineering students who are underrepresented minorities? Why? What was your inspiration?
As an undergrad, after a few years of volunteering for events like Multiply Your Options (MYO) and for NSBE and EA, I realized I loved teaching. Senior year, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, so I applied for Graduate School, Teach for America, and positions in industry. I was accepted to Teach for America, and was set to be a science teacher in Newark, NJ. Shortly after, I was accepted to be an EAGLES Fellow, which was a dual degree M.S. program in Italy and at UConn. I was incredibly torn, because I was excited to teach the kids, but I was also thrilled to be accepted to get an M.S. in Italy. I turned to then Dean Mun Choi who gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, “The more you learn, the more you can teach others.” That advice kicked off my graduate school career, as well as fueled my interests in engineering education. Now, as I’ve been sharing my career plans with some of my current undergraduate mentees, I saw their eyes light up when I say I wanted to be a professor. Many expressed excitement to have a professor “like me,” which can mean a lot of things from identity (Afro-Latina, child of immigrants), to one deeply invested in individual success and well-being. I love using #ILookLikeAnEngineer or #ILookLikeAProfessor because I am breaking stigmas and stereotypes that exist in these domains, and showing students they can be one too.
Now that you’ve landed your dream job, what do you hope to accomplish here at the School of Engineering?
Many of my aims come from a coalition of alumni who care (some I listed before), my mentees, and my mentors. I touched on many of my aims throughout this interview, but to summarize:
Collaborate with Dean Burkey, Dean Leslie Shor, Dean Kazerounian and others to include teamwork and communication skills in undergraduate and graduate courses to minimize incidents such as microaggressions, and maximize belongingness, effectiveness, and productivity.
Use evidence-based research to both assess and improve our current diversity, equity, inclusion and outreach efforts.
Coordinate with other talented folx at EDOC (shout out to Esther Chang) to develop a suite of workshops, programs, courses, and trainings that uplift, inspire, and push forward individuals spanning the gamut of PK-12 students, PK-12 teachers and guidance counselors, undergraduates, graduates, staff, and faculty.
Many people say they want life to return back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19. I’ve seen others say ‘normal’ is not an option, because it includes systemic inequities in our health care, in our education, and in our access to basic needs. I agree, ‘normal’ is not an option, only forward, where empathy, communication, and progress are at the core of all we are, and all we do.
By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering
JLLA member Leila Daneshmandi has been selected as a 2020 Finalist in the Collegian Innovation and Leadership category for the 16th annual Women of Innovation (WOI) program.
The WOI committee recognizes women innovators, role models and leaders in STEM fields- science, technology, engineering and math. The women nominated have also made advances and promote equitability, diversity and inclusivity in the STEM arena.
As a Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate, her accomplishments have been recognized by a panel of judges from over 150 nominations. The recipient of the Collegian Innovation and Leadership award must demonstrate inventiveness or creativity within the STEM field.
Daneshmandi’s leadership and ingenuity is demonstrated by her status as a Co-Founder and COO of Encapsulate LLC. Her company personalizes cancer therapy by growing cancerous cells outside the patient’s body to evaluate the body’s response to various chemotherapy drugs prior to treatment.
Encapsulate has previously been recognized by the prestigious 2019 International Space Station U.S. Laboratory and Boeing “Technology in Space” Prize, awarding Daneshmandi’s company and one other company $500,000 and the opportunity to conduct research projects onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
By: Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, UConn School of Engineering
John Lof Leadership Academy is getting a new tool- and it will serve to boost the leadership strength of an already gifted group.
The program, Mind Garden’s multifactor leadership questionnaire(MLQ), provides a holistic assessment of individual leadership by comparing self-assessment to assessment by: higher level, lower level and same level peers. Comparing each of these evaluations will create individualized action plans to achieve transformational leaders.
“This resource is a validated research instrument, and it’s important for [JLLA] to use tools that are recognized as accurate and effective. If someone rates themself lower than their peers, that is something we can address and improve upon,” said Vice President Stephany Santos, who investigated and introduced the new software to JLLA members.
Investing in the enhancement of the members will ensure the effectiveness of JLLA’s curriculumand guarantee that the members get the most out of the two-year leadership tenure. This tool will identify how individuals view their leadership in relation to others and assist in mitigating that disconnect and promoting further growth.
“It is exciting to be able to measure the impact of our organization and quantify those initiatives,” said Santos.
JLLA President- Randi Mendes- stated the salience of accessing a personalized evaluation, so JLLA can cater to the needs of each member and promote the overall success of the program.
“Getting [feedback] from different perspectives is especially helpful if someone learns they have a strength in something they did not previously realize. It is important for [JLLA members] to have this tool, because nobody can improve on their skills without a way to gauge where they are at,” said Mendes.
The MLQ “Helps emphasize that leaders are, at the end of the day, individuals. So, we want to be sure our program is going to accentuate each individuals’ leadership abilities,” said Mendes.
Members have a diverse set of leadership capabilities, and thus require a program that can be adapted to those needs. JLLA will be reevaluating their growth throughout the semester to measure the success of the leadership curriculum and confirm the effectiveness of the program.
For more information about JLLA, you can visit their website.
The John Lof Leadership Academy (JLLA) inducted its most recent class on November 7th, 2019 during a formal ceremony held at the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) lobby. The new class includes 15 graduate students from Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. The inductees were chosen via a rigorous application process that examined not only their impressive academic standing and achievements but also their past experiences and commitment towards engaging with different communities.
The dean of the School of Engineering Kazem Kazerounian, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education Leslie Shor, and Director of Graduate Outreach and Diversity Aida Ghiaei were among the School of Engineering leadership who attended the induction ceremony. Kazerounian, Shor, and Ghiaei in their respective remarks iterated the uniqueness of the JLLA not only at UConn but in the United States. Ghiaei, who also serves as an adviser to the JLLA executive board also informed the attendees of the different initiatives introduced by the JLLA during the past year. The new inductees were presented with induction certificates as mementos to remember the occasion. The two newly elected executive board members were announced and introduced with the rest of the group as well.
The following students were inducted into JLLA this semester:
1. Ayana Ghosh, Materials Science & Engineering
2. Douglas Hendrix, Materials Science & Engineering
3. Erik Ammermann, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
4. Haarith Vohra, Computer Science, and Engineering