2020/2021 Outstanding Dissertation Winners Announced

May. 24, 2021

The College of Engineering is pleased to announce this year’s Outstanding Dissertation winners:

  • First Place Winner: Zakai Olsen, ME, Advisor: Dr. Kwang Kim
  • Second Place Winner: Binit Shrestha, CEEC, Advisor: Dr. Jin Ouk Choi

Candidates are chosen by their department, and then those nominations are sent to faculty in other schools to evaluate them. Cash awards of $1,500 for first, and $750 for second, are given.

Here is a sample of what the reviewers reported about the two winners:

"Mr. Zakai Olsen is conducting research in the area of smart materials, particularly ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMC). There has been research conducted in the area of IPMCs in the past, but Mr. Olsen’s work still stands apart because he has not only combined various multiphysics formulations in his modeling but also developed new nonlinear models. This has made his work in the area of IPMCs most comprehensive to date. 

The outstanding nature of his work can be gauged from the nine peer-reviewed journal papers, two book chapters and one conference paper he was able to publish. Mr. Olsen also received various awards and grants during his graduate studies. This is truly amazing for a graduate student. With already more than 60 citations of his published work, Mr. Olsen’s research is already significantly influencing further advancement in his field of study. By giving 17 presentations at national/international conferences till now, Mr. Olsen has demonstrated his ability to be critiqued in-person by the international community in his field. 

The research conducted by Mr. Olsen for his graduate studies is multidisciplinary (combination of materials, chemistry, mechanics, electrical and controls) and the applications of his work are not only wide ranging but also in current critical areas of need. 

Overall, in the short span of graduate life, Mr. Olsen has built an exemplary record of accomplishments and I consider his dissertation research outstanding." 


" Binit Shrestha is conducting research in the area of standardization of capital projects. Capital projects are generally customized which can lead delays and high costs in some projects. Shrestha’s dissertation work is instead proposing a standardized approach to capital projects which can improve the project performance metrics. The research conducted by Mr. Shrestha is novel and can be useful for the construction industry. 

The research resulted in eight peer-reviewed journal papers, with many more in the pipeline. This shows the excellent nature of this work. He has presented at eight national/international conferences, showing his communication prowess and ability to be impromptuly critiqued by the international community in his field. Mr. Shrestha has conducted various case studies in his work. 

Overall, in the short amount of time during his graduate studies, Mr. Shrestha has built a very good academic profile and I consider his dissertation research to be excellent. "