gold ribbon, Student Sustainability Awards

The inaugural Student Sustainability Awards from the UCI Sustainability Resource Center recognize important contributions to the UCI and the Orange County region for sustainable progress, advocacy, and research by students. These awards do not capture the full spectrum of work that students at UCI have done to advance sustainability, but they represent great accomplishments and heart.

Students at UCI have been at the forefront of advancing sustainability for the University and the region. They consistently demonstrate the active hope for our future during this climate crisis. Join us in congratulating the student awardees during the Beyond Earth Week Banquet taking place on Thursday, April 25th, 2024.

Outstanding Sustainability Research Award

Pengyuan Sun, Next Generation of Urban Traffic Control and Safety Analysis

Man in a suit standing in front of a grey wall

As a Ph.D. student in Civil Engineering, Pengyuan has become a force for research within the UCI Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS). Pengyuan’s research focuses on developing traffic control methods for next generation traffic management, including eco-driving algorithms applied in various traffic situations, vehicle control methods for speed oscillation minimization, as well as the innovative Link-based Traffic Control concept with optimal vehicle movements.

Pengyuan’s nominator stated his “innovative and groundbreaking research will allow for dramatically better traffic efficiency, will significantly reduce the environmental impacts of traffic/vehicles, and will markedly improve traffic safety”. His research has shown many contributions to the field of transportation studies and sustainability, and will continually be built upon.

Honorable Mentions: Rajat Bhattacharjya, Marissa Kassisieh, and Henry Lin

Outstanding Environmental Justice Advocacy Award

Yahir Leal, Environment @ the Intersection and Adventures to Dreams Enrichment (AtDE)

young man in a blue jacket standing in front of green bushes.

Yahir Leal is a Senior in the Environmental Science & Policy (ENSP) program. Coming in as a transfer student, Yahir took his next two years to ingratiate himself with community organizations working towards justice. He completed 80 hours of field service through the UCI Field Study Program with Adventures to Dreams Enrichment (AtDE), and then continued to work with the organization. He mentored youth, assisted with gardening lessons, and directly served an average of 200 community members per month at their events.

Then Yahir brought this direct service work back to UCI by educating the campus community about it through an educational co-curricular certificate program called Environment @ the Intersection. He shed light on how policy and local relationships play a huge role in environmental injustices. Yahir was selected by the judging committee for demonstrating in-depth work within community and then bridging that to the UCI campus.

Honorable Mentions: Reframing Civil & Environmental Engineering at UCI (CEER), and Nathan Chen

Outstanding Sustainability Initiative Award

Food Recovery Network at UCI, Food Recovery and Gleaning from Orange County

group of people standing in front of a screen holding a sign that says Food Recovery Network

The Food Recovery Network at UCI has made outstanding efforts to help reduce food waste in the Orange County community. During this school year, FRN volunteers were able to glean food and donate to food banks and shelters around Orange County. Volunteers have also been able to organize canned food drives here at UCI to be able to donate to the UCI Basic Needs Center.

FRN has built partnerships across Orange County with organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank to donate gleaned and canned food products. They also worked to build a relationship with Anaheim hotels which helped them rescue over 100,000 lbs of food in 2 days from the Natural Food Products Expo West. FRN is always striving to do more to educate folks on local food waste issues on campus by hosting events like an educational film screening.

Honorable Mentions: Student Leadership Institute for Climate Resilience (Mya Huetter), and Sustainability in Entrepreneurship (Maya Villalobos)

Outstanding Sustainability Champion Award

Maya El-Ajouz

woman standing in front of a large building with large windows

The inaugural Outstanding Sustainability Champion award is bestowed upon Senior in Civil Engineering, Maya El-Ajouz. Maya demonstrates tremendous commitment to advancing sustainability here at UCI and in her communities. At UCI, Maya has revitalized the Engineers without Borders registered campus organization and initiated large-scale sustainability initiatives. These have included beach clean-ups, donation runs, workshops, and international projects focused on providing basic needs.

During her time, Maya has participated in multiple research efforts that have helped progress sustainability. This has included participating in the BioGals Sustainability Experience in Belize, and as a team member in the Olivares Lab. One of Maya’s nominators stated, “Maya’s exemplary leadership, initiative, and passion for engineering make her a valuable asset to the Department of Civil & Engineering at the University of California, Irvine”, and she continues to lead the way for sustainable progress.

Honorable Mentions: Camellia Cartland, & Amanda Zhu

Please help us in congratulating these students and organizations in their accomplishments.