2022 Outstanding Students

    Date Posted: 
    Thursday, May 5, 2022

    Each spring, the Wyant College of Optical Sciences recognizes incredible students, as nominated by professors and peers and selected by a faculty and staff committee. We would like to congratulate Sebastian Valencia (Outstanding Senior), Laura Sawyer (Outstanding Graduate TA), Khalid Omer (Outstanding Graduate Student) and Gregory Taylor (Wildcat Award) as the 2021-2022 Outstanding Students of the Year. All four were publicly recognized during the End of Year Student Celebration on May 4th, 2022, and awarded certificates by Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, R. John Koshel.

    Outstanding Graduate Student

    The Outstanding Graduate Student award was given to Khalid Omer (nominated by Meredith Kupinski). Assistant Professor Kupinski had to say of Khalid:

    Sam Nerenberg was the 2018-2019 Outstanding Graduate Student receipient, nominated by Professor Brian Anderson.

    Mr. Omer is working on artificial intelligence (AI) and polarization technology for computer vision applications. Mr. Omer has been working with me as his advisor at the University of Arizona (UA)'s Wyant College of Optical Science (WCOS) since August 2019. Mr. Omer has consistently exceeded both my expectations and the expectations of WCOS. He passed his comprehensive oral and written exam one semesters sooner than his cohort while simultaneously maintaining above average research productivity (two peer-reviewed first-author publications and a third in review)...Mr. Omer's doctoral research is a significant contribution to polarization aware computer graphics. Part of his graduate preparations have included training an undergraduate research assistant to use his graphics software. He has been an invested mentor and boosts about his mentees research accomplishments at our group meetings.

    Mr. Omer is passionate, proactive, and articulate regarding his research and professional goals. He regularly engages interdisciplinary academic groups in UA's computer science and applied mathematics programs to disseminate his research and learn from others. Faculty in these group have told me they are impressed by his expertise in polarimetry and vision for future applications and interdisciplinary opportunities.

    This recognition would validate and celebrate Mr. Omer's hard work and devotion to his education and research. In turn, he would be a recipient that would bring further prestige to OSC. 

    Outstanding Undergraduate Student

    The Outstanding Undergraduate Student award was given to Senior student Sebastian Valencia. Sebastian was recognized for the following characteristics according to Dr. Koshel's commendation letter: 

    Outstanding Undergraduate Student award goes to Adriana Stohn for 2018-2019.

    Sebastian is an exceptional and humble first-generation student, who chose Optical Sciences and Engineering to be at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution, in which the photon is playing an increasingly important role.  He remains enchanted with the connection between the photon and electron, so his selected track in BSOSE is optoelectronics.  Additionally, he is obtaining a minor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and one in Mathematics.  He has also already been accepted into Optical Sciences’ accelerated master’s program (AMP) so that he can continue his studies by specializing in optoelectronics and imaging.

    In his second year of studies he joined the Intelligent Imaging and Sensing Laboratory (I2SL).  Under the supervision of Prof. Amit Ashok he has explored the novel technology and applications of event-based sensors (EBS).

    He has also been active in the Student Optics Chapter (SOCk) and the UA’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).  For the former he has been a member since his first year of studies at the UA, and in 2020-21 he stepped up to take the position of Academic Chair.  In this role he initiated a biweekly forum with optics industry professionals, organized technical workshops for UA students  using optical design software, and was the Tech Team lead for the 2021 Laser Fun Day (LFD).

    I would be remiss to not indicate the high regard his fellow peers have for Sebastian.  During the nomination process for the Outstanding Senior award we ask for input from the senior class.  He had a number of accolades from his peers, including “He consistently produces excellent work and is kind to others,” and “He was always willing to help his classmates in understanding our homework and projects.” For these reasons the Wyant College of Optical Sciences is elated to select Mr. Sebastian Valencia as its Outstanding Senior for 2022.

    Outstanding Teaching Assistant

    The Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award was given to Laura Sawyer (nominated by John Koshel and Mike Nofziger). Laura was recognized for the following characteristics according to Dr. Koshel and Dr. Nofziger's nomination letter:

    Page King receives the 2018-2019 Outstanding Teaching Assistant award from John Koshel

    OPTI 200 is entitled Light, Color, and Vision, and it is a General-Education Tier II NATS course.  Laura did an absolutely outstanding, professional job as a teaching assistant. In our nomination process it was commented that Laura provided one of the finest examples of teaching in his 33 years of involvement with the Optical Sciences and Engineering undergraduate program. Simply, Laura brought the field of optics to students who had a desire to learn more about this challenging and engaging field, such that their eyes were opened with the potential that they could elect to pursue optics specifically or another STEM field for their continued studies.

    Laura’s work was exemplary—she was always prepared, her attention to detail was amazing, her teaching was superb, professional and thorough, and she had great rapport with her students. She was able to explain difficult concepts in ways that the non-science students in OPTI 200 could grasp and understand. She helped teach the course with a high level of self-motivation, dedication, and a superb work ethic that is hard to achieve. In short, she can teach the course on her own.

    We are elated that Laura is a member of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences, and that she can bring her expertise to assist in our undergraduate program.  It is for all of these reasons that the Wyant College of Optical Sciences has selected Ms. Laura Sawyer to be the 2022 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant.


    Page King receives the 2018-2019 Outstanding Teaching Assistant award from John Koshel

    Wildcat Award

    The Wildcat award was given to OSC undergraduate student Gregory Taylor (nominated by Amber S. Soergel). According to the selection criteria—the Wildcat award cannot be given to just anyone. Instead, this should be someone who has "fought like Wildcats" to complete the degree. GPA and achievements don't matter. What matters is showing grit and resiliency through hardship. This is someone who had everything going against getting into and/or completing college, but persevered!


    Finally, congratulations to all students selected as this year's Outstanding OSC Students.