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BESAC Digest 7/1/21

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

BESAC President's Message

Greetings BESAC Members and Friends!

What a difference two months can make! In the past two months we've seen COVID-19 cases and deaths plummet in the United States and have trepidatiously come out of our various states of isolation. I am hopeful, that like me, many of you have found time to reunite with friends and loved ones as regional and state-wide restrictions have lifted.

UC Berkeley has officially announced the campus re-opening and back to in-person instruction in the Fall. Congratulations to the class of 2021 who persevered through the last 14 months and a very warm welcome to the incoming class.

In light of the campus re-opening, BESAC is planning two upcoming in-person events: a Summer Welcome Weekend two-part event (virtual panel on 8/14 and in-person picnic on 8/15) as well as a Homecoming Panel on 10/2. Looking forward to seeing everyone in person, I hope that you can make it out to an event! We will also look for ways to incorporate simultaneous virtual events to keep geographically distributed members involved.

A silver lining of being 100% virtual for the last year was the participation from alumni such as Dr. Wade Sisk, Dr. Donna Auguste, and Carlton Young (all the way from Belize). I'd also like to personally acknowledge the appointment of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Professor Grace O’Connell as Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence. The BESAC board is excited to work with Dr. O'Connell in her new role! You can read more about her appointment below.

Miller Allen, Ph.D.

BESAC President

Cal Alumni Association Update

College of Engineering Announces the appointment of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Professor Grace O’Connell as Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence (AD-IE), effective July 1, 2021.

BESAC congratulates Professor Grace O'Connell!

(Please read the letter from the College of Engineering below)

Office of the dean

Dear Berkeley Engineering community members,

Over the past several years we have seen steady growth in the size and diversity of our faculty and student body, as we have worked together to eliminate systemic bias and inequities in our hiring and admissions processes. I would like to express appreciation to Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion (AD-EI) Kara Nelson for her leadership over the past four years to advance faculty diversity and to promote best practices for equity and inclusion. During this time, the college grew its ESS Programs and E&I teams, strengthened the role of the Equity and Inclusion Council, developed its inaugural Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan and K-12 Outreach Strategic Plan, completed the work of the Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment working group, and launched many ongoing programs including the Advancing Faculty Diversity Initiative, NextProf Nexus, the EMPOWER Program, and the Faculty Engagement Fund.

Each member of our community should feel supported to succeed at Berkeley. By fostering a more welcoming climate and inclusive culture, we will not only maximize individual success but also reach our full collective potential for positive impact. To accelerate progress toward these goals, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Professor Grace O’Connell as Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence (AD-IE), effective July 1, 2021.

Professor O’Connell conducts research in mechano-biology, with a focus on multi-scaled mechanics of soft biological tissues for the remediation and treatment of injury and degeneration. Her excellence in research has been recognized by an NSF CAREER Award, the American Society of Mechanical Engineering’s YC Fung Young Investigator Medal, and the JOR Spine Early Career Award from the Orthopaedic Research Society. She is an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), which represents the top two percent of medical and biological engineers in the nation. Most recently, she received the Chancellor's Research in the Public Interest Award for her work to convert sleep apnea machines into respiratory assistance devices for COVID-19 patients. Professor O’Connell also is an excellent teacher and mentor, one who has been deeply involved in our professional Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) program and hands-on curriculum offered through Jacobs Hall. She has served as the ME department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer, ensuring broad and inclusive faculty searches, and presently is Vice Chair for DEI, focusing on improving department climate and culture. She also has advised the Black Graduate Engineers and Scientist Students (BGESS) organization, and she is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers. Professor O’Connell is exceptionally qualified to build on the work of AD-EI, Kara Nelson, who will return to a full-time faculty role in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the end of June 2021.

In her role as AD-IE, Professor O’Connell will oversee and develop programs to promote inclusion and belonging, and guide efforts to support the success of all members of our community to maximize our excellence. I hope you all will join me in welcoming and supporting Grace in her new role as a member of my leadership team.


Tsu-Jae King Liu Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor College of Engineering

BESAC Highlights

Dr. Ashia Wilson got her PhD from Berkeley in 2018, advised by EECS

Michael I. Jordan and Benjamin Recht; Her thesis title was: " Lyapunov Arguments in Optimization"

Professor Wilson will join the MIT faculty as an assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) in 2021. She received her BA from Harvard University with a concentration in applied mathematics and a minor in philosophy, as well as a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in statistics. Ashia held a postdoctoral position in the machine learning group at Microsoft Research, New England. Her journey comes full circle as her mother, Carol Espy-Wilson became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1987.

“When I was growing up, my mom was one of very few examples that helped conceptualize that it was possible to be in these spaces. However, she was such an ever-present example that it really helped me along the way,” reflects Ashia. As a new professor, diversifying the STEM field is at the forefront of her mind.

“I’m hoping that as we start penetrating these spaces that it (diversity) will change. I think a large part of retention is seeing yourself in these spaces. Diversifying at the faculty level is in part the reason why I decided to go into academia rather than industry because it will allow me to mentor students of color with whom I can relate to being a person of color in STEM.” READ MORE ...

More BESAC Highlights

Hello BESAC members and friends,

This is your first look at the new BESAC Website. Please explore the site menu at the top of this page to learn more. Our official launch will be at the August 14, 2021 at the 3rd Annual BESAC Summer Welcome Event. Stay tuned for more website features and pages coming soon!

Rori Abernethy

BESAC Communications Officer

BGESS Highlights

Caleb Xavier Bugg

Caleb Xavier Bugg (cv) is a PhD candidate at The University of California, Berkeley, Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. He is a 2017 graduate of Morehouse College, where he studied and tutored mathematics, served as President of the Morehouse College Lacrosse Club Team (MCLCT), and became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity Inc., the Alpha Rho chapter.

He seeks to discover and implement quantitative methods in the areas of operations and human resource management to improve efficiency and marketing strength. It is his desire to serve community-based nonprofits as a career, utilizing the future Ph.D. in Operations Research, a highly specified area of the management sciences.


  • Statistical Learning Theory

  • Intervention Theory

  • Optimization Theory


  • PhD in Operations Research, 2023, University of California, Berkeley

  • MS in Operations Research, 2018, University of California, Berkeley

  • BS in Mathematics, 2017, Morehouse College

Go to the Berkeley Black Graduate Engineering and Science Students Facebook page for more BGESS highlights and updates.

BESSA Highlights

Go to the Black Engineering and Science Student Association website for highlights and updates.

BESF Highlights

A portrait of Grace O'Connell outside Etcheverry Hall on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Berkeley, Calif. O'Connell is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. Doctors and engineers banded together to create the COVID-19 Ventilator Rapid Response Team to transform off-the-shelf sleep apnea devices to mimic the function of a ventilator. The ventilators are to treat patients in intensive care, amid the coronavirus pandemic. There�s a demand for ventilators and the FDA relaxed its guidance that allows for other breathing devices to be used as ventilators during the pandemic. The team is still seeking FDA approval for its model.

Black Engineering and Science Faculty (BESF)

There is currently a historic number of Black Engineering and Science Faculty at Cal. Learn more about Black STEM faculty by checking out the Black Engineering and Science Faculty slides

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