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  5. College honors distinguished alumni at Oct. 8 Engineers' Day celebration (1867)

College honors distinguished alumni at Oct. 8 Engineers' Day celebration

Congratulations to eight alumni who are 2010 recipients of the College of Engineering Early-Career and Distinguished Achievement Awards. We celebrate these influential engineers—innovators and leaders who have made contributions in fields including entrepreneurship, banking, consulting and design engineering, medical research and education, communications, soil engineering, materials science, and nuclear materials. These engineers and executives will receive their awards Oct. 8 at an evening banquet during the 62nd annual Engineers' Daycelebration.

During the banquet, the college also will recognize faculty and staff for their contributions and excellence in such areas as research, education, service to society, problem-solving, and technology use. These college award recipients include Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Thatcher W. Root, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Marc A. Anderson, Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor David A. Noyce, Mechancial Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering Senior Lecturer Jay M. Samuel, Paul A. Elfers Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering James B. Rawlings, Engineering Professional Development Associate Faculty Associate and Director of Technical Communications Laura R. Grossenbacher, and Materials Science and Engineering Financial Specialist 3 Paula King

Throughout the day, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends can attend seminars that highlight innovation in engineering education, research about our bodies' amazing neural networks, research about powerful computing tools, and provide an overview of the student service organization Engineers Without Borders. For more details about the event, visit the Engineers’ Day website

Early-Career Achievement Award Recipient

Chad M. Sorenson, BSME '99, MSME '01
President and Co-founder
Sologear LLC
Middleton, Wisconsin

Chad Sorenson, a passionate innovator and entrepreneur who converts smart ideas into real products, has received numerous innovation and business planning awards, holds two U.S. patents, and has an active passion for teaching college students about new product development and entrepreneurship. 

Born in Blaine, Minnesota, Sorenson now resides in Oregon, Wisconsin. By 2002, Sorenson completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s degree in business administration from UW-Madison, and began his first of three businesses. 

Sorenson founded Fluent Systems, LLC, an agricultural technology company based on his invention, a wireless fluid level monitoring system for fertilizer application. He managed all stages of company development from formation through product development, manufacturing scale-up, and market introduction. 

Fluent Systems founding invention, the TankMate, placed first in both the UW-Madison Schoofs Prize for Creativity and the Tong Prototype Prize and second in the G. Steven Burrill Technology Business Plan Competitions. In 2003, Sorenson sold the business after 18 months for $1.5 million to Raven Industries, a public corporation involved in agricultural flow control technologies.

In 2004, Sorenson started Mendota Research, LLC, which consulted on marketing viability of new products. With Bose Corporation as an anchor client, the company focused its market research and technology assessments on active suspension systems for the trucking and agriculture industries meanwhile developing business plans and strategies for other new ventures. 

In 2005, Sorenson and his business partners created Sologear, LLC, after inventing its founding product, the FlameDisk, a non-charcoal grilling fuel and eco-friendly, easy-to-use product that emits 92 to 99 percent fewer known air pollutants than charcoal. Sorenson is actively growing his latest business with a new product expected to release soon. 

Sorenson is also active in the education community by sharing his experiences and knowledge with a new crop of potential entrepreneurs at UW-Madison. For the past five years, Sorenson served as a judge for the UW-Madison Innovation Days competitions. Last year, Sorenson led an 11-week seminar series on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship to keep students engaged in competition projects. He covered important aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship—from turning an idea into reality, to tools needed to raise capital and write a business plan. 

In his spare time, Sorenson enjoys reading non-fiction books and playing tennis and golf. Occasionally, when not spending time with family and friends, he experiments with video editing software and works around his house. Following his father’s lead as an engineer, Sorenson still cherishes his favorite childhood hobbies of remote control airplanes, model rocketry and aquariums.

Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients

William C. Beckman, BSCEE '80
Maitland, Florida

Inspired by his father, a former UW-Madison mechanical engineering professor, 

William Beckman graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering in 1980. “I thought civil would be good,” he says. “That way I wouldn’t have to take his class.” 

During college, Beckman worked at Affiliated Engineers, Inc. in Madison and moved to full time after graduation designing building systems in their plumbing, HVAC and fire protection department. In 1982, he transferred to the Gainesville, Florida offices to serve as lead engineer for many high profile projects. 

Those who know Beckman, say he believes resting on one’s laurels in not an option and say where many would be content to enjoy the view after conquering a peak, he is scanning the horizon looking for a higher mountain to climb. In 1984, Beckman ventured out on his own as a mechanical engineer and joined together with an electrical engineer in Tampa, Florida to create Tanasee & Associates, a mechanical/electrical consulting firm that delivered projects for the area’s housing authority and local school systems. It was there that Beckman designed one of the first thermal storage HVAC systems in the country. 

Beckman then joined GRG Consulting Engineers in Maitland, Florida as the lead mechanical engineer. In 1985, he was elected president and after years of many mergers and acquisitions, Beckman and partners converted the company into what is now X-nth, an international premier design engineering firm in the entertainment, hospitality, gaming, healthcare, science and mission critical market sectors of the building industry. In late 2009, X-nth merged with TROW Global, a multinational design firm serving the entire built environment. The combined organization has nearly 100 office locations, a staff of almost 4,000 people and annual revenues approaching $500M. 

On behalf of X-nth, Beckman contributes to many charities including the Universal Orlando Foundation, Junior Achievement, and the Boy Scouts, to name a few. “I know Beckman” is a common phrase heard among X-nth employees when they tell others where they work. However, it is not through marketing endeavors or business dinners, but rather from his creative engineering solutions or game point in a ping-pong match.  

Beckman married a UW-Madison alumna, Janet. Their eldest son, Christopher, is a University of Florida (UF) engineering graduate, former wakeboarding professional, and engineer in training at X-nth. Their younger son, Kyle, is an engineering student at UF and an All-American Middie lacrosse player. The adventure-seeking family enjoys good food, athletic activity and traveling to exotic places. 

Dawn Ann Harms, BSECE '84
Vice President
Marketing and Sales
Space Systems/Loral
Palo Alto, California

Dawn Harms, a Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, native who was a first-generation college student, is an exceptional role model for both female and non-traditional engineering students. Her professional career is marked by a journey from design engineer to corporate leader and Harms now is vice president of marketing and sales at Space Systems/Loral, a world-leading manufacturer of communications satellites headquartered in Palo Alto, California. In her position, she is responsible for securing and sustaining more than $1 billion annually in gross sales of realistic satellite systems in a high-stakes, vital and vibrant international industry. 

At age 25, Harms enrolled at UW-Madison and received a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1984. She began her engineering career designing traveling wave tubes at Teledyne MEC in Palo Alto, California. In 1987, she became business director for the company’s commercial communications product line.

Harms joined Ford Aerospace, which became Space Systems/Loral, as a subcontract engineering manager in 1990. In this capacity, she specified and negotiated requirements for microwave components and provided technical oversight for the subcontracts with vendors worldwide. In 1993, she served as sales director of the company’s Asia Pacific business development and then vice president of marketing and sales for the Americas in 1996 before advancing to her current position. 

In 2010, Harms was elected to the board of directors of the Society of Satellite Professionals International. She frequently participates in worldwide conference panels representing the satellite manufacturer’s perspective within the industry and in advanced engineering, management and leadership programs. She served on the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Industrial Advisory Board for five years and hosted events to foster relations between alumni and the ECE department. She is excited to rejoin the board beginning in 2011.

Harms is a member of the Bay Area Badgers, Wisconsin Alumni Association, Special Need Children Center Foundation and a supporter of Habitat for Humanity. Harms resides in Sunnyvale, California, with her husband, Greg, who is also an engineer in the space industry. They are the proud parents of Alyson, Geoffrey and Derek. Alyson is currently in law school at the University of San Francisco and their twin sons, Derek and Geoffrey, are entering the first grade. She is currently a board member of Amazing Creations Preschool and Saint Andrew’s Episcopal School. In her free time she cherishes family time at their vacation home on the Pacific coast.

Show Chung Ho, MSME '69
SinoPac Holdings Co., Ltd.
Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.

Show Chung Ho is a leading industrial and financial figure in Taiwan. He is a director and the former chairman of the Yuen Foong Yu (YFY) Paper Manufacturing Co. Ltd., and the chairman of the diversified financial group SinoPac Holdings.

Ho led YFY to become the largest paper company in Taiwan and a leading player in the greater China market. With 44 years of expertise covering the full production cycle from upstream forestration paper manufacturing to downstream printing and converting, he is an acknowledged visionary in the industry and has put the company at the forefront of the fast-growing electronic paper market. 

As chairman of SinoPac, he transformed a local community bank into the third-largest financial holdings group in Taiwan.

Ho was born in 1945, just before the surrender of Japan and the beginning of Taiwan’s political transformation as the Republic of China. He is one of the first in the baby-boomer generation and has been an integral part of Taiwan’s post-war economic miracle.

In 1967, he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from National Cheng Kung University, and was accepted for admission to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He received a master’s segree in 1969.

Upon receiving his master’s, he returned to Taiwan to work with his father, Chuan Ho, the founder of YFY, in launching two projects in Eastern Taiwan: CHP, a wood pulp joint venture, and a paperboard factory.

As Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic expansion in the 1970s, YFY initiated its first overseas investments, marking the beginning of YFY’s intensive international market development. In 1976, YFY established P.T. Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper Corp., IKPP (Indonesia), a pioneer in Indonesia’s paper industry. In 1984, it launched a joint venture with Siam Cement Group (Thailand) to establish Thai Paper Co. Ltd., which is now SPPC.

Both investments involved the export of machinery and manufacturing expertise. With this successful business model, both Kiat Pulp & Paper and SPPC are the largest pulp and paper companies in their domestic markets.

Technology has always been at the center of Ho’s work. With a solid belief that thin film transistors will grow quickly to become a major method of delivering the written word, YFY has established Prime View International (PVI), the first thin film transistors company in Taiwan in 1992 and started thin film transistor industry development in Taiwan.

Another key area of interest is in electronic paper. In 2008, PVI partnered with the E-Ink company and became a supplier to the Amazon Kindle.

In 2009, PVI purchased E-Ink, enabling the new company, E Ink Holding Inc., to become the global leader in e-paper. This marked the transformation of 63-year-old YFY Paper Manufacturing Co. from a being a traditional paper manufacturer to becoming a leader in the e-paper market. 

With a focus on a green environment, for the past six years, YFY has researched the benefits of microorganisms and enzymes. For example, in its China plant, it recycles agricultural waste such as straw and uses it as the raw materials to produce pulp through biotechnology.  

Ho has also been active in financial services. The community bank begun by his father and a few friends in 1948—the first private bank in the country—has now become SinoPac Holdings, the third-largest financial holdings group in Taiwan.

Ho succeeded his father as chairman in 1986, a position he continues to hold. The group has 34 subsidiaries, including a commercial bank, securities firm, a venture capital group and investment trust operation, among others. 

Aside from his corporate work, Ho has been active in a large number of economic and cultural development programs. Among them, he was director of the Taiwan Paper Industry Association from 1985 to 1991, where he helped to globalize Taiwan’s paper industry. He was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship in 1990 and became a member of the Eisenhower Foundation. He was a founding member of the Epoch Foundation, established with other private entrepreneurs in 1990 to help build relationships between Taiwan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ho became a member of the 1994 Education Reform Committee (Taiwan), which made recommendations to the Taiwanese government cabinet on improving Taiwan’s education system. He is executive director of the Chinese National Federation of Industries (CNFI), a non-profit organization of associations from various industries in Taiwan. He was chairman of the Taiwan Biotech Association from 2006 to 2009. The association has the longest history and broadest membership of any biotech group in Taiwan. He was a member of the Taiwanese delegation to the Economic Leaders’ Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) in 2009 and was chairman of the Chinese Professional Management Association, the largest professional management group in Taiwan, from 1986 to 1988.

Ho is married to Sing-Ju Chang, an educator and editor of children’s books. The couple founded the Hsin-Yi Foundation, the first organization in Taiwan promoting research into the importance of pre-school education. Their son Felix received a bachelor’s degree in management science and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their daughter Stephanie graduated from Brown University with a degree in political science.  

Aicardo Roa-Espinosa, MSBSE '85, PhDBSE '86
President Soil Net LLC
Madison, Wisconsin

Aicardo Roa-Espinosa is said to be a true American success story. Born in Palmira Valle, Columbia, he was homeschooled while his father moved frequently due to political fears. After attending college on scholarship from the City of Palmira, he received his bachelor’s degree in agronomy engineering and worked in Columbia’s sugar industry. In search of higher engineering education, he moved to the United States and received a master’s in 1985 and PhD in 1989, both in biological systems engineering with a specialty in soil and water engineering from UW-Madison.

Today, he is considered the leading authority in the use of polymers in erosion control and water clarification. His U.S. career began as an industrial stormwater project coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR).

His extensive experience in soil conservation yielded award-winning dust control developments for landing helicopters in the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign with the U.S. Marine Corps, marking him as one of the most knowledgeable people in the United States in polymer-based erosion control. 

After this success, Roa-Espinosa formed his own company, Soil Net LLC, in 2004 to apply the technology. The company produces, supplies and develops separation technology for a number of different applications, including polymer-based vegetable-oil refining, biodiesel refining, erosion control, waste separation and transformation, and water clarification. As president of Soil Net, Roa-Espinosa discovered new ways to transform solids into fertilizers, animal feed, glue, erosion control products, and slow-release fertilizer.

Remembering his roots, Roa-Espinosa co-founded Centro Hispano of Dane County, created for Wisconsin-based Cuban refugees to acclimate to life here. Recognizing that education was a fundamental factor to his success, together with Ron Simmons, Peter Munoz, and the WDNR, he founded a Madison elementary school-tutoring program. He is also a board member of the Badger Chapter of the American Red Cross and board president for the Latin America and Caribbean consortium to support cassava research and development, the crop of the poor lands in many countries. 

An active supporter of both the instruction and research programs at UW-Madison and an honorary fellow of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Roa-Espinosa donates substantial funds to support student research in collaboration with his laboratory in Belleville, Wisconsin. There, he currently is working to create a practical, economical polymer to control soil loss and the associated components such as phosphorus, fertilizers and agrochemicals. 

Roa-Espinosa enjoys traveling, botanical gardens, worldwide art museums and soccer. He has two children, Tomas and Samuel, and is married to Susan Byram. 

Nitish V. Thakor, MSBME '78, PhDECE '81
Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Neurology
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland

Nitish Thakor is a professor of biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and neurology at Johns Hopkins University. He currently directs the Laboratory for Medical Instrumentation and Neuroengineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to carry out interdisciplinary and collaborative engineering research on technologies for basic and clinical neurosciences.

Born in Nagpur, India, Thakor developed an early interest in both engineering and medicine. The first in his family to travel abroad and obtain a PhD, Thakor completed a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in 1978 and a PhD in electrical and computer engineering in 1981 from UW-Madison.  While doing is undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Thakor developed his first interest in medical electronics and instrumentation. His undergraduate thesis was inspired by Professor John Webster's research, and he eventually found his way to join Webster's laboratory at UW-Madison.  It was here that he developed the first portable microcomputer-based abnormal heart rhythm monitoring instrument under the supervision of Professors Webster and Willis Tompkins. 

During his early career teaching at John Hopkins, Thakor carried out research on implantable defibrillators. He is now engaged in pioneering work on brain-monitoring technologies for neurocritical care, and, more recently, on brain machine interface and neural control of prosthetic limbs.

Thakor has published more than 200 refereed journal papers, edited one book, generated 11 patents, and co-founded three medical device companies. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal IEEE Transactions on Neural and Rehabilitation Engineering. He is also the director of a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering neuroengineering training program for doctoral students. He has supervised more than 50 graduate students and as many postdoctoral fellows and research faculty. He has organized and chaired dozens of conferences and workshops and has given more than 25 keynote or plenary talks. 

Thakor is a recipient of a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health and a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and of IEEE and is a founding fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society. His honors also include the Technical Achievement in Neural Engineering Award from the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India. 

Thakor and wife, Ruchira, have four children: Mitali, Milan, Jai and Vir. 

Dan J. Thoma, MSMetE '88, PhDMetE '92
Office Leader—Materials Design Institute
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Growing up with a fascination for watching his grandfathers’ craft (one was a plumber and the other an auto body repairman), Dan Thoma developed an artisan’s perspective of the use of metals in society. 

Thoma, who obtained a PhD in metallurgical engineering and minor in chemistry at UW-Madison in 1992, has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico ever since. He now is director of the LANL Materials Design Institute, a collaborative research program with the University of California

His career at LANL began as team leader for alloy design and development with the metallurgy group in the materials science and technology division, where he grew his team to 12 people and an annual budget of $5 million. 

In 2003, he became the associate director’s science advisor for the LANL Weapon Engineering and Manufacturing Directorate. He served as chair of the materials science and engineering council and United States chair for the joint working group on nuclear materials, a collaborative technical exchange program with the United Kingdom.

Thoma’s research interests include physical metallurgy specifically microstructural development during materials processing.  With more than 120 publications and 200 presentations, he devotes his technical efforts to alloying theory, thermodynamics and kinetics of phase transformations and property response.  

Past president of the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) and of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers, Thoma is current president of the Federation of Materials Societies and board member for the United Engineering Foundation. In 2007, he received the LANL Fellow’s Prize for Leadership and the TMS Distinguished Service Award; in 2008, he earned the American Society of Materials International fellowship. 

The early impressions of his grandfathers instilled in Thoma the importance of adult role models both socially and professionally. Displaying his lifelong passion for sports, the Dayton, Ohio, native coached youth sports, through which he believes children can learn to develop balance and discipline in their lives. A 20-year supporter of Special Olympics, Thoma takes pride in coaching special-needs children, girls, and others who require strong role models. 

Off the court, Thoma visits local schools as an advocate for math and physical sciences and coordinates an annual congressional visit for materials students in Washington, D.C. His wife, Ann, volunteers at the local family resource center and chaired their church’s Elizabeth Ministry. In 2008, the couple’s oldest son, Jon, went to Honduras to help at an orphanage the family supports—and to deliver soccer balls. Thoma has three other children: Andy, Nick and Rachel. 

Steven J. Zinkle, BSNE and physics '80, MSNE and MS&E '92, PhDNE '85
Director—Materials Science and Technology Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Growing up on a dairy farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Steve Zinkle had limited experience with advanced technology concepts. Initially, he had planned to pursue a career as a history teacher until his high school guidance counselor suggested engineering. He enrolled as a nuclear engineering undergraduate at UW-Madison and an introductory materials science course during his junior year piqued his interest.

When he finished his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1980, Zinkle continued his education at UW-Madison, completing a master’s in 1982 and PhD in 1985, both in nuclear engineering. Then, he began a career that juxtaposed nuclear engineering and materials science. While in graduate school, Zinkle performed some of the first materials research experiments worldwide using deuterium-tritium fusion neutrons during summer work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Zinkle has worked in the materials science and technology division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) since 1985, when he joined the lab as a Eugene Wigner Fellow researching radiation effects in materials for proposed fusion energy systems. In 1992, he spent one year at research centers in Denmark, Germany and Russia as a visiting scientist, where his research subsequently broadened to include a variety of materials issues for space reactor and fission reactor systems. In 1999, he was appointed ORNL fusion materials research program manager and later nuclear materials science and technology group leader in 2001. In 2004 he was named an ORNL corporate fellow. 

Now director of the ORNL materials science and technology division, Zinkle provides technical management for more than 300 staff and affiliated scientists. His current research interests include deformation and fracture mechanisms in structural materials and investigation of radiation effects in ceramics and metallic alloys for fusion and fission energy systems. 

Zinkle has written more than 230 peer-reviewed publications and is a fellow of the American Ceramic Society, ASM International, American Nuclear Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received numerous professional awards, including the American Nuclear Society Mishima Award for outstanding research and development on nuclear fuels and materials, the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society Fusion Technology Award, and the U.S. Department of Energy Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award.

Zinkle met his wife, Teresa, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and they were married in 1990. They have two sons in high school, Austin and Allen. Zinkle has served as a volunteer basketball coach for several youth teams and enjoys running in his spare time.  

Renee Meiller