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At UCI’s graduation, 49 students will wear a blue and gold shoulder cord with their commencement regalia, indicating that they are recipients of the 2018 Chancellor’s Award of Distinction. The UCI Alumni Association honors outstanding graduating seniors with this award to acknowledge their “exceptional academic achievement and commitment to cutting-edge research, leadership and service to UCI.” Two students from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) have been honored this year with this distinction: Christian Morte and Ayesha Syed.

Christian Morte: Well-Rounded Innovator and Team Leader
Morte, an ICS and Henry Samueli School of Engineering student graduating with a BS in computer science and engineering, has been heavily involved in research at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2@UCI).

“I got to work on a lot of cool startup kind of projects,” he says. “I worked with a bunch of different technologies, presented at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and the Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP), and even got to be a team lead for one of the projects.” Morte led his team in developing PET (Personal Embodied Trainer), an exercise application that uses a smartphone, TV and wristband to promote physical therapy at home (view a demo here).

He is also one of the co-founders of Men’s Club Basketball and served as club treasurer. “It was fun not only being able to lead a first-year club but also to play ball with all my teammates the past few years,” he says.

Morte was surprised and excited to learn he had earned a Chancellor’s Award of Distinction, and he credits his mother for helping him get to where he is today. His next step will be to take his passion for innovation and leadership to Google as he starts work as a software engineer resident this September. “My hope is to join full-time after a year and see where it goes from there!”

Ayesha Syed: Source of Inspiration for Women in CS
Syed similarly recognizes her mother’s role in her accomplishments. In fact, after learning she had received the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction, she immediately called to “congratulate” her mother. “Getting the Chancellor’s award might have been 20 percent me,” she says, “but the rest is all her… pushing me to do my best.” And Syed certainly appreciates the power of a little push.

Although she is now working in the IT division for server management at the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works and plans to become a business analyst, she initially experienced some anxiety because of her major.

“I happen to be a business information management major, which unexpectedly belongs under the computer science school, and not the business school,” she explains. “The intensity of my major continued to increase as I took classes within a male-dominated environment. Many of my male group members would take over our projects, never leaving any room for me to learn with them.”

After getting a push from her roommate, Syed started taking more initiative in group projects and studying harder, overcoming her own fears. But she didn’t stop there; she reached out to help others by becoming a Management and Information Student Society (MAISS) mentor. “Anxiety is a real problem that many college students deal with, and who better to help than a fellow peer who understands that stress as well?” Syed provided encouragement to her mentee this year, convincing her to stick with her major by helping her with public speaking and taking her to study sessions, social activities, and career workshops.

“I understand the fear that many females within business and computer science fields face because I had that same fear. It is our job to look past that and not let ourselves be pushed back into the shadows.”

Shani Murray