2021 | 2022


A letter from the dean

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your generous support to the Tufts University School of Engineering.

Higher education, at its finest, changes people’s lives. Here at the School of Engineering, we train future engineering leaders who can envision and implement solutions, becoming change agents themselves. Our mission is to be an engine of good and your generous philanthropy is at the root of our success.

I am proud to take on the role of Dean of the School of Engineering because I am equally committed to excellence in scholarship and teaching. Our potential for impact is so much greater when we combine excellent education and creation of knowledge with generous support from our donors.

Demand for a Tufts engineering education remains at a record high for both undergraduate and graduate applications. We saw double digit increases for both programs and continue to build on our strides towards gender equity with women making up 50% of the undergraduate Class of 2026. The importance of keeping a Tufts education open and accessible to all was reinforced by the transformational generosity of Jack Schuler E62, E91P, and Tanya Schuler Sharman, E91, who committed $25 million towards undergraduate financial aid.

School of Engineering faculty and students continue to make great strides in research, advancing the future of disciplines like offshore wind energy engineering, cellular agriculture, data science, and cancer therapeutics. Our efforts were recognized for these exceptional contributions including the Royal Chemistry Society’s 2022 Faraday Division Horizon Prize and Professor and Dean of Graduate Education Karen Panetta’s naming as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and National Academy of Inventors.

These are just some of our highlights from academic year 2021-22 and I am fully confident that our School will continue its upward trajectory. Thank you for being part of a community of donors who have made the School of Engineering a priority.

I am inspired by your continued generosity and so grateful for all that you do for Tufts.


of Dean Kyongbum Lee

Kyongbum Lee
Dean, Tufts School of Engineering, Karol Family Professor

Alumni and Students in the News

I Was Bullied a Lot as a Child. Then Mentors Opened Up a New World.

Engineering graduate Elisa Vega-Burns recalls how “angels” helped her on her journey from a difficult childhood to a successful career—and shares her advice for young women of color.

Elisa Vega-Burns, E87, grew up on welfare in a housing project in Brockton, Massachusetts. A path of “angels” pushed her life in an extraordinary direction. The first in her family to graduate from college, Vega-Burns earned a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and is a strategy lead at Dell, where she has worked since 2000. Here she reflects on the people who helped her along the way.

Elisa Vega-Burns, E87

My childhood was extremely difficult. My father abandoned us when I was 5. My mother was diagnosed with a mental illness. So what was instrumental in my success were individual moments when people came out of nowhere and favorably impacted my life.

When I was 6, I had a Big Sister who would bring me onto her campus at Stonehill College, about 13 miles from where I lived. She and her friends took me to classes and played games with me in their dorm room. They were young white women, and they were so sweet to me, this young, Black kid from the projects. I think they were a bit fascinated with me because I was a smart kid, very precocious. I learned to read at 3. I could have adult conversations. I told them: “I'm in first grade. I'm going to college like you in 12 years.”

With them, I did not feel different in any way or unaccepted. I had never experienced that because I was bullied a lot as a kid. I was called names because I was too smart, too fat, or too Black; I was spat on and physically abused. To be around people whom I didn't know who were supportive and loving, that was new.

When I was in the third grade and visiting a food pantry with my mother, I had a conversation with a nun who later said to my mom, “Your child is gifted.” That nun got us in contact with someone who tested and then admitted me to a gifted program in the Brockton public school system, where I remained until high school.

In my junior year of high school, my guidance counselor, a white male, asked, “What would you like to be?” I said, “I think I want to be a hairdresser or an occupational therapist.” He said, “You're bigger than that. You're at the top of your class with high grades in math and science.” He gave me a book on all different types of engineering and said, “I think you could be an engineer.” I brought the book home and read it, cover to cover. I came back and told him, “I think I'd like to be an electrical engineer.”

He told me I should apply to Tufts. He helped me apply for scholarships. With all the scholarships I got, I never had to take out loans for college. I regret that I never thanked him and can’t even remember his name!

This kind of thing continued to happen at Tufts, from the moment I stepped on campus for my interview with Allan Clemow, E65, an assistant professor of engineering design and assistant director of undergraduate admissions. After move-in my first semester, I went to let him know I had arrived. He said, “I know from your application the difficulty you’ve experienced.” Then he handed me an engineering kit, which was worth $100 at the time. That was expensive in 1983 (nearly $300 today)! Allan said, “You need this. I want you to be successful.”

My advisor, Denis Fermental, E58, J91P, AG91P, was an institution in engineering. He spent his entire career at Tufts. My first year, I told him, “I'm going to drop out of the engineering program. I just don't think I have what it takes. In class, this guy is speaking, that guy is speaking. I do the work. I don't come up with the same answers.” He said, “Show me your answers.” I did. He said, “Your answers are correct. Just because they're speaking the loudest doesn't mean they're the smartest.” It was a very valuable lesson that sustains me to this day.

Professor Fermental was a very funny guy and helped me to not take things people said so seriously. I learned early about being a young Black female engineer around older white males. Interacting with him taught me how to banter and provide light relief in a stressful situation.

His advice came in handy during my first job interview at Raytheon. At that time, companies were just beginning to focus on diversity. I’m a big woman. In heels, I’m nearly six feet, and I was 100 pounds heavier than I am today. The guy interviewing me walks in—he was ex-military, maybe 6'7"—and stands a bit too close to me for my liking. However, I was just so relieved to be interviewed by someone bigger than me. With a wide smile, I looked him in the eye and asked in a joking manner, “Are you trying to intimidate me? Why are you standing so close to me?” We both laughed. I ended up working for him. He became like a father figure to me.

At Tufts, so many people enveloped me with support and love, pointing me in the right direction. My interactions with the friends I made taught me something new every day. A woman at the Career Center told me, “The first thing you should do as a young person is get a financial planner. What do you want your life to be like when you're 52?” I was 21 and couldn’t even fathom being 52. However, I immediately got a financial planner. He said, “Visualize what you want your life to be like.” All I said was, “I don't want to be homeless or hungry. I want security. I don't want to be afraid all the time.” He has been my financial planner my entire career; he just recently retired. Another angel.

My wife of 18 years is my rock and the most special of my angels. She smiles all the time and taught me that smiling creates a positive vibe to which others are drawn. Whenever I feel so very different for being a Black, gay woman, I think of my wife who is a Black, gay woman with albinism and has said to me on multiple occasions, “There is always someone in this world who will be more different than you. Focus on how you can make a difference in someone’s life.”

As a result, I am always looking for opportunities to positively impact the lives of others. I have gone back to my high school and to Tufts. I speak about the many ways that Tufts opened up a new world for me. At Dell, I mentor a lot of young people and women of color. I tell them, “You don’t have to carry negative feedback or negative experiences like baggage. I know that thing was really painful, but instead of living within the experience, you can learn from it and move forward.”

—As told to Jamie Saxon

Soccer Standout Travis Van Brewer Awarded NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship

Now finishing a master’s in engineering at Tufts, he was a key contributor to the 2021 Jumbo team that won the NESCAC championship, and to the 2018 and 2019 NCAA championship teams

Travis Van Brewer, E21, EG22, a leading member of the Jumbo men’s soccer team in 2017-21, has been selected as a recipient of an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. He is one of just 21 male student-athletes nationally at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels to receive the award.

Travis Van Brewer on the soccer field

The NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship Committee awarded Van Brewer a $10,000 scholarship for graduate study. The scholarship is awarded to student-athletes who excel academically and athletically and who are in their final year of intercollegiate athletics competition.

Van Brewer, who used a fifth year of eligibility to play soccer in the fall 2021, is now working toward a Master of Science in civil engineering, with a concentration in structural engineering. He will be applying the funds from the scholarship to the expenses for the degree.

“I am honored to have been awarded the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship,” Van Brewer said. “Soccer and academics are integral parts of my life and have been critical to my growth in the classroom, on the soccer field, and as a person.”

Van Brewer was a key contributor to the 2021 Jumbo team that won the NESCAC championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament Elite 8. Playing in all 21 games (20 starts), he was fourth on the Jumbos with five goals and 13 points.

He earned NESCAC All-Conference and United Soccer Coaches All-Region honors for his performance. The conference honor was the second of his career.

He was also a key contributor to Tufts’ 2018 and 2019 NCAA championship seasons earlier in his career. His head coach at that time, Josh Shapiro, and assistant coach, Jordie Ciuffetelli, who are now coaching at Harvard, contributed to his NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship nomination. Van Brewer has spent the last two seasons practicing and playing for current Tufts head coach Kyle Dezotell.

“I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to coach Travis for his final college season.” said Dezotell. “Travis is an incredible player and even better person. Throughout Travis’ career he was one of the most skillful and technical midfielders in the country in Division III, but what made Travis elite was how hard he worked on both sides of the ball.”

From Wilbraham, Massachusetts, Van Brewer graduated summa cum laude from Tufts in 2021, and is a four-time NESCAC All-Academic Team honoree, which requires a 3.50 grade point average or better.

This past fall he was selected as a College Sports Information Directors Association Academic All-American, and has received All-District academic honors twice. He also received the Earl F. Littleton Graduate Fellowship from Tufts, as well as the Max O. Urbahn Scholarship from the Society of American Military Engineers.

“Travis is the kind of person who represents the best of NCAA sports, and I gave him my highest recommendation for this award without any reservations,” said Babak Moaveni, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and Van Brewer’s academic advisor.

Van Brewer has also been involved in several volunteer and research activities, such as New Beginnings Re-Entry Services, a nonprofit charity that helps formerly incarcerated women re-enter their communities. He also volunteered with Inspire, which provides consulting services to nonprofits. Through soccer, he has raised money for Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Soccer for Peace, and Grassroots Soccer.

After he graduates with a master’s degree in May, Van Brewer will work in Boston as an associate in EY-Parthenon’s software strategy group.

Athletic Communications director Paul Sweeney can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.

Alumnus awarded for innovation

Y.A. Liu, EG70, is honored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for innovation in green process engineering.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) has recognized Y.A. Liu, EG70, with the Professional Achievement Award for Innovations in Green Process Engineering. The award celebrates Liu’s outstanding professional achievement in advancing innovations in green process engineering for sustainable energy and environment, and his distinguished contribution as a professional engineer and educator.

Y.A. Liu, EG70

Liu is an Alumni Distinguished Professor and Frank C. Vilbrandt Endowed Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He leads the Center of Excellence in Process System Engineering, which focuses on sustainable engineering, process modeling, big data analytics, and energy and water savings. He received his MS in chemical engineering from Tufts School of Engineering and his PhD from Princeton University.

Read more about Y.A. Liu’s research.

Ben Webb, EG21, EG22

School: School of Engineering

Degrees: Master of of Science in Innovation and Management (2021); Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (2022)

Geographical home: Reading, Massachusetts

Spiritual home: With friends and family

Ben Webb, EG21, EG22

Why was the School of Engineering the right place for you?

When I was looking for graduate programs, I knew that I wanted to expand my knowledge of engineering. I had earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and then worked in design engineering for four years. What really drew me to Tufts was the dual degree program: getting a master’s in innovation and management (MSIM) and engineering at the same time was exactly right for me. The MSIM program prepared me to bring new perspectives to my engineering classes, along with a bit more experience working with different types of design processes.

What is the most important thing you’ll take with you on your career?

In my Inventive Design class, we spent a lot of time working through critical race theory, tribal crit, and other social critical theories and talking about social movements like feminism and how those perspectives can be used to make sure that you are truly involving your customers in the design process. That was incredibly impactful. It expanded my perspective and dovetailed well with what I learned and loved from the business side of the MSIM program. Ultimately, it helped me understand how I’m going to work others into my design process going forward—especially people who don’t look, feel, or think the way that I do.

The adjective that best describes you?

Tenacious—but I wasn’t always like this. In undergrad and even while I was working, my objectives weren’t clear, which made it difficult for me to fully apply myself. In general, having a longer-term goal really crystallizes things for me, so coming in here knowing what I wanted to get out of the dual degree program allowed me to throw myself fully in, be dedicated, not give up. But it took a lot of personal development to get that.

The best advice for people who aspire to do what you’re about to do?

Have patience. Make sure you’re ready to apply yourself. What I’m about to do (I hope) is work at a startup, applying what I’ve learned from both of these degrees. I was not ready to do that before. If I had come to Tufts straight from undergrad, I would not have been able to get the most out of it. But having taken time to work, I came in knowing more specifically what I wanted to get out of it, and that made all the difference.

For full Commencement 2022 coverage, please visit now.tufts.edu/commencement-2022.

Inspired to Engineer a Better Future

Meet five Tufts students whose scholarship and research help reimagine what’s possible

Optimism and curiosity are twin engines that drive the imagination of young engineers at Tufts, whose professors nurture skills, knowledge, and social awareness to help translate their visions into real-world applications. This year, as Engineers Week celebrates the theme of “Reimagining the Possible,” Tufts Now reached out to five School of Engineering undergraduates and graduate students who are bringing energy and big ideas to a changing world.

Alec McKendell, E22, Zosia Stafford, E22, Andre Cleaver, EG18, EG23, David Michel, E24, Akshita Rao, E21, EG22

Alec McKendell, E22

For Alec McKendell, the appeal of biomedical engineering lies in its potential to develop groundbreaking new diagnostics and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. His focus has led to research positions in three Tufts labs, including the Kaplan Lab and the Optical Diagnostics for Diseased and Engineered Tissue Lab, as well as summer research at UC Berkeley, and his current work at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is part of a research group investigating the cause and prevention of Alzheimer’s. Additionally, using CRISPR-based gene editing, he designed a potential preventative medicine/treatment for breast cancer. That technology, and his entrepreneurial drive, led him to co-found JEZA Genomics, a finalist last year in the Tufts Gordon Institute’s $100k New Ventures Competition.

Why biomedical engineering: I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s, and he inspired me to explore the potential of biomedical engineering. I was in high school, and I wanted to find a cure. As a Tufts freshman I had very little experience, but I was still like: I want to do this. My interest has evolved so I’m less focused on developing devices that interface with the body— like a microchip—and more focused on how you can use tools that already exist within the human body. What’s really fascinating is finding ways to work with the body, so you are not implanting a microchip, for example, but instead leveraging an existing, natural mechanism to fix or even improve the biology.

A big idea: The next generation of nanoscale biosensors is super exciting. One cutting edge tool that I’m working on now allows us to track particular proteins in the brain by making part of them fluorescent, what’s called a nanoscale biosensor. Biosensors report on molecular-level events that were previously undetectable. They give us a better understanding of how microscopic mechanisms work in live cells, something that used to require dead tissue and hours of processing to study. Right now, they are primarily used in research. I imagine the next generation of biosensors could have a more practical application, such as earlier and more accurate disease detection and diagnosis.

Why progress matters: It feels good to know that even if I'm making a small piece of the contribution, science is built off the backs of everyone who has worked before you. That small piece of knowledge that you help with or develop, eventually people are going to take it further, just as I have benefited from all the people before me. That makes me feel like I am following through with this bold claim, this bold promise I made when I was younger.

Zosia Stafford, E22

Zosia Stafford is a senior combining engineering and liberal arts by majoring in both mechanical engineering and philosophy. At the School of Engineering, she is deeply interested in material science—the design and discovery of new materials. She juggles courses with a job as area supervisor for the university makerspace, Nolop Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation and Testing (FAST) Facility, and as a teaching assistant. She also is gaining first-hand experience in material science applications through a part-time internship with Transaera, focused on developing energy-efficient cooling systems.

Why material science: My first year of high school, I read this book—Stuff Matters—about materials of basic everyday things, and the fascinating chemistry and design process behind that. I was like, “Oh yes—that's cool!” At Tufts I continue to find material science fascinating. It’s crucial to the design of everything, like windows and fabrics—every product that you own. It's all super interconnected. When you understand the properties and the behaviors of materials that you're working with, you’re able to create better, more informed designs, as well as then modify those materials and improve them so they can be applied in new ways.

Why progress matters: One area where progress matters is air conditioning. It’s an industry that's tied to what we can do to curb global warming. It takes a lot of energy to power a standard air conditioner because the refrigerant must cool both the incoming air and the water vapor in the air. Water takes more energy to cool, and as it cools, it condenses, which complicates the process. That’s why on humid summer days your air conditioner works overtime and taxes the electrical grid.

At Transaera, we're taking water out of the equation using metal organic frameworks that can passively absorb it before it enters the system. With this step, you have a more energy-efficient air conditioner and lighten the burden on the power structure. Novel materials like these metal organic frameworks are critical to our planet’s future. By studying and characterizing their properties and degradation behavior, I can help choose materials that best support a sustainable transition to a zero-carbon world.

Andre Cleaver, EG18, EG23

Andre Cleaver, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, looks closely at how to improve human-robot interactions through augmented reality (AR), a fusing of the real and virtual worlds that superimposes computer-generated information over a view of actual places and structures. His graduate studies with Jivko Sinapov, James Schmolze Assistant Professor in Computer Science, explore how AR can help robots convey how they perceive the world to people. Instead of thousands of lines of numbers shown on a terminal window, information is presented as simple shapes and colors so that people can connect what they see with what the robot “sees.”

Why Augmented Reality: I was getting a master’s in mechanical engineering when I first saw a demonstration of what AR could do. And I thought: Wow. I was hooked. Robots can communicate with other robots easily, but a robot communicating to a human is where the challenge lies. What’s so powerful about AR is that you can pretty much render any visualization that you want anywhere, anytime. It’s an emerging field. Say we want to communicate with a robot that is simply going to travel down the hallway and turn left, how do we do that? What do we show, exactly? And one of the options that we came up with is just a simple dotted line on the ground. But do we show that as colorful markers or blinkers? Do we show only the destination point, or everything in between? These are the kind of complex questions I find fascinating as we think about how a robot understands the physical world. You can show people what they were not able to see in the past: sonar waves, sound visuals, a laser scan. So, it’s exciting to know I’m helping develop tools that expand our visual world and our experience of it.

A big idea: As robots increasingly become integrated into our lives, we have to focus on improving those interactions. As people and robots share space, we need to make those interactions more effective and smoother; with that progress, people will have more trust in robots than they do now. The general public thinks robots are going to take over the world or this robot's going to be like a Terminator. They appear to operate in their own world, and that leads to the question: Is this robot something I need to worry about? To me that view is very limiting. But how about imagining a robot that can communicate with you in a friendly way? That would open up the potential for new human-robot interactions.

Why progress matters: One area where I think we’ll see AR features combined with how we live in the future relates to the rise of autonomous vehicles. With an autonomous car, a pedestrian doesn't see anybody behind the wheel, so how does that pedestrian understand when's a good time to, say, safely cross the street? One of the things that I would like to explore is if we can augment the vehicle with indicators that better communicate that the car understands that it's coming to a complete stop, and by that understanding, the pedestrian can proceed to cross the street. I worked on another practical application in a past internship. Say you’re exploring an unknown building that is believed to contain some hazardous material, something radioactive, for example. You can't see radioactive material. But with AR we could render a boundary zone saying, “This area is receiving harmful levels of radiation.” So instead of having expensive detection equipment, we can visualize dangerous levels. I think we’re just beginning to recognize the beauty of what AR can do. To see Cleaver’s AR projects, check out his social media posts.

David Michel, E24

David Michel, a senior studying civil and environmental engineering, envisions a merger of engineering with urban planning to create and sustain more just communities. One of 30 undergraduate students selected for the Visiting and Early Research Scholars' Experience (VERSE), an immersive research and mentorship program, he worked under the advisement of Shomon Shamsuddin, assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.

Why civil engineering: I am a first-generation, low-income student from South Central Los Angeles, and when I came to Tufts, I saw my education as helping me to advocate for historically excluded communities. My introduction to engineering opened my eyes to how that is possible, and I have been fortunate that at Tufts my professor encouraged that social activism perspective. There are many different avenues that I could take after Tufts, but whatever I do, my main goal is to impact a community in a positive way. That’s one reason for why I chose civil engineering: it's one of the most direct ways you can affect people. Roads, bridges, highways—civil engineers make them possible.

A big idea: To me, both urban planners and civil engineers have a responsibility to engage with and understand the community where they're working, and they need to be more collaborative professionally. It would be even better if policy makers have some engineering experience—and vice versa—so that they understand the big implications of what they're doing. It is my hope that historical policies and zoning laws that have hurt specific communities can be changed or reversed. We need to intentionally merge policies with civil engineering so that communities that have been historically ignored and mistreated are able to thrive. I'm from Los Angeles, which has a large, very intricate systems of freeways and highways. For engineers, that's a marvelous feat to accomplish, right? But a lot of these transportation systems have a negative impact on lower income communities and often communities of color; they impact the values of equity and social justice.

Why progress matters: Working with Dr. Shamsuddin has helped me think more deeply about the social impact of engineering and policy, specifically around issues of poverty and homelessness. I learned that federal programs like the Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere [HOPE VI] program sought to address the poor conditions of public housing projects across the country by revitalizing them into mixed-income developments in order to “build more sustainable communities.” But in some cases, fewer units were rebuilt than originally were there, meaning that some people were forced to seek shelter elsewhere. And with the current trend of building more luxury rental housing, households with modest incomes are left with little to no housing options. Lack of affordable housing is just one example of a social issue that can be addressed by both local policy makers and civil engineers with support from the federal government. I believe that the engineers of today and of the future have a responsibility to respect the needs of not only the present community but also of those communities that came before them. Past decisions did not consider all voices, and we must now prioritize those unheard voices to begin correcting those wrongdoings.

Akshita Rao, E21, EG22

Working in the Tufts Timko Lab for the past four years, Akshita Rao has focused on the field of bioelectronics. She integrates product design and fabrication with cell experimental methods to develop applications of bioelectronics and medical devices. This research has given her the opportunity to write and defend her senior honors thesis, which earned highest honors, and co-author two papers published in scientific journals. Now a master’s degree candidate continuing to work with Assistant Professor Brian Timko, she also draws on experience as a product summer intern at Corvia Medical, where she supported the design and development of manufacturing processes used in production of a transcatheter heart implant, an alternative to invasive heart surgery.

Why biomaterials and medical devices: When I came to Tufts, I knew I wanted to integrate my passion for building things with advancing human health. Majoring in both mechanical and biomedical engineering as an undergraduate gave me the best of both worlds, and this experience launched me into pursuing my master’s degree. What excites me about this field is that there are so many different avenues to perform research —both in academia and industry. There are so many companies and labs that are currently making smart materials and devices to screen the human body for disease and advance human health.

A big idea: The exciting field of biomaterials is introducing new synthetic and natural materials that can be integrated and compatible with the human body. Biomaterials can aid in developing biosensors or devices that can be inserted or worn on the skin to provide details of a patient’s recovery or disease, or even provide precise medicine. These are devices that people can use to detect many things—cardiac signaling, stroke activity, epilepsy, pathogens or viruses in your blood, or tumor activity. These devices give us ability to understand how our bodies function under certain drugs or disease, and I think that's what's so great about it. It really is a brave new world. At Corvia Medical, I had a chance to support work to develop a heart implant for people who have abnormally high heart pressure. A future iteration would include a heart implant that could self-regulate and provide other cardiac drugs and stimulants to improve blood flow. This means, once it’s inserted into the body, this “smart” implant can sense its surroundings and provide precise and personalized medicine.

Why progress matters: Innovations in biomedical engineering and better integrating medical devices in healthcare will transform patient care and recovery. Think about the invasive surgeries a patient suffering from a cardiovascular disease could avoid if instead a doctor could inject a small bio-device to locate damaged heart tissue. A smart bio-device like this could release the necessary drugs to the damaged tissue to the patient without an invasive heart surgery or could provide the doctor with cell signals and responses to improve the patient's therapy.

I used to work as a systems test engineer at Insulet, where they have developed a self-regulated insulin pump that works in tandem with a continuous glucose monitor, Omnipod. Based on the readings from the monitor, the pump will calculate and deliver the necessary insulin level to the patient. The most frustrating part for diabetic patients is having to constantly check their blood glucose levels and manually intake insulin but with Omnipod, just approved by the FDA, we will revolutionize diabetic therapies. It’s just the beginning. I believe we will continue to see more of these bio-devices that seamlessly integrate with our lives. Innovation in biomaterials and medical devices is the next step in developing smart biotechnology that can bridge the gap between disease diagnosis and drug delivery, allowing us to live longer and healthier lives.

Robotics for the Whole Human

In collaboration with deaf and hard-of-hearing high schoolers, aspiring engineers design for both accessibility and fun

As part of a final project this fall, several first-year School of Engineering students were tasked with designing robotic games for high schoolers at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Boston. The games had to be accessible to people with limited hearing, but even more important, they had to be something that the teens would consider cool.

Intro to Engineering students co-creating projects with students at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Charlotte Corbett, a technology teacher at Horace Mann, listened in as the Tufts students interviewed her class over Zoom. She could tell that her students found the questions—about the movies they like, the music they listen to—refreshing.

“They’re used to getting questions like, ‘When did you lose your hearing?’ ‘Were you born deaf?’ ‘When did you learn sign language?’” said Corbett. “Instead, the Tufts students were coming at them with, ‘What’s your favorite board game?’”

Ethan Danahy, E00, EG02, and EG07, a research associate professor at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, assigned the project as part of a section of Introduction to Engineering that he teaches. He said the primary focus was not on designing for the students’ assistive needs—as is often the case with technologies being developed for people with disabilities—but, rather, on the students’ enjoyment. That’s because learning about the multifaceted needs and wants of the people who will use a design should be an important part of the engineering process.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about existing designs that are not accessible and a lack of equity in the world,” Danahy said. “I want our students both to understand the impact they can have on the world as engineers and to feel a responsibility about that impact. The true way to effect change is not just in the work you do but by having many different voices at the table as you develop solutions.”

“We might refer to the Horace Mann students as our clients,” he added, “but they’re also co-creators.”

The conversations with the Horace Mann students revealed unique back stories, interests, and personalities. “The fact that they are deaf or hard of hearing affects so many aspects of their lives, but my students realized that that’s not all that they are,” Danahy said. “They’re not defined by that one thing.”

After the interviews, Danahy’s class proceeded to dream up playful, robotics-based activities with increased accessibility for the deaf community. Because COVID precautions kept the Tufts students from getting together in person with the Horace Mann students, they also created websites through which the high schoolers could control the robots remotely. Via video chat, students in Corbett’s class watched as the robots drew pictures, ran two-way races, and even operated a miniature donut shop from a Tufts classroom.

“Zoom makes everything laggy, but also really interesting,” said Nasir Wynruit, who, along with his fellow first-year classmates Rofeeah Ayeni, Kendall Phillips, and Jahnea Potts, developed a maze-traversing robot game called “The Great Escapade!” Wynruit said, “For our website specifically, we plan to implement ASL translation that would translate all the game’s text into ASL.”

“Our conversations were really nice,” Ayeni added, of the group’s interaction with the Horace Mann cohort. “They had a lot of eye-opening ideas that I had never thought students younger than us would think.”

Other designs include “Tic Tac Throw,” in which a small motorized robot launches a ball onto a 4x4 grid. The player who lands three of their assigned color in a row wins. “For someone who’s deaf, English is actually a secondary language, because they consider ASL to be their first language,” said Matthew Wong, who built the game with classmates Gabriel Sessions and Eddy Zhang. The resulting importance of minimizing the amount of English was a significant “aha” moment for both Dahany and his students and informed further work on the accessibility of the companion websites. “Trying to minimize the amount of English became just as important as trying to make the words visible,” said Wong.

“It was intimidating at first,” Wong said, “because you want to make things clear. Luckily, there are guidelines online that are really helpful. Icons, for instance, are extremely useful for designing for accessibility.”

Juniper Moscow, who created an art-making robot called “Leggo Draw” linked to a graphics tablet, said the goals of inclusive design are closely aligned with her own ambitions: “I want to get into architecture, where there’s a huge discussion about codes and accessibility.” Designing with the Horace Mann students in mind has been a good reminder that those goals are not abstract. “There are actual people who will end up experiencing my work,” she said.

Back at the Horace Mann School, Corbett praised Danahy’s class for understanding her students as whole human beings, with desires for joy and relaxation as well as needs. “I often tell people my students are a microcosm of the community at large, the community of Boston,” she said. “Seeing the culture of disability, and deaf culture in particular, being normalized—that’s exciting.”

Faculty News

Kyongbum Lee, Dean of the Tufts Scool of Engineering

Get to Know Kyongbum Lee, New Dean of the Tufts School of Engineering

The teacher, administrator, and researcher looks to begin a new chapter for the school as he assumes the permanent deanship

Kyongbum Lee, an expert in the field of metabolic engineering, has been named the new dean of the School of Engineering at Tufts University. The Karol Family Professor, Lee has been the school’s dean ad interim since last summer. His appointment builds on a distinguished career at the School of Engineering as a teacher, mentor, administrator, and respected researcher.

In a conversation with Tufts Now, Lee shared his aspirations for the school, why decision makers need the distinctive “solution perspective” of Tufts engineers, and how learning English led to a love of literature, one that continues today.

Tufts Now: What are some opportunities you would like to pursue at the school as dean?

Kyongbum Lee: Over the past couple of years, we've been responding to the pandemic, which meant that we had to hit pause on some of our ambitions. The pandemic also put a strain on some of the ties that make us such a close-knit community. So, one opportunity for us is reaffirming our sense of community by actively encouraging our students, staff, and faculty to hold events that bring people together. I also look forward to building community through new hires who add to our body of expertise and bring intellectual and cultural diversity, as we resume moving towards our strategic goals.

Would you like to expand on a specific direction that you’d like to see strengthened?

The School of Engineering has a two-fold mission of educating students and advancing knowledge for the benefit of society. It is important that we intentionally and actively engage with society—locally, nationally, and globally. As an engineering school that is firmly committed to active citizenship, we should strive to be known as a trusted source of knowledge and provider of innovative solutions for the most critical issues facing society.

For example, on climate, we can dispassionately acknowledge the challenges of an energy transition, holistically accounting for the environmental and human costs of various approaches—for example, mining for the raw materials of electricity storage systems has its consequences—and use our ingenuity to propose technologies that help us utilize resources in a more sustainable, just, and equitable way.

I’m thinking particularly of working with decision makers in industry—including our own alumni—the people who develop and implement strategies for producing goods and services that we use every day.

We want these decision makers to collaborate with us not only on developing new technologies, but also on educating the next generation of engineers who are their employees and our graduates. As a school, we have ambitions to have societal impact by engaging with the world and we should vigorously communicate this intention. I am looking forward to creating new opportunities to partner with industry decision makers on the complex challenges we face.

“When I was looking for my first academic job, I really wanted to be at a place that is equally committed to excellence in scholarship and teaching, because the potential for impact we can have as academics is so much greater when we combine training of people and creation of knowledge.”Kyongbum Lee, Dean and Karol Family Professor

How would you describe Tufts engineers? What do they bring to the table?

Tufts students have a sincere desire to do good for the benefit of society. Our distinctive model of education, which encourages students to immerse themselves in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and civic engagement, alongside STEM, provides our students the opportunity to develop a more holistic sense of the world.

I think it is very helpful to place yourself in the world to recognize where you can contribute, and importantly, how to appreciate contributions from those who are different than yourself. Through their education here, our students can become experts in their subjects, and at the same time obtain a broadened perspective on what ought to be done to meet societal needs and how they can contribute.

You have considerable administrative experience, having been chair of the chemical and biological engineering department since 2012. But were there lessons learned as interim dean, that you will carry forward?

It’s true I had been department chair for a long time before I was interim dean, but one thing department chairs don't get to do a lot of is fundraising. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed it. I discovered how much I appreciate why people give. If we’re doing a good job, people will support the school.

I found out that many of our most ardent supporters were themselves beneficiaries of the university's generosity in their own past. A gift for financial aid, then, is their way to both say thank you, and at the same time, to transform the lives of the next generation of students.

That connection made me feel good about leadership of the school. It brightens your day to meet people who believe it’s the right thing to do to benefit complete strangers through their philanthropy. It also makes you feel good about working at a university.

Higher education, at its finest, does change people’s lives. It really helps people become themselves and to become change agents. And that’s why we’re here. We're supposed to be an engine of good. That’s our mission and we definitely can’t do that without our donors.

Is there something that you would like to share about yourself that many people might not know or expect?

I don’t think it is widely known that I started college thinking that I would major in both literature and chemical engineering. In high school, my favorite subjects were English and history. I actually took two AP English classes, which is ironic because when my family came to the United States, I was 14 and I didn't know any English, just German and Korean.

But when you don’t speak the language, you put extra effort into learning it by reading. I came to love writers like William Faulkner and Joseph Conrad—Conrad maybe because I was an immigrant and he was trilingual in Polish, French, and English. And I thought, “This is great—he’s a Polish author who is considered one of the greatest writers of English prose.”

In college, I switched to engineering because I felt the teachers were better; teachers make a huge difference in what you want to study and learn. But I still love to read. I’m a big sci-fi and fantasy fiction nerd. I like Steven Erikson, whose specialty is what’s called “world building.” He‘s an anthropologist and archeologist by training and you can imagine how that's helpful in terms of epic storytelling. To me, that's what's intriguing about sci-fi and fantasy.

The best authors can lead you to imagine a different world, while at the same time they’re telling stories about characters to whom we can relate through their struggles with issues like privilege and class, tolerance and intolerance. Those are some of these major themes and commentaries that Erikson takes up, but with characters like talking reptiles who reside in flying fortresses.

You’ve devoted your academic career—nearly 20 years—to the School of Engineering. What does it mean to you personally to serve as dean?

When I set out on my career as an engineering professor, taking on an administrative role, let alone at the level of dean, had not crossed my mind. The impression I have from the mentors I've met along the way is they all found joy in their work within their own field, thanks in large part to strong leadership and vision at their institutions. Then, as their careers progressed, they realized that they could step up and do their part in providing leadership and vision for their colleagues and students. This is the case for me as well.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be able to be a dean at Tufts. I’ve been here for almost 20 years, and I feel extremely fortunate to work at a school whose values are well aligned with my own. When I was looking for my first academic job, I really wanted to be at a place that is equally committed to excellence in scholarship and teaching, because the potential for impact we can have as academics is so much greater when we combine training of people and creation of knowledge.

Importantly, how we go about training and discovery matters at Tufts. We want to do this collaboratively and inclusively. I am honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of stewarding this vision.

The Derby Entrepreneurship Center and Tufts Gordon Institute team standing in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts Receives Award for Innovative Curriculum

The Deshpande Foundation awarded DEC the Excellence in Curriculum Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award.

Entrepreneurial education at Tufts University and the Derby Entrepreneurship Center (DEC) reached a new milestone this past week thanks to the Excellence in Curriculum Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award the center received on June 16 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

The prestigious award was presented to the Tufts team at the 11th Annual Deshpande Symposium Awards Reception. The award recognizes an exemplary commitment to, and success in, developing and offering innovative educational courses or programs that foster entrepreneurship education across an institution.

Accepting the award, Elaine Chen — Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts — said, “We are humbled and honored to join the ranks of higher ed trailblazers and past recipients of this prestigious award. It recognizes our commitment to, and success in, expanding equitable access to entrepreneurship education for all.”

DEC, part of Tufts Gordon Institute, is a hub for entrepreneurship education at Tufts University and offers an undergraduate entrepreneurship minor which is the largest minor at the University. DEC builds entrepreneurial leaders through academic courses and co-curricular programs and activities and empowers Tufts students, alumni, and community members to realize their purpose and lead with impact through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Kevin Oye, Executive Director of the Tufts Gordon Institute, commended the success of Chen and the team for their relentless commitment to pushing the boundaries of entrepreneurial education.

"Receiving this award is an honor for the entire team at the Derby Entrepreneurship Center and Tufts Gordon Institute. It recognizes the strides we have made in increasing entrepreneurship accessibility, and I am immensely proud of Elaine and the innovations in the curriculum she has made,” Oye said. “The team has expanded the reach of our entrepreneurship programming with a strong focus on underrepresented students, helping to unlock the entrepreneurial potential in all of our students at Tufts.”

Cells isolated from urine samples of a patient with no active bladder cancer (left) and with active cancer (right)

A non-invasive method to detect and monitor bladder cancer

Professor Igor Sokolov and collaborators receive National Institutes of Health funding to further develop the use of atomic force microscopy and machine learning to identify cancer.

With a high rate of recurrence, bladder cancer is both common and among the most expensive cancers per patient to monitor and to treat, due to frequent, costly optical bladder examinations and tumor resections. Although cancer is found in less than 10% of these optical bladder examinations, this test is currently the only clinically approved test. The test is invasive and may have side effects, which is why only 40% of patients comply with these procedures. This low level of compliance adds to the mortality of this cancer.

With that in mind, Professor Igor Sokolov of Tufts School of Engineering and collaborators from the University of Washington and Dartmouth College (Drs. Seigne, Grivas, White, and Lam) saw the clear need for a bladder cancer monitoring test that is highly accurate and noninvasive.

Sokolov, a professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering at Tufts, studies advanced imaging for medical diagnostics, engineering for health, and the mechanics of biomaterials at the nanoscale. He developed a novel modality of atomic force microscopy, which allows researchers to study the distribution of physical properties of the cell surface – information that was not previously obtainable by any other existing technique. Sokolov and Dr. Milos Miljkovic, a former Tufts School of Engineering lab manager, showed that these images could be used to detect of bladder cancer by imaging cells extracted from a patient’s urine. When the images were processed through machine learning analysis, the accuracy of detection reached 94%.

In collaboration with Eugene Demidenko, professor of biomedical data science at Geisel School of Medicine of Dartmouth College (with Drs. Seigne and Lam as co-PIs), Sokolov received a 5-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to further develop the novel bladder cancer detection test that uses ultra-high-resolution atomic force microscopy to image cells from urine samples. Led by Sokolov and Tufts, the cross-university team’s preliminary results indicate that this approach is both feasible and superior to current, even invasive testing methods.

Going forward, the researchers plan to improve the method even further, and assess its accuracy in determining the aggressiveness of bladder cancer. With funding from the National Cancer Institute, the principal federal agency for cancer research in the U.S., the team will study a large cohort of cancer patients to define the accuracy of cancer detection. Sokolov sees an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new area of bioinformatics and for applications beyond bladder cancer. “This method could potentially detect and monitor other cancers (like cervical, blood, lung, and so on, cancers) in which cells can be extracted from body fluids without the need for invasive biopsies,” he said.

Learn more about this accurate, non-invasive method to detect bladder cancer, and about the Sokolov Research Group.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R01CA262147-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Andrew Levey, David Kaplan, Dariush Mozaffarian, and John Wong

Four Tufts Faculty Are Among Top Researchers in the World

Work by the scientists is among top cited globally, according to a new ranking

Four Tufts researchers have been named to Clarivate 2021 list of the world’s most highly cited researchers. The researchers included in the list “have demonstrated significant and broad influence reflected in their publication of multiple highly cited papers over the last decade,” according to Clarivate, an information and analytics firm focused on research.

The highly cited papers rank in the top 1% by citations for a field or fields and publication year, and only about 1 in 1,000 researchers worldwide qualify.

Named to the list are David Kaplan, Andrew Levey, Dariush Mozaffarian, and John Wong. “An outstanding faculty is the lifeblood of every notable research institution, and this year our highly cited researchers are based at more than 1,300 institutions all over the world,” according to the Clarivate report. For this year’s analysis, the papers surveyed were the most recent available—those published and cited during 2010 to 2020.

David Kaplan is the Stern Family Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering; he is also a Distinguished University Professor who holds appointments in several other Tufts schools and departments. His research focuses on biopolymer engineering with an emphasis on biomaterial engineering and regenerative medicine.

He has published more than 700 peer-reviewed papers and edited eight books. He directs the Tissue Engineering Resource Center, a collaborative effort between Tufts and Columbia University. He has received a number of awards for teaching, is an elected fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and has received the Columbus Discovery Medal and the Society for Biomaterials’ Clemson Award.

Andrew Levey is Dr. Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Professor of Medicine emeritus at Tufts University School of Medicine and chief emeritus of the William B. Schwartz Division of Nephrology at Tufts Medical Center. He is involved with research groups at Tufts and around the world studying ways to gauge kidney function and better understand the burden of chronic kidney disease.

He has been honored by the National Kidney Foundation for his lifetime of dedication to the treatment of kidney diseases. In 2013 he was named the recipient of the American Society of Nephrology’s Belding H. Scribner Award, presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions that have had a direct impact on the care of patients with kidney disease.

Dariush Mozaffarian is dean of and Jean Mayer Professor at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and professor of medicine at the School of Medicine. His work aims to create a food system that is nutritious, equitable, and sustainable.

A cardiologist, he has authored more than 450 scientific publications on dietary priorities for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases—and on evidence-based policy approaches to reduce these burdens in the United States and globally. He has served in numerous advisory roles including for the U.S. and Canadian governments, and his work has been featured in a wide array of media outlets.

John Wong is a professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and interim chief scientific officer at Tufts Medical Center, where he also serves as vice chair for academic affairs and chief of the Division of Clinical Decision Making. He is also the director of comparative effectiveness research at the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

His research focuses on the application of decision analysis to help patients, physicians, and policymakers choose among alternative tests, treatments, and policies. The aim is to promote rational, evidence-based, efficient, and effective patient-centered care. He has served on many national and international committees, including ones for the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Showcasing our Donors

Thank you for your generous support of the School of Engineering. Please visit our searchable donor listing to find your name and those of other supporters!

an interactive donor wall
“Once you’re dealing with cells, the whole world opens up to you that isn’t open when you’re dealing with whole animals.”
—Andrew Stout, PhD candidate and New Harvest Fellow at Dr. David Kaplan's biomedical engineering lab at Tufts, discussing how he grows meat in a petri dish in a lab in this podcast from The Conversation.

Donor Impact

“Maybe if every human being decided to turn their life into a movie and record every single moment in high-definition video, we probably could only store about a million people or so. Maybe we’d run out [of space] at that point.”
—Mark Hempstead, E03 associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate professor of computer science, gauging the limits of trying to store everything in the cloud in this Tell Me More podcast.

More Stories from the Year

By the Numbers

15% of the SOE class of 2026 are 1st generation, 50% of the SOE class of 2026 identify as women, 6,934 SOE applications for the class of 2026 Brighter World 2022 Goals 47% of SOE undergraduates who receive aid, $52,500 average School of Enginerrign undergraduates aid package for 2021-2022

My Tufts Story: Ariana Barreiro, E23

Biomedical engineering student Ariana shares her experiences at Tufts and the future she’s working toward.