Group of students and an alumna stand indoors at an event with blue lighting
Cynthia Murphy-Ortega '91 and UC Davis undergraduate engineering students at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering annual conference and gala in October 2023. (Courtesy)

National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Recognizes UC Davis College of Engineering

At the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, or NACME, annual conference and gala this past October, the University of California, Davis, College of Engineering was recognized with four awards, including Alumna of the Year, a Partnership Award for 2024-2028 and first and second place in the organization's inaugural hackathon.  

NACME provides scholarships, resources and opportunities for high-achieving, underrepresented minority college students pursuing careers in engineering and computer science. UC Davis has been a longtime collegiate partner of the organization. 

Murphy-Ortega awarded NACME Alumna of the Year 

The alumnus/a of the year award recognizes professional achievement, excellence, resilience and dedication in the fields of engineering or computer science.  

Cynthia Murphy-Ortega '91
Cynthia Murphy-Ortega '91 was named NACME Alumna of the Year

Chemical engineering alumna Cynthia Murphy-Ortega '91 has been engaged with NACME since her undergraduate years, having received a multi-year scholarship from the organization that enabled her to pursue her dreams of becoming a chemical engineer. She built a career at Chevron Corporation, where she currently works as a manager of University Partnerships and Association Relations. 

According to NACME, honoring Murphy-Ortega's successes was an opportunity for the organization to acknowledge the ripple effect of her impact and invigorate their community of students, alumni, university partners and corporate representatives with a renewed sense of purpose and drive. 

"One of Cynthia's most memorable quotes is, 'Be careful what you ask me to do; I will most likely do it.' And indeed, she drives strategy and fulfills tasks with excellence," said Michele Lezama, NACME President and CEO. "Cynthia is a tremendous contributor to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the fields of engineering and computer science. She serves actively as an alumna of both NACME and UC Davis and contributes in meaningful ways to a number of other notable diversity organizations supported by Chevron. We cannot thank her enough." 

Murphy-Ortega shared Lezama's sentiments with gratitude of her own. 

"I am honored and humbled to have received this award," said Murphy-Ortega, who is a member of the College of Engineering Dean's Executive Committee and received a Distinguished Engineering Alumni Medal in 2018. "To be recognized by NACME, an organization which truly made a difference in my life, is very special to me. Thank you to both NACME and UC Davis for supporting me!" 

Engineering students win top prizes at hackathon 

Six UC Davis undergraduate engineering students, three from each of the college's retention programs — AvenueE and Leadership in Engineering Advancement, Diversity and Retention, or LEADR — attended the conference. Among them, two students participated in teams that won first and second place at NACME's inaugural hackathon, which asked teams to focus on net zero and devise a solution to "significantly lower the carbon footprint, improve air quality and/or reduce waste within a city environment." 

Two students stand together at hackathon holding large cardboard checks
From left: Jana Maata Pesimelaki Georgievski '25 and Luis Molina '24 won first and second place.

Jana Maata Pesimelaki Georgievski '25, a computer science student in AvenueE, and her team won first place, while Luis Molina '24, an aerospace science and engineering student in LEADR and a NACME Scholar, and his team won second. 

Georgievski and her first-place winning team, called NetZero Nexus, designed a versatile technology to extract carbon dioxide safely and efficiently from the air. Artificial intelligence, direct air capture and carbon mineralization are a few of the strategies the team incorporated into their solution, which they plan to incorporate into existing HVAC systems for indoor air cleaning and install on city street corners to purify polluted urban areas. The team aims to expand by pitching the idea to companies focused on environmental sustainability and participate in more hackathons to continue producing innovative ideas.  

Attending the NACME conference and gala was an especially meaningful experience for Georgievski, who is Polynesian and hails from the island of Tonga. 

"I have never met another one of us majoring in computer science," Georgievski said. "With me, I carry the hopes and dreams of my family, the aspirations of young Pacific Islanders who never thought STEM was an option for them, and a fire inside myself to be a trailblazer for my people."  

The theme of the conference, gala and hackathon was "Elevate. Empower. Excel." and Georgievski said this is what she strives for. 

"Historically in the U.S., Pacific Islanders come from low-income communities where achieving a college education isn't common," she said. "Earning first place, I am beyond proud to show myself and the world that we are more than capable of being an academic and professional force to reckon with and grateful that NACME gave me that platform." 

UC Davis received Partnership Award

UC Davis as a whole was recognized with a NACME Partnership Award for 2024-2028. The award includes a block grant for 24 undergraduate engineering students in the college's LEADR program to receive a $5,000 NACME scholarship each year. 

"This prestigious recognition is a testament to [UC Davis'] unwavering commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in engineering and computer science education," said Lezama, who noted NACME's dedication to providing equal opportunities for all aspiring minds, irrespective of background.  

"As we embark on this journey, we reaffirm our belief that a diverse and inclusive academic environment is not just an aspiration but a strategic imperative for advancing U.S. competitiveness," she said. "Together, we will shape a future where every citizen has the chance to contribute their unique perspectives and talents to the fields that drive innovation and progress." 

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