Maine College of Engineering and Computing holds 2023 Bryand Annual Awards Banquet

Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) Commissioner Bruce Van Note was among the recipients of the Maine College of Engineering and Computing’s Edward Bryand annual awards honoring alumni, faculty, staff and students during a ceremony held Nov. 16. 

Van Note was named the Edward T. Bryand Distinguished Engineer. Electrical and computer engineering professor Mauricio Pereira da Cunha received the Ashley Campbell Award. Christopher Dufour, computer science lecturer, and Justin Lapp, assistant professor of design, both received the Early Career Teaching Award. 

Liza White received the Graduate Student Research Award for her work in the paper industry and her local community. Promising Sarah Glatter received the Graduate Student Teaching Award for fostering a vibrant and intellectually stimulating learning environment for her students.

Salimeh Yasaei Sekeh, assistant professor in computer science, received the Early Career Research Award for her work on neural networks. Heather Pierce received the Leila Lowell Award for her outstanding service to the Electrical and Computing Engineering Department. 

The Bryand Awards Ceremony was established in 1979 by then Dean Jim Clapp, with the first college recognition banquet held the following year. Criteria were established for two awards: Ashley S. Campbell Award and the Edward T. Bryand Distinguished Engineering Award. Other awards for individuals and students have been added throughout the years, including the Leila C. Lowell Award for staff members, which was introduced in 1983.

Bruce Van Note

Van Note was sworn in as MaineDOT commissioner in January 2019. A lifelong Mainer, he was born in Houlton, one of six children, and moved to Bath, where he attended public schools. He holds degrees in surveying (engineering) from UMaine and law degree from the University of Maine School of Law, both with honors. He is a proud UMaine engineer, a professional land surveyor and an attorney.

Van Note has 27 years of professional transportation work experience in Maine, including more than 22 years at MaineDOT. His MaineDOT experience includes 12 years as deputy commissioner. During that time, he acquired working knowledge of policy, legislative affairs, planning, budget, procurement, freight services, capital project delivery, maintenance and operations. He enjoys leading the dedicated and talented team at MaineDOT to provide a transportation system that supports economic opportunity and quality of life. Immediately before becoming commissioner, he also served as the director of policy and planning at the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Mauricio Pereira da Cunha

Pereira da Cunha’s visionary contributions to UMaine’s Frontier Institute for Research in Sensor Technologies (FIRST) have not only positioned him on the global scientific map, but also underscored UMaine’s stature as a global pioneer in wireless sensors, microwave electronics and novel sensor solutions for extreme conditions. 

His unwavering dedication to student growth is palpable in his immersive teaching methods. Beyond delivering core electrical engineering courses, he has curated a wealth of engaging demonstrations, software applications and hands-on labs concentrating on electromagnetic and sensor technologies. Such exposure furnishes students with unparalleled, industry-relevant expertise. The high academic bar he sets helps students understand the essence of rigorous critique and creative innovation, which are vital for thriving engineering careers. This commitment is evident in the numerous hours he dedicates to mentoring. Notably, under his guidance at UMaine, he has overseen the research of 47 graduate students, with 30 directly benefiting from his funded projects, as well as 58 undergraduates, three NSF-RET teachers, nine postdocs/research scientists and 15 professional engineers.  

Pereira da Cunha’s accomplishments are unmatched in research, especially concerning wireless sensor applications in energy, environment and biomedicine. Among his accolades is the esteemed CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. He has also secured 47 significant grants totaling over $25 million, leading 31 projects as principal investigator and 14 as co-principal investigator. Additionally, he collaborates on other UMaine projects with funding of $500,000, underlining his dedication to fostering research and development. 

Salimeh Yasaei Sekeh

Sekeh has received approximately $1.1 million so far, including a very prestigious NSF CAREER award focused on the foundations of deep neural network robustness and efficiency. As a faculty member at Georgia Tech recently wrote in a letter for another faculty member, everyone in the College of Computing at Tech who has received a CAREER award has gone on to earn tenure there. With respect to publishing, Sekeh is very productive. Since 2019, she has published 17 papers, most in highly-reviewed, top-quality journals and conferences.

As evidence of her stature in the field, since joining UMaine, she has been invited to speak at Amazon (twice), Cisco, IBM/MIT, the University of California San Diego, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom and the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil.

She is quite productive in training new researchers as well. She runs the Sekeh Lab, which includes Ph.D., master’s and undergraduate students. She has graduated one Ph.D. student from another institution and one master’s student so far, and is currently advising five Ph.D. students and one 4+1 master’s student. She is an excellent mentor for new researchers in training, as evidenced by her nomination for the Supervisor of the Year Award. 

Justin Lapp

The student evaluations of Lapp have been impressive, in part due to him gaining more confidence as a teacher and responding to the feedback received from his students. His scores include a perfect 5.0 rating for his preparedness, enthusiasm and respect for students’ questions and opinions. He also scores very close to 5.0 on requiring students to apply concepts to demonstrate understanding of the curricula, and on his level of concern as an instructor for the quality of his teaching.

 Christopher Dufour

In a focus group of the 2022 Computer Science Senior Class, students were asked “What should SCIS not change in the future?” Universally, the class responded, “Don’t change Chris Dufour.” That is a broad sentiment among students, faculty, and administration in SCIS. Dufour has exceeded the expectations of his leadership and vision based on his age and experience. Without complaint, he has accepted roles and positions that tax his time and energy.  He has repeatedly stepped beyond his comfort zone to fill essential roles. He cares deeply about the welfare of our students, the health of our community and the future of UMaine. 

Heather Pierce

Pierce’s proactive nature and self-driven attitude are commendable. She consistently demonstrates initiative, stepping up whenever the department needs support. Her broad exposure to our department’s operations has equipped her with invaluable institutional knowledge. Heather operates independently, often without directives, leveraging her extensive network and expertise to resolve issues efficiently. Her work ethic stands out; she consistently seeks avenues to assist others when she has a moment to spare.  

Liza White

White is an incredible young researcher with the potential to make significant contributions to science and engineering for the betterment of the world. She demonstrates her research excellence not only through the traditional metrics of patents, publications and awards. She also works tirelessly to move the results of her research out into the market where it can help solve problems and to share her science with throughout Maine, particularly at underserved schools. She is a high-quality, community-oriented researcher. 

Sarah Glatter

Glatter has a genuine commitment to fostering positive interpersonal relationships with her students. She makes it a priority to create a close and engaging environment, particularly for freshman students, who she helps ease into higher education. She also fosters a sense of belonging within the department. Glatter goes above and beyond what is expected of her by offering one-on-one tutoring and counseling to students who may be struggling, ensuring that no one is left behind. She designs interactive lectures and hosts additional study sessions for the benefit of all students in the department, displaying a selfless dedication to the broader academic community.