Published: May 30, 2014
Caroline Szczepanski, Chris Muhich, Stacey Skaalure, Peter Mitrano, and Carolyn Schoenbaum

Each April graduate student awards are given by the department for outstanding research, leadership, and service. This year’s winners, above shown l-r, are:

Caroline Szczepanski - Departmental Service Award
Chris Muhich - American Institute of Chemists Graduate Student Faculty Leadership Award
Stacey Skaalure - American Institute of Chemists Graduate Student Award
Peter Mitrano - Max S. Peters Outstanding Graduate Award
Carolyn Schoenbaum - Departmental Service Awards

Max S. Peters Outstanding Graduate Award: Peter Mitrano

Honored for his outstanding research achievements, Peter Mitrano focuses on first-principles predictions of instabilities in flows involving solid particles. Applications of his work span solar power plants, pneumatic conveying of chemicals and foodstuffs, gasification of biomass, synthesis of specialty chemicals, sand transport during windstorms, and even the rings of Saturn.

According to his advisor Professor Christine Hrenya, “Peter’s series of contributions to clustering instabilities modeling have been groundbreaking. He has performed at an exceptional level combining productivity with high impact.”

Of Mitrano’s 6 published and 2 in-progress papers, one received a JFM Focus on Fluids designation and two were JFM Rapids articles. He was invited to give a keynote talk at Fluidization XIV (Netherlands, 2013), an extremely rare opportunity for a Ph.D. Student and a testament to the outstanding quality of his work. He has spearheaded work with 3 external interdisciplinary collaborators and mentored four undergraduates, all of whom serve as co-authors on at least one publication.

Mitrano will be defending this summer, after which he will continue work as a post-doctoral researcher in the Hrenya group while also teaching a section of the Engineering Projects course in the fall.

American Institute of Chemists Graduate Student Award: Stacey Skaalure

With innovative research, impressive teaching, and a commitment to outreach, Stacey Skaalure has proven herself an all-around exceptional graduate student. Her research involves integrating biology, tissue engineering, polymer chemistry, and computation with a goal of developing clinically translatable regenerative medicine and tissue engineering strategies.

Skaalure has not only flourished with 5 papers published and 3 in-progress, but she has also shown great initiative. “She has taken her project into a new and creative direction,” attests advisor Associate Professor Stephanie Bryant. “In particular, she has helped to strengthen a collaboration between our group and a modeling group to ultimately design hydrogels tailored to any cell type.”

Bryant adds, “She is also a natural teacher; she can break down complicated concepts into something that is understandable.” After a semester as an advanced TA for Biokinetics, one of her students commented, “Stacey is one of the best TAs I have ever had. It is readily apparent that she really cares about our success and how well we understand the material.”

This commitment to teaching extends beyond the college classroom. Skaalure has mentored numerous students in the lab, with a high school or undergraduate co-author on each of her papers. She has also been involved in developing a variety of hands-on workshops for high school students and tutors local high school students.

Skaalure successfully defended in May and will begin a two-year post-doctoral position as a prestigious Whitaker Scholar this fall, working in the lab of Professor Molly Stevens at Imperial College in London.

American Institute of Chemists Graduate Student Faculty Leadership Award: Christopher Muhich

Christopher Muhich has shown tremendous leadership during his time at CU both in research and beyond. According to his advisors Professors Al Weimer and Charles Musgrave, “Chris has been outstanding in every way and represents the ideal graduate student.”

With 6 high quality published papers, including one in Science, 4 papers in progress, 1 patent, 10 presentations at national conferences, and 9 mentored undergraduate students, Muhich possesses an impressive resume. His research involves two-step solar thermal water splitting experiments and modeling.

But Muhich has exhibited a proclivity for leadership well beyond his research. In 2009 he founded a CU Chapter of the Student Alliance of GLBT Engineers. He was a member of the BOLD Center’s Student Leadership Council from 2011-2013, and has been a graduate student representative to ChBE since 2012.

In 2013 Muhich became a ChBE Graduate Leadership Council (GLC) Co-Chair with a focus on recruiting. Along with fellow co-chairs Carolyn Schoenbaum and Caroline Szczepanski, he was instrumental in reorganizing the GLC to better distribute responsibilities and engage more students.

Muhich is planning to defend this fall and is considering a career in academia.

Departmental Service Awards: Carolyn Schoenbaum and Caroline Szczepanski

Both Carolyn Schoenbaum and Caroline Szczepanski have donated countless hours of service to the department throughout their years at CU, with perhaps their greatest impact made this last year as GLC Co-Chairs.

“A year ago we were facing an important dilemma trying to continue our tradition of students providing important service to the department, especially for admission and recruiting,” says Graduate Program Director and Professor Charles Musgrave. “Carolyn, Caroline and Chris (Muhich) showed great leadership in successfully reorganizing the GLC to instill a sense of community, sustainable leadership and more distributed efforts from students across the department.”

Advised by Professor Dan Schwartz and Associate Professor Will Medlin, Carolyn Schoenbaum has spent years developing synthetic catalysts with a biomimetic surface environment in order to achieve desired selectivity outcomes for practical applications. Beyond her research, she organized the Student Annual Research Symposium (StARS) in 2011 and 2012, was a Middle School Science Field Day Group Leader in 2013 and 2014, and has mentored multiple undergraduate students. In her role as a ChBE Graduate Leadership Council Co-Chair, she focuses on professional development events such as StARS and a new monthly ChBE Professional Speaker Series.

Caroline Szczepanski works on the formation, development, characterization, and applications of complex polymer structures under the direction of Professor Jeff Stansbury. Selected as a Graduate Student Teaching Fellow for the 2013-14 academic year, she also served as the Lead TA, coordinating and training all ChBE TAs. She served as the CU Volunteer Coordinator for the Expanding Your Horizons Conference in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and as a group leader in 2010. Szczepanski is always quick to help with ad hoc requests such as giving lectures on graduate student life in seminar classes to organizing prelim prep sessions to organizing experiments for visiting high school students. She is currently a ChBE Graduate Leadership Council Co-Chair focusing on social and outreach events.

Schoenbaum successfully defended in May and will start working for Intel Corporation in Portland, OR in August. Szczepanski plans on defending this fall.