2019 Distinguished Engineering Alumni Recipients

Each year, the UC Davis College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni whose professional and personal achievements bring special honor to the College. This year, the College is pleased to name Kimberly Budil, Dennis Discher, Deborah Frincke, Michael Hurlston, Robert Kiss, John Maroney and Shelten Yuen as the 2019 Distinguished Engineering Alumni Medal (DEAM) recipients. This award is the highest recognition presented by the College to alumni.

The seven alumni will be honored at the College of Engineering’s Alumni Celebration on November 22, 2019 at UC Davis. All UC Davis Engineering alumni along with their families and friends are invited to attend the event to honor the distinguished alumni. The evening will include a cocktail reception and dinner, as well as opportunities to reconnect with faculty and alumni. Purchase tickets to Alumni Celebration here.

Headshot Kimberly BudilKimberly Budil
Principal Associate Director, Lawrence Livermore National Lab
Applied Science M.S. ’88, Ph.D. ’94

Kim Budil received her B.S. in physics from University of Illinois Chicago in 1987, her M.S. in applied science from UC Davis in 1988, and her Ph.D. in applied science from UC Davis in 1994. She has held positions at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), the UC Office of the President and the US Department of Energy. Today, Budil leads LLNL’s nuclear weapons program. She is responsible for ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent and is responsible for stewarding the science, technology, and engineering capabilities that underpin science based nuclear stockpile stewardship.  Also at LLNL, Budil founded the nuclear counterterrorism program. She managed an organization with a portfolio of $80 million and 300 staff that supported an ambitious agenda for nuclear threat reduction. Something she learned from UC Davis that has been useful to her is to trust her skills and knowledge and to not get too wrapped up in what other people’s capabilities might be. “Because of my UC Davis education, I gained the perseverance to keep going when things look bleak and understand the benefits of immersing yourself in an environment with people who are excellent, and often more skilled that you,” said Budil.

Headshot Dennis DischerDennis Discher
Professor, University of Pennsylvania
B.S. Mechanical Engineering ’86

Dennis Discher earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering at UC Davis in 1986, his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco in 1993 and his postdoc from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in 1996. Discher is currently the Robert D. Bent chaired Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the School of Engineering and Applied Science: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics and Bioengineering. He serves on the Board of Reviewing Editors for Science and currently oversees the National Institute of Health (NIH) research grant funds. He has authored over 200 peer reviewed journal papers and book chapters. His research efforts in the nano/bio realm range from stem cell-matrix interactions and high-accuracy proteomics to polymer-based nano-delivery of drugs. When asked what advice he would give to current engineering students or young alumni he said, “A corollary to being adventurous is ‘be different’ from your peers in the courses you take and things you do for fun.”

Headshot Deborah FrinckeDeborah Frincke
Director of Research, National Security Agency
Computer Science B.S. ’85, M.S. ’89, Ph.D. ’92

Deborah Frincke earned her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science at UC Davis.  She is currently the Director of Research for the National Security Agency (NSA) and was the first permanent female NSA Research Director. She oversees in-house and externally funded NSA research to support our nation’s need for dominance in information assurance. Many of Frincke’s projects are classified, but her research focus is broad, covering many topics that primarily involve computer security in addition to artificial intelligence, machine learning, computational neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, and human-computer interface among others. “Modern leadership in technology requires a holistic approach and UC Davis did a fantastic job in offering me a broad enough (and deep enough) curriculum to help me along the way,” said Frincke. Her advice to young alumni or current engineering students is to embrace the diversity of the world and people around you. “Your greatest impact may be in a field that has not yet been invented, to fill a need that is not yet understood. Learn what you can and share generously, yet not naively; remember that whatever you do carries impact and let that embolden you; embrace the diversity of the world (and the people) around you.”

Headshot Michael HurstonMichael Hurlston
President and CEO, Synaptics
Electrical Engineering B.S. ’88, M.B.A. ’90, M.S. ’91

Mike Hurlston received his B.S and M.S. in electrical engineering at UC Davis in addition to a M.B.A from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM). He has had a successful career as an electrical engineer and as a business leader. Hurlston is currently the CEO of Synaptics, the leading developer of human interface solutions, bringing innovative and intuitive user experiences to intelligent devices. Since graduating, Hurlston continues to be involved with UC Davis both philanthropically and by volunteering with the two colleges he spent his time in. He is currently a member of the GSM’s Dean’s Advisory Council and a member of the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Executive Committee, which works closely with staff and faculty to assist the College through advocacy, prospective donor identification and cultivation, and personal philanthropy. Something useful that he learned at UC Davis was how to work together as a team. “The engineering problem sets were always very difficult and without collaborating, they would be either too time consuming or impossible to answer. Collaboration was the only way to stay sane and it turns out that is the way industry works as well!” said Hurlston.

Headshot Robert KissRobert Kiss
VP, Sutro Biopharma
B.S. Chemical Engineering ’84

Robert (Bob) Kiss graduated with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1984 from UC Davis and received both his M.S. and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 1987 and 1991 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently VP at Sutro Biopharma, a company that is working to commercialize a new technology for biotherapeutics manufacturing based on cell-free protein synthesis.  Although he has been in industry throughout his career, he has published over 22 journal publications, two book chapters, and one granted patent, sharing his extensive knowledge and experience in bioprocess development, biologics manufacturing and technology transfer with the engineering community. He was also elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in February as one of the academy’s 86 new members. Kiss felt better prepared than other students when he started graduate school and is thankful for his undergraduate experience. “The UC Davis College of Engineering is an amazing school, and part of an amazing UC Davis campus and experience. It wasn’t until years later, of course, that I realized this, but I say it to anyone who will listen!” said Kiss.

Headshot John MaroneyJohn Maroney
CEO, Alessa Therapeutics Inc.
B.S. Mechanical Engineering ’75

John Maroney graduated from UC Davis with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1975. Currently, he is the CEO of Alessa Therapeutics, a pre-clinical stage company developing implantable drug delivery systems focused on sustained delivery of drugs to solid organ tumors. Arising from the work done in Dr. Pamela Munster’s labs at UC San Francisco, Alessa’s initial focus is on breast and prostate cancer. Maroney has held several leadership positions over his career and has been on a number of boards. Since graduating, he has remained involved with the College of Engineering in various ways. He served on a strategic leadership board, delivered a keynote speech for the opening of the Engineering Inventors display in Kemper Hall and hosted an engineering alumni event. The most useful thing he learned at UC Davis was how to think through problems and continuously learn. Maroney’s advice to current students or young alumni is to “get hands-on practical experience, learn to lead, enhance your communication skills and seek collaborative team experiences.”

Headshot Shelten YuenShelten Yuen
VP of Research, Fitbit Inc.
B.S. Electrical Engineering ’01

Shelten Yuen received his B.S. in electrical engineering from UC Davis in 2001 and his S.M. in applied math and Ph.D. in engineering sciences from Harvard University in 2007 and 2009, respectively. He is currently the VP of Research at Fitbit Inc. where his team built one of the first optical sensors to measure pulse from the wrist. He was also a founding engineer and developed the core algorithms in the Fitbit trackers. Yuen oversees development in new hardware, sensors, and algorithms in wearable computing. He enjoys trying to understand a problem from different angles, especially because real-world problems are complicated and engineering solutions have to take in many considerations. “As an engineer, it is enticing to analyze, optimize, and perfect a solution to the problem that is right in front of you. However, I find it useful to instead pause and figure out what problems will have the most impact,” said Yuen.