Two students from the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, Anna L. Cerf and Emily C. Chen, have won the 2020 School of Engineering Outstanding Student Award. The award is given to a student or students — typically graduating fourth-years — who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance, leadership and service. It is one of UVA Engineering’s highest student honors.

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Anna Cerf’s Passion for Environmental Engineering Shows in Classroom, Lab and Sustainability Leadership

Cerf will graduate May 16 with highest distinction with a B.S. in civil engineering and minor in urban and environmental planning. A Jefferson Scholar, Rodman Scholar, Raven Honor Society Member and Lawn resident, she has maintained the highest academic standards throughout her time at UVA while holding various positions as a research assistant, teacher’s assistant and intern, including three years in the UVA Office of Sustainability where she was most recently the recycling team leader.

“Anna was quick to develop a solid understanding of the technical coursework and received top grades in each of the courses that’s she’s taken from me,” said Lindsay Ivey Burden, assistant professor in engineering systems and environment, who nominated Cerf. “Due to her success in the Geotechnical Engineering course, and because she is an extremely responsible student, I hired her to be a grader for the course. This is something I only do with my top students.”

She is passionate about environmental engineering, Burden said, and focuses that drive on sustainability issues.

Since 2018, Cerf has interned in UVA Engineering Dean and Janet and John Hamilton Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Craig H. Benson’s research group under sponsorship of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation. Her work on odor management related to municipal solid waste landfills has led to at least one journal article and recommendations that will be adopted in practice, Benson said.

Cerf is also known for her public service, prompting Benson to write in a letter supporting her nomination for the award, “I am amazed at how she gets so much done, and does it all so well. Anna is a truly exceptional student, leader and public steward.”

Cerf served on the Engineering Student Council, through which she co-founded and co-directed the Sustainability and Infrastructure Committee; was president and elementary and middle school outreach chair of the Society of Women Engineers UVA chapter; and was the membership coordinator on the executive board of the UVA American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter.

Cerf has been accepted into a master’s degree in water resources management program at the University of Stuttgart for next year but is deferring her decision due to COVID-19. She will work for the Environmental Defense Fund this summer.

More from Anna Cerf’s letters of recommendation for the Outstanding Student Award

“Anna is absolutely the epitome of what this award represents. She is scholarly, she shows leadership, and she consistently engages in service through engineering.”Lindsay Ivey Burden, assistant professor, Department of Engineering Systems and Environment

“Anna is one of those students with all the characteristics educators love to see: bright, motivated, loves a challenge and very mature! I have been teaching at the University of Virginia since 1993 and Anna is one of the most remarkable student’s I have met in all my years here.” Jose Gomez, instructor, Department of Engineering Systems and Environment

“Through Anna’s leadership and guidance, I have also seen her three teammates demonstrate phenomenal professional growth. To me this is the best example of leadership — using your voice to help others develop their own. I feel so fortunate to have had Anna in our student employee program because she serves as a walking example of a passionate, driven student dedicated to making change. It gives me joy to reflect on the profound impact Anna has had during her time at UVA, but it gives me even more joy to think about all the ways in which she will continually better whichever community she chooses to join. She is truly outstanding.” Lela Garner, sustainability coordinator, UVA Facilities Management Office for Sustainability


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Emily Chen, with Innate Ability and Extraordinary Work Experience, Is Already Poised to be a Transportation Leader

Emily Chen will graduate with high distinction this year with a civil engineering degree and minor in urban and environmental planning. Chen chose the infrastructure systems track and has been heavily involved in undergraduate research. Since her second year, she has worked in assistant professor T. Donna Chen’s lab and as a research assistant at the Center for Transportation Studies at UVA, including playing a critical role in the successful completion of a Virginia Department of Transportation project examining policy and regulation barriers to implementing bicycle facilities. The results of this work were presented at the 2019 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting and is under review for publication.

Donna Chen, who nominated Emily for the award, also had her as a third-year student in her Transportation Infrastructure Design course. “Emily was as competent and inquisitive in the classroom as she is in the research lab,” Donna Chen said, noting that she gravitated toward team leadership.

“Emily brought added value to her project team with her diverse academic and work experiences — having now done research in three different research labs on two different university campuses and interned for two private consulting firms,” Donna Chen said.

Those experiences include a prestigious National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and working alongside graduate researchers in UVA Engineering’s Omni Cognition and Reality Lab, in which Donna Chen is a collaborator.

Emily Chen also has demonstrated leadership through service in student organizations. Her student activities include site leader for UVA’s Project SERVE community service event and membership on the Society of Women Engineers Committee, through which she conducted outreach to local middle and high school girls and women to encourage interest in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Additionally, Chen was active in UVA professional association student chapters, including serving as the first undergraduate president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers vice president and publicity chair. She also participated in UVA’s Blueprint Emerging Leaders Program and served as a University peer advisor to first-year engineering students.

Chen has a job waiting at Kittelson & Associates, a transportation engineering and planning firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. She interned with the company last summer in Orlando, Florida.

More from Emily Chen’s letters of recommendation for the Outstanding Student Award

“As the faculty advisor of the Institute of Transportation Engineers UVA student chapter, I personally observed Emily’s remarkable leadership in her role as the chapter’s first undergraduate president. This was a new strategy to recruit more students interested in transportation as a career. Emily was able to recruit many undergraduates into various activities, and this was truly commendable as our chapter had been primarily a graduate student society, with an undergraduate representative. Her leadership made a difference in the ITE student chapter!”B. Brian Park, associate professor, Department of Engineering Systems and Environment

“Beyond Emily’s academic performance, there are two other areas of accomplishment that strike me as meriting an outstanding student award: (1) her leadership in student organizations, and (2) her commitment to and an ability to accomplish the broader social goals to which engineers are ostensibly committed. This second area of accomplishment is demonstrated by her work on her science, technology and society research project in which she compares transportation culture in the United States and Europe through the lens of ‘vehicular bias,’ which assumes the priority of vehicles over pedestrians. Her paper offers a persuasive argument that … combines both practicality and nuance in the service of achieving social goals, and, from my perspective, exemplifies the best of what we are trying to accomplish in undergraduate engineering education at the University of Virginia.”Kathryn A. Neeley, associate professor of science, technology and society, Department of Engineering and Society